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Commonly Misused Words

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Writing Services

on 2 July 2014

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Transcript of Commonly Misused Words

All right
In all forms of writing, “all right” is always best as two words. Though very common,
“alright” is considered non-standard and should be avoided.
Discreet/discrete
Being “discreet” is using good judgment or prudence. Something which is “discrete” is
separate.
Ex. The committee was being discreet in their endeavor to divide the organization into two
discrete entities.
Who/whom
These words follow the same pattern as “he/him” and “they/them.”
Ex. He is going to school. / She is going with him.
Who is going to school? / She is going with whom?
-also-
They vacation in the summer. / I will vacation with them.
Who vacations in the summer? / With whom will I vacation?
Then/than
“Than” is used in comparisons. “Then” refers to time and sequence.
Ex. One professor’s course may be much harder than another’s in the same subject.
First, you have to be accepted by the university; then, you must register for courses.
Accept/except
“Accept” means to receive. “Except” is usually a preposition meaning “other than” or
“leaving out” or “everything but.” As verbs, they are near opposites, with “accept” signaling approval
and “except” indicating exclusion.
Loose/lose
These are never confused in spoken language because the pronunciation makes the meaning
clear. However, “loose” is an adjective meaning “not tight,” and “lose” is a verb meaning “to
misplace.” In writing, just remember that “loose” has a soft “s,” while the “s” in “lose” sounds
like a “z."
That/which/who
“That” refers to things, animals, or a class or type of person. “Which” is used for animals
and things, and “who” refers exclusively to people or named animals. The general rule is that
“which” is used to introduce a clause that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, whereas
“that” is used to introduce a clause that is essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Ex. The newest Harry Potter book is the only one that I haven’t read.
The most annoying dogs are the ones which bark incessantly.
Between Ann and her cat, Leo, I can’t tell who enjoys milk more.
Single/singular
“Single” is an individual person or thing. “Singular” means “distinctive.”
Ex. She had a singular charm that not a single other girl possessed.
To/too/two
“To” is used in prepositional phrases or has part of an infinitive and is correct in all cases
except for “too,” which means “also” or “excessively,” and “two” (the number).
Lay/lie
With “lay,” the action always takes an object because it means “to place something down.” In the case of “lie,” no object is taken since it means “to recline or be placed.”
Ex. Please lay the book down on the table next to the lamp.
At the beach, my friends and I prefer to lie in the sun rather than swim.
If you leave the dog alone, it will lie there all day.
Perspective/prospective
A “perspective” is a point of view. “Prospective” is an adjective which means “potential
or possible.”
Ex. From our perspective, these are some excellent prospective jurors.
Farther/further
“Farther” is a comparative of “far” in reference to distance. “Further” is a comparative of
“far” when it describes amount, degree, or time.
Ex. She will have to travel farther to get to the bigger library, but her thesis does require
further research.
Affect/effect
“Affect” is a verb meaning “to influence.” “Effect” is usually a noun meaning “result.” As a verb, it means “to bring about or cause.”
Ex. The bad weather will not affect our plans.
The compliment he paid her had an immediate effect on her mood.
It is never too late to effect a change in our approach to this problem.


All ready/Already

All ready” is a phrase that means “completely prepared.” “Already” means “by this or
that time.”
Ex. She is finally all ready to go to the concert, which has already begun.
Allusion/illusion
An “allusion” is an indirect reference. An “illusion” is a deceptive appearance.
Ex. The opening lines of the novel might be understood as an allusion to the main character’s
troubled childhood.
A good magician can create a believable optical illusion.


Can/may
Remember to use “can” to mean “able to,” and not to use it when the best meaning is
“may,” meaning “permitted to.”
Complement/compliment
A “complement” is something that reinforces or completes a whole. A “compliment” is a
flattering remark or statement of praise.
Ex. Use the documentary film as a complement to our text.
Tom appreciated the compliment you paid him on his new suit.

Device/devise
Something used for a specific purpose is the noun “device.” To create or plan something is
the verb “devise.”
Ensure/insure
To “ensure” means “to make certain,” in a general sense. To “insure” is the same, but in
a context of financial/legal protection.



Evoke/invoke
To “evoke” is to call forth an image or emotion. To “invoke” is to appeal to a higher authority.
Commonly Misused Words
Advice/advise
“Advice” is a noun meaning “informed recommendation.” “Advise” is the corresponding
verb form, as in “to give an informed recommendation.”
Ex. I would advise against giving that new mother any further unsolicited advice.
All together/altogether
“All together” means “joined in a single group,” whereas “altogether” means “in all” or
“entirely.”
Ex. The tourists traveled all together on a single bus, and I believe there were fifty of
them altogether. Some passengers thought that was altogether too crowded!
Disinterested/uninterested
To be “disinterested” is to be unbiased, to not be partial. Being “uninterested” is lacking
any interest at all.
Ex. We sought out a disinterested party to help us settle our dispute.
Good/well
“Good” is an adjective often used with a linking verb such as “look” or “taste.” “Well” is an adjective meaning “healthy” or an adverb meaning something between “adequately” and“exceptionally.”
Ex. Does that soup taste as good as it looks?
This morning’s lecture on eighteenth century literature was presented well.
Are you sure you are feeling well enough to go outside today?
Irrespective (of)/regardless
These near-synonyms are commonly, but completely incorrectly, blended into the nonexistent
word “irregardless.” Normally, regardless is what is meant.
Prescribe/proscribe
To “prescribe” is to set down a directive, often medical. To “proscribe” is to limit or prohibit.
They can be considered near opposites.
Their/there/they’re
“Their” is the possessive pronoun, “there” refers to a location, and “they’re” is the contraction
of “they are.”
Who’s/whose
“Who’s” is the contraction of “who is,” and “whose” is the possessive (to whom something
belongs.)
Persecute/prosecute
To “persecute” is to harass, ostracize or cause injury. To prosecute is to bring a legal
claim against a person, usually for a crime.
Ex. They intend to prosecute anyone who tries to persecute homeless people.
Supposed to
“Supposed to” means “meant to.” In writing, take care never to drop the final “d” in imitation
of how it sounds when spoken.
You’re/your
“You’re” is the contraction of “you are,” and “your” is the possessive (belonging to you).
Full transcript