This post originally appeared on the HELP! Educational Blog on 3/11/09.
Let’s get right to the point. Misusing words makes you look less intelligent than you really are. If you misuse words in your writing, it can damage your credibility and diminish the point you’re trying to make. Even worse, it could completely change the meaning of the sentence.
What follows is a list of the 32 most commonly misused words and phrases.
1. Accept/Except- Although these two words sound alike (they’re homophones), they have two completely different meanings. “Accept” means to willingly receive something (accept a present.) “Except” means to exclude something (I’ll take all of the books except the one with the red cover.)
2. Affect/Effect- The way you “affect” someone can have an “effect” on them. “Affect” is usually a verb and “Effect” is a noun.
3. Alright- If you use “alright,” go to the chalkboard and write “Alright is not a word” 100 times.
4. Capital/Capitol- “Capitol” generally refers to an official building. “Capital” can mean the city which serves as a seat of government or money or property owned by a company. “Capital” can also mean “punishable by death.”
5. Complement/Compliment- I often must compliment my wife on how her love for cooking perfectly complements my love for grocery shopping.
6. Comprise/Compose- The article I’m composing comprises 32 parts.
7. Could Of- Of the 32 mistakes on this list, this is the one that bothers me most. It’s “could have” not “could of.” When you hear people talking, they’re saying “could’ve.” Got it?
8. Desert/Dessert- A desert is a hot, dry patch of sand. Dessert, on the other hand, is the sweet, fatty substance you eat at the end of your meal.
9. Discreet/Discrete- We can break people into two discrete (separate) groups, the discreet (secretive) and indiscreet.
10. Emigrate/Immigrate- If I leave this country to move to Europe, the leaving is emigrating and the arriving is immigrating.
11. Elicit/Illicit- Some people post illicit things on message boards to elicit outrageous reactions from others.
12. Farther/Further- Farther is used for physical distance, whereas further means to a greater degree.
13. Fewer/Less- Use fewer when referring to something that can be counted one-by-one. Use less when it’s something that doesn’t lend itself to a simple numeric amount.
14. Flair/Flare- A flair is a talent, while a flare is a burst (of anger, fire, etc.)
15. i.e/e.g- I.e. is used to say “in other words.” E.g. is used in place of “for example.”
16. Inflammable- Don’t let the prefix confuse you, if something is inflammable it can catch on fire.