Margaret McGann

Do these tricky words trip you up?

In communications and marketing, proofreading, public relations, writing on March 22, 2010 at 7:02 am

Most of us have been tripped up by one or more of these tricky words when writing and editing. It’s an easy thing to do. Although this isn’t a comprehensive list it does cover most tricky words.

Be sure to watch for these when proofreading because if spelled correctly they won’t show up as an error in spell check.

Adverse means unfavorable. Averse means reluctant.


The preferred usage is adviser although both are correct.

“Biannual” is twice a year. Biennial is every two years.

Complement is something that supplements. Compliment is praise or an expression of courtesy.

Disinterested means impartial. Uninterested means someone doesn’t have any interest.

Eminent means distinguished. Imminent means about to happen.

Entitled means having the right to something (she is entitled to the inheritance). Use titled to introduce the name of a publication, speech, musical piece (the piece is titled, “Four Seasons”).

Farther refers to physical distance. Further refers to an extension of time or degree.

Imply means to suggest or indicate indirectly. To infer is to conclude or decide from something known or assumed.

Insure means to establish a contract for insurance of some type. Ensure means to guarantee.

Lay means to place or deposit. Lie means to be in a reclining position or to be situated.

Principal is an adjective relating to the head person, principal teacher or principal officer of a company.  Principle means a basic truth or doctrine.

Premier is first in status or importance, chief, or a prime minister or chief executive. Premiere is a first performance.

Theatre is the Canadian and British spelling. Theater is used in the United States.

Use is the preferred use for plain language writing. Utilize is not really used anymore.

It is only used if your sentence has an objective clause that refers to a person or animal with a proper name, it is ungrammatical not to use whom.

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