Welcome to Writing Tip Tuesday, the Commonly Misused Words edition. This is the third in a series of posts pulled from my free guide “On Not Writing Badly.” You can download the whole thing by filling out this form, or, if you’d rather not subscribe to my email list, you can simply check back here over the next several Tuesdays for a regular dose of word nerdery.
Commonly Misused Words
Altogether ~ Entirely
All together ~ All of us together
Assure ~ To promise
Ensure ~ To make certain
Insure ~ Transfer of the risk of a loss in exchange for payment
Between ~ Used when the choice is between distinct options
Example: She chose between Harvard, Brown, and Yale.
Among ~ Used for non-distinct options
Example: She chose among the Ivy League schools.
Amid ~ Used to denote something that cannot be counted
Example: She lost her purse amid the chaos.
Which vs. That
To determine whether to use “which” or “that” in a sentence, I use a little trick I
learned from Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl). Ms. Fogarty suggests that we can “kick the witches out.” (I like to picture Hermione Granger getting booted out of class for being a know-it-all.)
Basically, it comes down to this: Is the information essential to the meaning of the
sentence? If so, use “that” and omit the commas. When you use “which,” the additional information is offset with commas.
Example: The toys that are noisy end up in the trash.
(This sentence is saying that the noisy toys get thrown away, implying that perhaps the quiet toys are held onto.)
Example: The toys, which are noisy, end up in the trash.
(This sentence is saying that toys end up in the trash. The bit of info about them being noisy could be removed without affecting the meaning of the sentence.)
Capitol ~ State or federal government building
Capital ~ Money, form of a letter in the alphabet, city
Elicit ~ To draw forth
Illicit ~ Illegal
Farther ~ Physical distance
Further ~ To a greater degree
Imply ~ To suggest
Infer ~ To deduce from evidence
Log in ~ Log in to check your email. (verb)
Login ~ The information you use to sign in to your email is your login. (noun) AND
The page where you sign in to your email is the login page. (adjective)
Then ~ Refers to a time
Example: I will come over then.
Than ~ Compares two things
Example: Joe is taller than Dan.
They’re ~ They are
Example: They’re super smart.
Their ~ Possessive
Example: Their house is white.
There ~ In or at a place
Example: I’ll see you there.
Who ~ A subject pronoun
Example: Who is going to the meeting?
Whom ~ An object pronoun
Example: With whom are you going to the meeting?
Whose ~ Possessive pronoun
Example: Whose hat is this?
Who’s ~ Contraction of “who is”
Example: Who’s at the front of the line?
Your ~ Possessive form of “you”
Example: Your cat is awesome.
You’re ~ Contraction of “you are”
Example: You’re not going?
“However” has two meanings.
When used without a comma at the beginning of a sentence it means “no matter how.”
Example: However beautiful the strategy, you should check the results.
When used with a comma (at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence) it means “nevertheless.”
Example: If I am needed here, however, I will stay.