Here’s the next one in my ongoing series about common errors used in everyday English.
It’s another excerpt from my “list” of words and/or terms that I notice are commonly confused in everyday writing and speaking. Some of these words/terms are used in informal speech as “colloquialisms” but should not be used in most types of formal writing.
This is the fifth installment. I will be adding to this list in alphabetical order in future posts to this blog. (See blog posts for Sept. and Oct. 2011and Jan. 2012 and March 2012 for the first four).
“To leave” (verb) means to go or to exit. Do not use it to mean “to permit”.
You can use “leave” to mean “permission” when it’s a noun.
Let [NOT leave] me help with the cleaning.
Please let me take a leave of absence.
“Less” refers to general quantities. “Fewer” refers to distinct items that can be counted.
I have less money than when I left home but I have fewer items to buy now.
There were fewer players on the field, so their chance of winning was less.
“Liable” means “obligated” or “responsible”. Do not use it to mean “likely”.
You’re likely [NOT liable] to get injured if you don’t wear your seatbelt.
He was legally liable for the accident.
“Licence” is a noun that refers to a legal permit or a right. “License” is a verb meaning “to permit” or “to authorize” something.
My pilot’s licence gives me license to fly whenever I want.
I am licensed to fly anywhere I want when visibility permits.
(Note: In the U.S., both noun and verb are often spelled the same; as “license”).
“Lie” means to recline or rest prone on something. “Lay” means to put or place something.
I think I’ll lie down for a nap. We can lie there until the storm subsides.
Lay your files on the table please. She laid her work on the table.
“Loose” is an adjective that means “not securely attached”. “Lose” means “to misplace” something or “to not win”.
The muffler was so loose that I feared we would soon lose it.
When you lose your focus, sometimes you lose the game.
“May” normally means “with permission”. “Can” usually refers to the “ability” to do something.
May I go to the conference?
You can go if you have the funds available.
maybe, may be
“Maybe” is an adverb that means “possibly”. “May be” is a two-word verb phrase.
Maybe it will rain tomorrow. Tomorrow may be a stormy day.
It may be wet tomorrow, so maybe we should take our boots.
may of, might of
These are non-standard terms sometimes used instead of “may have” or “might have”, respectively.
He may have [NOT of] already gone home.
He might have [NOT of] taken the car.
“Media” is the plural of “medium”.
Of all the media that covered the event, radio was the most effective medium.
As soon as we exited we were surrounded by members of the media.
Sometimes you can get away with these types of errors when speaking (i.e. people might assume they “misheard” you and/or will give you the benefit of the doubt), but if you make such mistakes when writing they are right there in “black and white” for everyone to see. This is an instant way to lose credibility and will immediately cast doubts on your overall capabilities.
For more writing help articles, and practical written examples, go to my main writing help website at:
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