A couple of years ago I posted a series of articles about words that are often used incorrectly. This is the beginning of another multi-part series on a similar subject but with even more confused and/or misused words than before. I’m starting the list of words in alphabetical order and expect to cover three or four letters per post. I’ll be spreading out the posts over the next year or more, with a new one every two or three months.
So, here are some more frequently confused and/or misused words to add to your list.
“accuracy” is how close something is to the true value and to what degree it is free of error.
“precision” is the measure of the “fineness” of a value; usually measured in numeric terms.
His shooting was very accurate in tonight’s game.
The laser-cut the diamond to a precision of .005.
“affect” is usually used as a verb, to mean “influence”.
“effect” as a verb means to “cause” or “bring about” something. As a noun it means “impact” or “result”.
The cost of prescription drugs has seriously affected the cost of public healthcare.
His new strategy will certainly have an effect on the company’s bottom line.
allusion, illusion, delusion
“allusion” is an indirect reference to something.
“illusion” is when something appears to be real but isn’t.
“delusion” is a persistent belief in something that is contrary to fact or reality.
Her allusion to the manager’s wife was completely unfounded.
The mist hanging over the river created an optical illusion.
The delusion that all doctors are infallible still persists in some quarters.
To “alternate”, means to do something in turns, one after another.
“alternative” refers to one or more choices or options.
When training, every two minutes we alternate between wind sprints and jogging.
Our only alternative at this point is to go back the way we came.
(“alternate” can sometimes be used as a noun; e.g. we took the alternate route).
“amount” refers to a quantity of something.
“number” is when something can be counted.
A significant amount of snow fell last night.
A large number of snow plows are out on the road today.
anyone, any one
“anyone”, as one word, can only refer to people.
“any one”, as two words, is used when referring to things.
Anyone here is eligible for the draw.
He couldn’t blame her illness on any one factor.
“appraise” means to “assign a value” to something.
“apprise” means to “make aware of” something.
The mortgage broker appraised my house at well over $300,000.
You should apprise him of what happened last night at the embassy.
approve, approve of
“approve” means “to ratify” or “sanction” something.
“approve of” means “to accept something” or “to think well of” something.
Once they add the paragraph I requested, I intend to approve the agreement.
The Mayor enthusiastically approved of the two new appointees.
“assume” means to believe something based on a theory or hypothesis, without actual evidence.
“presume” means to believe that something is true unless it is proven to the contrary.
Let’s assume that he will do the right thing and appear at the preliminary hearing.
I presume this cutback will result in significant reductions to plant output.
assure, ensure, insure
“assure” means “to guarantee” or “be convinced” that something will happen.
“ensure” means “to make sure” that something will happen.
“insure” is used to describe covering something with insurance.
I can assure you that the increase will be more than the rate of inflation.
Fill your tank now to ensure that you can make the trip without having to stop.
I plan to insure my new car for both collision and public liability.
“attentiveness” refers to the state of being attentive or considerate.
“attention” refers to the act of focusing or concentrating the mind on something.
The nurse’s exceptional attentiveness to her patients was noticed by her superiors.
We appreciate your attention to this pressing matter.
“beside” is a preposition that means “immediately adjacent” or “by the side of” something.
“besides” can mean “moreover” or “in addition to” something.
The man sat beside his daughter while they waited.
He’s not eligible for coverage. Besides he’ll be changing jobs next month in any case.
biannual, biennial, semi-annual
“biannual” means for something to occur “twice a year”.
“biennial” means for something to occur “every two years”; or to last for two years.
“semi-annual” means for something to occur “twice a year” or once “every six months”.
We conduct a mini-audit of the business on a biannual basis.
I believe that environmental conference is a biennial event.
We review our hardware inventory levels semi-annually.
characteristic, distinctive, typical
“characteristic” is a quality that distinguishes and identifies.
“distinctive” is a feature that sets a person or thing apart from others in its group.
“typical” is a characteristic specific to a group, type or species to which a person or thing belongs.
Novak always made his characteristic fist pump and bow after winning a match.
That designer has a distinctive style when working with recycled wood.
That long-winded letter was typical of a government bureaucratic.
To “cite” something is to refer to it or repeat it as proof of what was said.
To “quote” something is to repeat it, verbatim. (enclosed in quotation marks).
He cited numerous legal precedents while making his argument.
To quote John Lennon on that, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
“common” means belonging to many or to all.
“mutual” means “reciprocal”; feelings or actions felt or done by two or more parties with reference to the other parties in the group.
Miscommunication is a common problem among online users.
Their feelings for each other were mutual.
“compare” should be used when referring to likenesses or similarities.
“contrast” is correctly used when pointing out differences.
Those numbers compare favorably with those of last quarter.
In contrast to my measured approach, his is to rush forward, full steam ahead.
“compliment” is an expression of praise, admiration or flattery.
“complement” is when one person or thing is combined with another, they form a complete unit.
Frank complimented Sharon on her new hair style.
The addition of the new pergola really complements the patio.
comprise, constitute, compose
“comprise” means “to consist of” or “to be made up of” something.
“constitute” and “compose” are equivalent; and mean “to make up” or “account for” something.
A baseball game comprises nine innings.
The land mass of Canada constitutes more than 60% of North America.
Those ten provinces and three territories constitute the country of Canada.
“continual” implies a close recurrence in time; a rapid succession of events or constant repetition.
“continuous” uninterrupted in time or sequence.
His partner’s continual complaining eventually drove him away from the business.
The continuous barrage of heavy metal music eventually broke him down.
“council” is a decision-making governing body, advisory board, or board of directors.
“counsel” refers to the provision of advice or guidance.
Last night, City Council rendered its decision on garbage pick-up days during the summer.
I sought him out in order to seek his counsel on these latest developments.
Okay, that’s enough for the first installment. As I mentioned above, I’ll be making additional posts like this one — three or four letters of the alphabet at a time — every few months over the next year or so.
By the way, if you have any comments or additional words to add (that start with the letters “a”, “b”, or “c”), please make your suggestions in the COMMENT BOX below.
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