The English language is a beautiful thing.
In only a few words you can create drama, solve a mystery, or bring a reader to tears.
You can also look dumb.
The problem isn’t usually with uncommon words—we’re more cautious with them.
It’s the common words being abused in resumes, emails, and blog posts that create havoc.
And I’m guilty of the abuse.
So, after more than my share of polite emails that began with “I really enjoyed your blog post, but…” I thought it time to save you a similar embarrassment.
There are common gaffs like “I was acting on principal.” when you should have used principle.
Or, telling the reader it was ironic you ran into a friend on the street when it was (although pleasant) merely coincidental. Now, if you ran into their car after giving them advice on driving skills, well that would be both ironic and dumb.
I’ll assume you can spot those mistakes.
The ones I’m tackling here are common words often misused in writing.
Hear we go (just kidding).
1 – EVERYDAY and EVERY DAY
Years ago, my wife and I were driving a rented convertible VW in Baja, with our 6-year-old daughter in the back, when I saw an airline’s billboard that, in part, read “veulos total dia” (flights all day).
Trying to sound smart, I started asking servers in restaurants if they had what I wanted “total dia”.
The comical looks I received told the whole story; what I should have asked was do they have it every day (“¿cada dia?”)
In English, we say everyday when we mean common or normal, as in “It became an everyday occurrence.”
Whereas every day means today, tomorrow, the next day, and so on, as in “It happens every day.”
Now, let me interrupt this pleasant litany of common errors with one more, bigger error. Trying to do it all yourself.
If you run your business the way I used to (like a one-armed bandit, trying to do everything myself), I can help. I created BlogWorks to help entrepreneurs (maybe like you?) attract more business with their blog. I explain it all in my 90-second video.
2 – REGARDLESS and IRREGARDLESS
Let’s set the record straight on this one: “irregardless” is not a word – the word you want is regardless. Regardless of what you’re working on or speaking about, that should make you sound smarter.Let’s set the record straight on this one: “irregardless” is not a word – the word you want is regardless. Click To Tweet
3 – ADAPT and ADOPT
If you adapt something you change it, to adopt is to take it as your own. So, after you read this list you can adopt the correct word use and adapt it for your blog.
4 – ALREADY and ALL READY
You can simplify this one by thinking of already as talking about the past, as in “I already told him that.” And all ready as being about the future, as in “I was all ready to tell him that.”
Have you got that already?
5 – ESPECIALLY and SPECIALLY
This is one of those examples you might need to say out loud to know which to use.
Usually, especially means particularly, as in “The speech was especially difficult to finish”.
Whereas specially usually means “in a special or careful manner” or “specifically”, like “She made a special effort for that client.”
That was an especially subtle distinction.
6 – BETWEEN and AMONG
Use between when you’re distinguishing between a list of separate, distinct items, like: “The difference between a Frappuccino, latte and espresso is…”
Use among when you are talking about things that are not distinct, like “There’s a big difference among bloggers.” You can also use ‘among’ to indicate someone is part of a group, like: “She felt at home among the coffee-drinking bloggers.”
7 – ADVISE and ADVICE
Put simply, advise is a verb, advice is a noun. The quickest test is to say your sentence out loud. Like this one: “Nobody goes to a coach for advise.”
8 – STATIONARY and STATIONERY
You write on stationery that is (hopefully) stationary. Get it?
9 – THEN and THAN
When you use then you’re talking about time, as in, “I finished my blog, then doubled checked it.”
You use than to compare something, such as “After reading Hugh’s list I’m smarter than before.” (of course you are).
10 – IMPACT, AFFECT, and EFFECT
This is a tricky one.
First, impact should only be used when there is a physical action involved, like “I was impacted from behind.”
Use effect if you are making the change happen and affect if you are helping make the change happen.
Bottom line: stop saying you’ll impact: change, sales, productivity, or your marriage (especially marriage); use affect.
11 – COMPLIMENT and COMPLEMENT
Both compliment and complement sound the same (homonyms) but have very different meanings (like made and maid…but I digress). Compliment is all about giving praise (maybe I should rename my blog’s Comment section as the Compliment section?)
Whereas Complement means completing or making something perfect.
12 – INFER and IMPLY
Question: did you infer that more sales are what’s needed, or did you imply it?
Here’s a quick rule:
If you are trying to suggest something by what you have said, you are implying. If your conclusion is based on what you heard, you are inferring.
13 – NOBODY, NO ONE and NONE
Nobody is easy. It means no person as in “Nobody was there to open the door.”
No one is a more formal version of nobody.
None (short for no one) can be singular, as in “None of the ideas was wrong” or plural, as in “According to the people in the room, none of them were wrong.”
I trust none of this is confusing.
14 – LESS and FEWER
Fewer is for things you count while less is for things you don’t. Here’s an example using both:
“Even though there were fewer people at the buffet you chose to serve yourself less food (but you double-dipped at the dessert bar).”
15 – MYRIAD and VARIETY
I am guilty of misusing this one: Myriad is only about quantity (the word actually comes from the Greek for 10,000), as in “the myriad stars in the summer night.” Variety is about, well, variety.
16 – CENTER AROUND and CENTER ON
Even though it’s illogical to center around, you get some grace on this one. According to Merriam-Webster “The logic on which the objections are based is irrelevant, since center around is an idiom and idioms have their own logic.
Power to the idioms!
When in doubt, use focus on.
17 – I and ME
Try this out loud: “It was 2:00 so John and me left for the meeting.” Now try this: “It was 2:00 so John and I left for the meeting.”
I’m no grammar expert but “John and me” sounds like it came from pre-Henry Higgins make-over Eliza Doolittle.
The trick, I learned (thank you, big sister, Noni), is to delete the other person’s name and see if your sentence sounds right. “It was 2:00 so me left for the meeting.” is worse than awkward.
18 – BRING and TAKE
Here’s a tricky one – do you bring home, or take home the bacon?
Whether you use bring or take depends on your point of reference. For example, people bring things to the place you are and take things to the place they’re going.
Maybe that’s why getting food to go isn’t called bring-out food!Here’s a tricky one – do you bring home, or take home the bacon? Click To Tweet
19 – CONTINUOUSLY and CONTINUALLY
Are you continuously improving or continually getting better?
Even though both words harken from the same roots, the meaning of continuously and continually are different cousins. Continuously means never-ending and hopefully, you are continuously improving.
Continually means very often or at regular intervals. That’s why you should be continually reading this blog and continuously practicing what you learn.
20 – DISCREET and DISCRETE
Here’s another tricky homonym: to be discreet is to be careful, cautious, and using good judgment.
Whereas discrete means separate or distinct.
When authorities tested discrete neighbourhoods on the now-defunct Ashley Maddison site they tried to keep the results discreet.
21 – EVOKE and INVOKE
Here’s a slippery one: do you evoke the powers of higher beings or invoke them? Actually, you could do both!
To evoke is to call to mind – a smell, long-lost memory, or names of actors who’ve played Batman since Adam West (Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck).
To invoke is to call for help or maybe a higher power, like when the Mayor lights up the batman spotlight over Gotham City.
This blog post is where I live! So glad you’re pointing out common errors that English-speakers should care about. Getting these “Word Trippers” correct is especially important in the written word. Your professional image hinges on it!
Barbara McNichol, Barbara McNichol Editorial (nonfiction book editor)
Thanks Barbara! I know the list could be a lot longer. Just re-read Stephen King’s On Writing – that would fill a dozen good posts.
You missed “your” and “you are”, “their” and “there” !
Great! Now we have the start of the next post.
I have always struggled with what words to use. Thanks for the help.