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Top 20 Misused (and Mistreated) Words

At Writer’s Relief, our proofreading staff keeps a sharp eye out for commonly misused words and phrases, and we’ve compiled a list of the trickiest top 20 misused words for easy reference. Learn the differences between these words to improve your writing!

Accept or Except
accept
: to receive; to answer positively
except: not including; everything but

Anxious or Eager
anxious
: worried/nervous
eager: excited/looking forward to

Affect or Effect
affect
: to pretend; to influence
effect: a result

Assure or Ensure or Insure
assure
: to make certain (such as with a person)
ensure: to make sure (such as with a thing)
insure: to provide or obtain insurance

Beside or Besides
beside
: at the side of
besides: in addition to

Between or Among
between
: two items that are related
among: three or more things related
**Note: According to Gregg Reference Manual, “Ordinarily, use between when referring to two persons or things and among when referring to more than two persons or things.

And: Use between with more than two persons or things when they are being considered in pairs as well as in a group.”

Choice or Choose or Chose
choice
: a decision or an option
choose: to make a decision
chose: past tense of choose

Compliment or Complement
compliment
: to praise
complement: something that completes

Farther or Further
farther
: literal or physical distance
further: to a greater extent

Fewer or Less
fewer
: comparative with plural items
less: items that are singular

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Imply or Infer
imply: to suggest
infer: to deduce

Its or It’s
its
: possessive form of it
it’s: contraction for it is or it has

Lay or Lie
lay
: to place, which is always followed by an object
lie: to recline
**For present tense only. Tip: If you can replace the word in question with put, then use lay. For more on this issue, read When To Use Lie Or Lay.

Nauseated or Nauseous
nauseated
: not feeling well
nauseous: disgust

Set or Sit
In general, set refers to an object (“Set the materials down on the table”) and sit does not (“She sat for an hour, waiting for the bus”).

That Or Which
–“Which” is frequently used to introduce a nonrestrictive clause, a phrase that isn’t necessary or supplies additional information and is usually set off by commas.
For example: The burned CD, which she received from a friend, wasn’t as great of quality as the original from a music store.
–“That” is used for introducing restrictive clauses that refer to things, phrases that ARE essential to the meaning of the rest of the sentence.
For example: The CD that consists of all of the band’s top-ten singles is her favorite.

That vs. Who or Whom
In most cases, “who/whom” is the standard form when referring to human beings, especially in regard to an individual person. “That” is used when referring back to a class, species, or type. “Which” should never be used in reference to humans.

A correct example with “who”: She goes to the hairstylist who is the best.

A correct example with “that”: He is the type of hairstylist that should charge more because he is the best.

Their or There or They’re
their: possessive form of they
there: in or at that place
they’re: contraction for they are

Whose or Who’s
whose
: possessive form of which, who
who’s: contraction for who is

Your or You’re
your
: possessive form of you; belonging to you
you’re: contraction for you are

Fiction writers, take note: When reviewing your final drafts, pay particular attention to tricky words such as these. If you still have doubts about correct word choice and usage, Writer’s Relief proofreaders will be happy to help. We’ll make sure your creative writing is error-free and your word choices are appropriate. For more on this, read Commonly Confused Words, List Of Confusing Words And Homonyms, or Odds and Ends–More Confusing Words.

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10 Responses to Top 20 Misused (and Mistreated) Words

  1. Another common misusage is that vs. which
    – “Which” is frequently used to introduce a nonrestrictive clause, a phrase that isn’t necessary or supplies additional information and is usually set off by commas.
    For example – The burned CD, which she received from a friend, wasn’t as great of quality as the original from a music store.

    -“That” is used for introducing restrictive clauses that refer to things, phrases that ARE essential to the meaning of the rest of the sentence.
    For example – The CD that consists of all of the band’s top-ten singles is her favorite.

  2. I thought this was just plain interesting. Sure a few of the words listed are used wrong by myself all the time, but the others were a surprise.

  3. Recently, I ran into the need for the word “complement”. I had to look it up on my desktop dictionary to be certain of the spelling and usage.
    My friend/editor is a retired English teacher. She’s tough and would not let me get away with using the wrong word.

  4. What happened to “me”? In dialog, so often the direct object,: “myself”, is used, instead of “me”. Ex.: “She returned the book to myself”. “ME” is one syllable; and in a speech, or any dialog, when brevity is a concern, “me” is a better choice.

  5. My pet peeve is a thing scriptwriters make actors say wrong. If someone
    reads a word and pronounces it incorrectly such as ‘subtle’ and they have
    the actor pronounce it sub tel. My argument is if they are using the word , saying it, as in the role they are playing, they may not know how to spell the word but if they are using it in context they know how to pronounce it.

  6. Another common misusage on social websites are

    Women and Woman:

    Example: You are one fabulous women. WRONG!!!

    I am a one Woman Man. RIGHT!!

  7. Another pair of words which are used incorrectly are “Cavalry” and “Calvary”

    Calvary or Cavalry
    Calvary: the location on which Jesus was crucified – the hill on which the crucifixion took place. Calvary is always capitalized as a proper name of a place.
    i.e.: “The name Calvary often refers to sculptures or pictures representing the scene of the crucifixion of Jesus, or a small wayside shrine incorporating such a picture. It also can be used to describe larger, more monumentlike constructions, essentially artificial hills often built by devotees, especially a tradition in Brittany in France of large stone monuments.” (quote: Wikipedia)

    Cavalry: Soldiers mounted on horseback.
    i.e.: “The 7th Cavalry Regiment is a United States Army Cavalry Regiment, whose lineage traces back to the mid-19th century.” (quote: Wikipedia)

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