When you write an email or even a text message, do you find that certain words trip you up? 

Have you ever had someone misinterpret your message because of a small spelling error or even using a slightly different word? 

Read on for some expert writing tips from professional editor (and all-around excellent person) Barbara McNichol

“That” versus “who” 

If your subject is a thing, use “that” if it’s a person, use “who.” 


“My friend, the one who did me that favour, is amazing.” 

“Breath” versus “breathe”

Breath, breathing, breathe…well they’re all slightly different variations on the same concept. 

Breath” is a noun (a thing), and “breathe” is a verb or the action of taking breaths. 


“He is breathing just fine on his own.” 

“He took one breath, then another.”   

“Allude” versus “elude” 

When you “allude” to something, you essentially refer to it. 

But “elude” refers to escaping or running away. 

Tip: You can remember “elude” because it starts with an “e,” just like “escape.” 

For blog writing tips, check out 11 Insanely Powerful Words for Your Blog

“Affect” versus “effect”

Affect” is an action word, a verb, referring to something’s ability to change another thing. You can remember it by subbing in the word “influence.” 

For instance, you could say that “…his words affect (influence) me in a good way.”  

Effect” by contrast, can mean either “bring about” or result. 

Example: “The story has the desired effect.”

“Alter” versus “altar”

Altar” is a religious structure, a thing, and “alter” means to change, as in “alternate.”  

“Everyday” versus “every day”

If you’re going to pay heed to any one of these writing tips, let it be this one!

Everyday” is an adjective that describes something that is common. For instance, “here are a few everyday words which are spelled wrong.” 

By contrast, with “every day”, we are referring to a group of singular days. So you might say “I see her spell something wrong every day.” 

Tip: If you’re stuck, try sticking the word “single” in between the two words and see if it makes sense. It should make sense in the “every day” example.  

“Famous” versus “notorious” 

Famous” refers to someone who is revered, who people like. You can remember “famous” by thinking of another “f” word, “favourite.” 

Notorious” on the other hand, usually refers to someone who is known for unfavourable reasons (remember this because it starts with “no”). 


“The young actress became famous for her Oscar-nominated role, and then became notorious for her drug use and underage drinking.”

“Ado” versus “adieu” 

Ado” refers to trouble or problems — think Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing or the phrase “without further ado…” 

Adieu,” on the other hand, is a phrase you might utter in the case of a long-term goodbye. 

“Lead” versus “led” 

When you use the word “lead” you are referring to an action, and that is a verb. 

For instance: “He had a fun time leading the group last Saturday.” 

But “led” is simply a past tense of “lead.” 

So you might say “He led the group with such passion, he was the best volunteer for the job.” 

Note: Lead is spelled the same as the element lead, but the element lead is pronounced “led”.  

Want more expert writing tips

There are many other points of contention we probably didn’t mention in this list of writing tips — what are some of your troublesome words or phrases? 

Want more conversions from your blog? You should read: 7 words that make your reader stop and take action

When we’re clear with our message and intent, we have a much better chance of being understood by our colleagues, clients, and friends, too. 

If you want to add value and clarity to your professional communications, or you want something to help guide you as you learn to write more clearly, sign up for Barbara’s Word Trippers program and get weekly writing guidance straight into your inbox!   

Barbara McNichol is passionate about helping administrative and business professionals add power to their pen. To assist in this mission, she has created a Word Trippers Tips Advantage Program so you can quickly find the right word when it matters most. It allows you to improve your writing through excellent weekly resources in your inbox, including a Word Tripper of the Week for 52 weeks. 

Visit https://wordtrippers.com/ for full details.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash