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Commonly Misused Words
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” That is a line, said by Inigo Montoya in one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride.
When writing, we need to be sure of the meaning of the words we use. As a writer, some of your best friends need to be the dictionary and thesaurus.
In this article I’m going to talk about some of the words that are commonly misused in writing, as well as in speaking.
Adverse, averse - Both of these words are adjectives. Adverse conveys a sense of hostility or harmfulness. It is used to describe effects or events: adverse feelings, adverse weather. Averse is used to describe people. Usually followed by to, it means feeling opposed or disinclined: She is not averse to meeting you.
Complement, compliment - These two are easily confused. As a noun, complement means something that completes or makes perfect: Those shoes are the perfect complement to your dress. As a verb, it means to complete: The red wine complements the meal. As a noun, compliment means an expression of praise or adoration: The audience complimented the singer with a standing ovation. As a verb, it means to congratulate or show praise: I compliment you on your marvelous performance.
Farther, further - Farther should be used to measure physical distance: Our destination is farther ahead through those trees. Further talks about an extension of time or degree: This subject can be studied further by reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves.
Fewer, less - Fewer has to do with numbers. So if you can count it, use fewer. If not, use less: Fewer people subscribe to our newsletter since James quit. She has less incentive to obey when you speak in such a hateful voice.
Imply, infer - Imply means to suggest indirectly or send a subtle message: Margie implied that she would not be returning anytime soon. Infer means to come to a conclusion based on evidence: They inferred she was angry because of her raised voice.
Insure, ensure - Insure means to guarantee against harm or loss: The bank requires that we insure the house. Ensure is to make sure or certain: Studying for the test will ensure you receive a good grade.
It’s, its - It’s is a contraction that means it is: It’s going to be a rainy day. Its is possessive and shows ownership: The book has lost its jacket.
Premier, premiere - Premier is first in rank or a prime minister: The Premier of France is going to meet with the President of the United States. Premiere is the first public showing of a movie: The premiere of Tom Cruise’s new movie sold out in under an hour.
Principal, principle - I still manage to confuse these two words. Principal is the most important of any set or the leader of a school: Mr. Ramsey is new principal of the high school. Principle is a fundamental truth or a code of conduct: Their principles do not permit the use of alcoholic beverages.
There, their, they’re - There implies direction: The cottage is located over there. Their shows ownership: Their coats are on the back of the chair. They're is a contraction meaning they are: They’re going to the ballgame.
Unique - Unique means one of a kind. There is no need to say that something is very unique. Either the cat is blue or it isn’t.
Who, whom - Who is the appropriate form for the subject of a sentence or clause: Who is going to be elected? The voters who elected him have been disappointed. Whom is the objective form: To whom are you speaking? Whom did you ask?
Content copyright © 2013 by Lisa Binion. All rights reserved.
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