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/averse
Adverse means unfavorable. Averse means reluctant.

adviser/advisor

The preferred usage is adviser although both are correct.

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

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

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

eminent/imminent
Eminent means distinguished. Imminent means about to happen.

entitled/titled
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/further
Farther refers to physical distance. Further refers to an extension of time or degree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

who/whom
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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