Words Gone Confused
Below are some common diction or usage mistakes, and how to avoid them.
- a/an Use an with not just vowels, but also vowel sounds. (An M & M)
- affect/effect As commonly used, affect is the verb, effect is the noun. (This affects me because of its effect.)
- all right/alright There is no such word as alright. It is always spelled as two words.
- everyday/every day everyday is an adjective: it comes before a noun – e.g., an everyday activity. Every day is probably the one you mean: every day I work out; I call her every day.
- among/between Things are between two people, but among more than two people.
- amount/number Use amount only for things you can’t count, and number for things that can be counted. (A large number of kids were absent because a large amount of snow fell.
- less/fewer Use less only for things you can’t count, and fewer for things that can be counted. (A large number of kids were absent because a large amount of snow fell.)
- anyway/anyways There is no such word as anyways.
- bring/take Use bring when movement is towards the speaker, and take when movement is away from the speaker. (Bring me a bucket and take your lunch to school.)
- farther/further Use farther for real distance. Use further for degree, or metaphorical distance. (I'm too tired to walk farther. This relationship can go no further.)
- good/well Good is an adjective; well is an adverb--that is, good describes the subject, and well indicates that he/she performs an action excellently. (You smell good, like flowers. Since my sinuses cleared, I smell well. I'm good. I'm doing well.) Note: referring to health, either one is proper. (I feel good. I fell well healthy.)
- have/got Got is only correctly used as the past tense of get. (I just got a dog.) Otherwise, use of got without have is incorrect. (Wrong: I got enough food to share. But I got to go.) Use of got with have (or 've) is only correct informally. (I have got enough food to share. But I've got to go.) The correct way is just to use have. (I have enough. I have to go.)
- how/that Don't use how as a conjuction when that will do. (Stop reminding me that I have lots of homework. Jake keeps complaining that his foot hurts.) (A conjunction links clauses. So if there is a subject and verb following, then use that. Or…)
- yea/yeah/ya/yah Yeah is the one you want, as in, "Oh, yeah." Yea, pronounced "yay," is old fashioned (Yea, verily I say…). "Ya" or "yah" rhyme with "saw" and are mainly known as how the barely literate spell "yeah," or how you get a horse to move forward.
- which/that Use which, and use commas, for information that is not essential. (Not essential = you could insert the words "by the way.") Use that, and no commas, for information that is essential. (The blue bike, which I got for my birthday, has 21 speeds. The bike that I want is blue and has 21 speeds.)
- which (or that)/who Use which or that for things; use who for people. (My dad is the candidate who won the election.)
- in/into Use into to indicate motion and in for location. (Go into the house while I wait in the car.)
- like/as (if) Like is a preposition. As and as if are conjunctions. Practically speaking, this means that if a clause (a subject noun and verb) follows, then don't use like. Use as or as if. (You look like an angel. I worked as I knew I should. You look as if you saw a ghost.)
- like/that Same rule as above. Like is a preposition; that is a conjunction. So if a subject and verb follows, use that, not like. (I feel that you should treat me better.)
20 Why/how come/what for How come and what…for are very informal. Why is better. (Informal: What are you doing that for? Better: Why are you…?)
- Who/whom Use whom when you would use him in a similar situation.
(Who is a subject pronoun, like he, she, we, I. Whom is an object pronoun, like him, her, us, me.)
(Who is on the phone? I am wondering to whom she is talking.
A lot of people don't care whom they call… or who calls them.)
- Its/It's Its is possessive. It's is only a contraction for it is.
(It's going to be a while before the dog gets its courage back.)
- breath/breathe Breath is a noun. Breathe is a verb. (Breathe your last breath.)
24 Although/however Although only comes at the beginning of a sentence, is not followed by a comma, and creates a dependent clause (which needs to be followed by an independent clause: Although I don’t like you, I will be your ally.) However only comes at the beginning of a sentence or clause, IS always followed by a comma, and is part of an independent clause. (However, I won’t kiss you.) If there is a clause before however, then there must be a semi-colon, not a comma, before however. (I don’t like you; however, I will be your ally.)
- unique/very unique There is no such thing as very unique. Or anyway, it's redundant.
- definitely/defiantly I’m pretty sure you mean definitely.