Monday, March 11, 2013

Oh No…Used the Wrong Word!

Every so often, I draw a blank about a common word while writing. The more I repeat the word, the more incorrect it sounds. Is it spelled “passed” or “past?” Soon, I find myself recasting a whole darn paragraph just to avoid one stinking word.

There’s got to be a better way!

Here it is . . . my personal master list of words I most commonly screw up. Or, more accurately, it’s my cheat sheet. Without this quick reference, I descend into a fat-inducing cycle of breaks for Pepsi and chips to deal with the frustration.

I hope my list provides you the same peace of mind I get when I know answers are at my fingertips. Feel free to copy it into your own Word document or reference it here any time.

accept/except – “accept” means to agree to do something or to terms// “except” is a preposition meaning to exclude something.
example:  I accept my wife’s suggestions most of the time, except when it involves fishing.

alright/all right – “alright” is not a word. In dialog, if a character uses that word, it should be spelled “awright.”

adverse/averse – “adverse” means unfavorable or undesirable// “averse” means reluctant or hesitant.
example:  An adverse credit report caused my loan denial. I was averse to her idea.

afterwards – “afterwards” is wrong in American English, should be “afterward."
example:  We went to the movies, afterward.

alot/a lot – “alot” is not a word.

beside/besides – “beside” means next to// “besides” means other than or moreover.
example:  Put the chair beside my desk.  Besides the expense, I don’t like the color.

bring/take – “bring” usually involves direction of an object to where you presently are// “take” involves moving something to some other place.
example:  When you come over, please bring that book. Take leftovers with you when you leave.

circle around – “circle around” is redundant. Avoid “around" in this context.

compare to/compare with – “compare to” shows similarities// “compare with” shows differences.
example:  My mother’s art has been compared to Norman Rockwell’s. I made less money this month compared with last month.

complement/compliment – “complement” supplements something else// “compliment” is a kind expression directed to someone.
example:  That tie complements your new suit. I appreciated her generous compliment.

criteria – “criteria” is plural of criterion.
examples:  We only have one criterion. Criteria for this position are listed below.

data – “data” is plural. The singular is datum.
example:  The data suggest a critical failure in three days. (note suggest, NOT suggests)

discrete/discreet – “discrete” means a distinct entity// “discreet” means tasteful, or prudent.
example:  Fair Oaks is a discrete part of Greater Sacramento. Be discreet when filing complaints.

effect/affect – “effect” as a noun means a result// “affect” is a verb that means to create a result.
example:  The effect of taking vitamin C for colds is amazing. Vitamin C affects colds in ways we don’t fully understand.

everyday/every day – “everyday” is an adjective that defines a noun// “every day” uses “every” as a delimiter to define the noun, “day.”
example:  I love to jog every day. Jogging is an everyday event in my life.

farther/further – “farther” refers to measurable distances// “further” relates to general lengths or measures.
example:  He can throw a football ten yards farther than Bill.  My hypothesis requires further study.

fewer/less – “fewer” refers to a countable number// “less” compares abstract amount.
example:  There are fewer tomatoes on my plants this year, so I have less marinara sauce.

in/into – “in” specifies location as inside or within// “into” shows movement from one place to another.
example:  I found the papers tucked in the book. Let’s go into the house before the rain hits.

infer/imply – “infer” offers to reach a conclusion// “imply” is to suggest a conclusion.
example:  The data infers a connection. Did her kiss imply more than I thought?

insure/ensure – “insure” is a legal act of making contractual guarantees// "ensure" is to offer assurances.
example:  The agent said they will insure our home. He ensured that my car was repaired.

irregardless – “irregardless” is not a word. It is often confused with regardless and irrespective. This non-word is used commonly in American English vernacular and may be used in dialog IF the character would likely use such wrong vocabulary.

its/it’s – “its” (no apostrophe) is the possessive form of “it”// “it’s” means “it is.”
example:  Its nose was red and warm to the touch.  It’s better to win.

lay/lie – “lay” as a verb needs a subject and direct object// “lie” as a verb does not use a subject or object. “Laid” is the past tense of “lay."
example:  Lay your books on the table. I lie down every day at the same time.

led/lead – “led” is past tense of “to lead” (pronounced “leed”)// “lead” is a malleable metal or a verb meaning to have someone or something following.
examples:  The town mayor leads the parade every year. He led it last year.

literally – “literally” means exact fact and is frequently used incorrectly. For example, “I am literally dying in this heat.” No. You are likely uncomfortable, but not going to die.

lose/loose – “lose” means that you lost something// “loose” means something is not tight.
example:  Don’t lose your lunch money. The bolt became loose when the nut fell off.

might/may – “might” implies uncertainty of an outcome// “may” implies consideration or permission.
example:  I may fire this homemade rocket, but it might explode.

passed/past – “passed” is the past participle of the verb “to pass”// “past” is a noun, adjective, adverb, or preposition depending on how it is used. Passed and past are NOT interchangeable.
examples:  We passed my aunt’s house on the way to the movie. (past tense of “to pass”)
My past finally caught up with me. (noun)  Past behavior finally caught up with me. (adjective modifying behavior)  I ducked past the low branch. (adverb modifying ducked)  I got sick after running way past my limits of endurance. (preposition)

premiere/premier – “premiere” is the opening night of a play, movie or similar production// “premier” means the first or best in status or a political head of state.
example:  I loved the premiere of the Godfather movie. Premier Loch demanded a vote.

principal/principle – “principal” means a sum of money, head of a school or a main owner in a business// “principle” is a basic accepted truth or generally agreed to scientific fact.
example:  Mr. Brown is a principal in the bank. The principle of “Do not harm.” is fundamental to the practice of medicine.

sight/site – “sight” has to do with vision// “site” means located of an internet page.
example:  I lost sight of the others. Have you seen the new site for my business.

sit/set – “sit” is a verb meaning to be seated// “set” means to put or place something.
example:  I set the picture on the mantle. John can sit over there.

than/then – “than” is used to show a comparison// “then” shows a sequence of time.
example:  She is taller than me. Let’s go to the store then head for the beach.

that/which – to understand the proper use of these two words, it is necessary to understand the difference between a RESTRICTIVE CLAUSE and an NON-RESTRICTIVE CLAUSE. Both clauses modify a noun, but the restrictive clause DEFINES the noun while the non-restrictive clause offers additional information about the noun but is not necessary to define the noun.

Restrictive clauses answer critical identifying questions about the noun. For example: The baseball bat that had his fingerprints on it was likely the murder weapon. In this case, the clause defines a specific bat.

Non-restrictive clauses add information that is not essential to the sentence or the noun. For example:  Any one of several knives, which rested in the knife block, could be the murder weapon.


Restrictive clauses are never enclosed in commas, and their information is essential for understanding the sentence.

Non-restrictive clauses are always enclosed in commas, and their information is not essential to the sentence.

there/their/they’re/there’re – “there” is an adverb showing place// “their” is the possessive form of “they”// “they’re” is a contraction meaning they are// “there’re” is a contraction meaning “there are."
examples:  Let’s go over there. Their car ran out of gas. They’re going to the store. There’re more cookies in the cupboard.

to/two/too – “to” is a preposition that introduces information through prepositional phrases// “two” is the number 2// “too” is an adverb meaning “also."
example:  Too many people assume motorcycles are dangerous to ride. I’ll take two!

waive/wave – “waive” means to forego a right// “wave” is a hand gesture, usually a greeting.
example:  I waived my right to a reading of the will. She waved goodbye to me.

who/whom – “who” there is a simple way to determine whether who or whom is the right word. Simply put, answer the who/whom question with a he/him response. If “he” is the right answer, then “who” is the right pronoun. Same for whom and him.
example:  For who/whom did they raise money? Response…Money was raised for him. Therefore, “whom” is right.  Who/whom answered the door? Response…He answered the door. So, “who” is right.

your/you’re – “your” is a possessive pronoun, “you’re” means you are.
example:  Your story made me cry. You’re not going to get away with that.

Wikipedia list of most commonly misused English words.


  1. LOL. Told you about 'alright'. ;)

  2. Awright, Dan. I admit it. LOL

    Thanks for dropping by...Dean

  3. Dean I love your blogs! Everything you share benefits others. Informative and entertaining

    1. Stacey,

      When I run out of writing ideas, I plan to switch to recipes...I make a killer homemade BBQ sauce! lol

      Thank you for your support...Dean.

  4. Great blog, Dean Sault.
    I love how you provided wonderful examples.
    Respectfully yours (not your's),
    Sass :)

    1. Sass,

      You think those are wonderful examples? Truth is they are my own mistakes, only corrected! lol

      Thank you for your nice comment...Dean.

  5. Good list. I try to inform/teach my students with respect many of those listed, for the most part unsuccessfully, it seems.

    Affect vs. Effect proves the most difficult because while effect is often a noun, sometimes it is a verb. And while affect is most often a verb, it can be a noun. But the worst is that they sound the same when spoken, which frustrates the students...much like their/there/there and you're/your, and most of the others you've listed.

    Gotta love the English language...gotta...hmmm. ;)

    What I do find myself having to fix is the it's vs. its. I know the rule, but in the midst of writing, sometimes it slips through until editing time arrives...

    In any case will copy and paste the list to a file if you don't mind too much.

  6. Terry,

    It took a while for me to develop that list and the example sentences. I posted it as a resource for both experienced writers and neophytes. I am pleased that you, an English teacher and fellow author, see enough value in it to make a copy. By all means, you and anyone else who is interested may copy and part or all of that list for personal use.

    Thank you so much for your support and comment...Dean.

  7. You've certainly covered MY editorial TOP Ten Dean, and THEN SOME!!!Thanks!

  8. Teresa,

    Only ten? That makes you a great writer. My list is much

    Thank you for your comments and support...Dean.

  9. Replies
    1. Peter,

      Thank you for your comment and for featuring this blog on your Facebook page. Much appreciated...Dean.


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