Our language is a wonderful tool. We use it to communicate our innermost thoughts and feelings. Writers in particular love to seek out words that add nuance and layers to their work. But in doing so, they can sometimes pick commonly misused words.
It can be tempting to pop that unusual word into your blog or article and in the context, it might look right. But get it wrong and to someone who knows what means it will jump off the page and slap them in the face.
More to the point, it won’t make you look like the talented wordsmith you were hoping it would. In fact, it will do the exact opposite. That one misused word will ruin everything else you’ve written.
It will also stain your reputation. That reader is unlikely to visit any other articles or blogs you write in the future. And all because of some commonly misused words.
The problem is, and I include myself in this group, writers are not good with others critiquing their work. That’s why I always use spellcheck and a grammar check before I upload anything to the internet. I also have an editor with eyes like a hawk who can spot a comma out of place from a mile off.
But let’s get back to those words that commonly get misused. What kinds are we talking about? Here are 13 examples:
13 Commonly Misused Words
Accept or Except
These words sound almost the same but are different. You can accept something: “She accepted his proposal of marriage.” Except is to exclude: “I like every cake except lemon drizzle.”
Affect or Effect
Affect is to influence: “His speech really affected me.” Effect means to put into effect: “The village effected changes after a vote.”
Compliment or Complement
A compliment as an expression of admiration: “I got a big compliment about my new hairstyle today.” Complement completes or makes up a whole: “The cologne he wore was an ideal complement to his outfit.”
Comprise or Compose
Comprise is to include, compose means to make up, but both are to do with parts and the whole. When you use comprise, you put the whole first: “The United States of America is comprised of fifty states.” When you use the parts first, you use compose: “Fifty states compose the United States of America.”
Disinterested or Uninterested
Disinterested does not mean uninterested. It means unbiased or impartial: “The disinterested mediator chaired our discussions.” Uninterested is indifferent or not interested: “They were uninterested in talking to us.”
Enormity or Enormous
Enormity does not mean enormous. Enormity means extreme evil: “The enormity of the psychopath’s crimes would never be forgotten.” Enormous means extremely large: “She had an enormous amount of homework to do.”
Farther or Further
Farther means a physical distance travelled: “I have much farther to go.” Further refers to the extent of an action or situation: “We must speak further on this topic.”
Fewer or Less
This is a nice easy one to remember; use fewer when you are writing about individual items that you can count and less when referring to a whole: “She had fewer clothes which meant there was less in her wardrobe.”
Flaunt or Flout
Flaunt means to show off: “She flaunted her figure.” Flout means to disobey: “She flouted the rules.”
i.e. / e.g.
I often have to think which abbreviation is appropriate to use when I’m writing. Here are the rules:
Use e.g. when you want to show examples: “She had worked for several notable charity organisations (e.g., The Red Cross, Oxfam, Greenpeace).”
Use i.e. when you want to say in other words: “I had a lovely day out with my grandchildren (i.e., spending all day at the park and getting thoroughly tired out!)”
An easy way to remember which is the correct one to use is that e.g. starts with ‘e for example’ and i.e. starts with ‘i for in other words’.
Imply or Infer
To imply is to suggest without actually saying it outright. “He implied he knew where the treasure was buried.”
To infer is to draw a conclusion from what was implied. “She inferred from what he implied that he knew where the treasure was buried.” Generally, the speaker implies and the listener infers.
Staunch or Stanch
Staunch does not mean to stop a flow. Staunch means loyal, faithful, or constant: “Her staunch supporters were by her side when she won the election.”
Stanch means to stop the flow of something: “The increased police presence on the streets stopped the stanch of the recent crime wave.”
Who’s or Whose
I always struggle with this one. Remember, who’s is contracted from who is: “Who’s going to help me with this difficult job?” Whose is the possessive form of who. So, as the following are:
- I – Me/Mine
- You – Your/Yours
- She – Her/Hers
- He – His
- They – Their/Theirs
- Us – Our/Ours
- Who – Whose
An example of whose: “Whose job is it to help me with this difficult task?”
There are many more examples of commonly misused words that can belie our intelligence. Which ones do you struggle with? Let us know in the comments section below!
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