Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Confusable Words

Tonight, I'll be hosting a workshop at a local library on mastering the basics for fiction writers. It's a fairly popular workshop because there are so many wanna-be writers out there. One of the things I cover in this 2-hour PowerPoint presentation are thirty of the most commonly misused words. Whether it's due to confusion with homonyms or writing too quickly, we all have those brain blip moments where we mean one thing, but write something else instead. That's one reason why an editor is so important to your writing career. No one wants to read a story littered with improper word usage, poor punctuation, or garbled sentence structure. Take a look at this list, see if you've got any of these "confusables" in your manuscript. Interested in working with an editor who'll give you the attention your work deserves at a reasonable price? Contact me at for more details!

1. Lightning. Lightening is the result of successful dieting. That flash in the sky is lightning.
2. Withdrawal. Would you believe I actually saw withdrawl on a news program?! Eek!
3. Affect/Effect. Affect is the act; Effect is the end result. "Global warming affects our planet, having a negative effect on living things."
4. Farther/Further. Use farther for measures of distance; further for everything else.
5. A lot. Two words!
6. All right. Again, two words!
7. It's/Its. Do you use an apostrophe for "hers" or "his"? So, why use one in the possessive "its"? You don't. It's is the contraction of "it is."
8. Lead/Led. The first one is a metal or used to describe someone at head of the line in the present tense: The teacher will lead the class out of the school in a single file line. The second is how the fireman got the victim through a dark house yesterday. He led me into the dining room where a candlelit dinner waited.
9. Irregardless. Aaaaaaarrrrrrgggghhhh! There is no such word. The word is simply regardless.
10. Stationary/Stationery. If you're standing still, you're stationary. You write on stationery.
11. Nauseous/Nauseated. When you're nauseous, you're making someone else sick. When you're sick, you're nauseated.
12. Imply/Infer. To imply is to suggest--think of the old retort, "I resent the implication..." To infer is to draw a conclusion.
13. Ensure/Insure. Insure has to do with insurance contracts. Use ensure unless your hero works for MetLife.
14. Breath is what you inhale; the act is to breathe.
15. Proceed/Precede. “Pre-” means before. So if something precedes you, it came before. If it proceeds you, it came after.
16. There/They’re/Their and Your/You’re. There is directional, they’re is the shortened version of they are, and their is the possessive.
Your is the possessive. You’re is the shortened version of you are.
17. Bare/Bear. Bare is naked, stripped. Bear is an animal or, as a verb, to withstand something. “I couldn’t bear to go bare!”
18. Bore/Bored. She bore the brunt of his anger (past tense of bear). His gaze bored into her soul (past tense of bore, as in drill).
19. Peak/Peek/Pique. Peak is like a mountain top. You play peek-a-boo with a child or peek at your Christmas gift a few days early. And your heroine can either pique the hero’s curiosity or leave in a fit of pique.
20. Vice/Vise. A vice is a bad habit. A vise is a tool used to pinch two ends together.
21. Lay/Lie/Laid/Lain. You can lay something down; hens lay eggs, or someone can lie on your sofa. But if it happened yesterday, you laid something down, the hens laid eggs, or someone had lain on your sofa. Still confused? Use “recline” or some synonym thereof. It’s easier.
22. Slander/Libel. Slander is spoken; libel is written.
23. Faze/Phase. For faze, think daze. Nothing fazes him. A phase is a passage of time.
24. Rain/Rein/Reign. Rain falls from the sky. You rein in your temper (think horses’ reins) and a king reigns over his kingdom.
25. Accept/Except. Accept an apology or an invitation. Invite everyone except your cousin, Melvin.
26. Soul/Sole. A soul is that intangible part of your mortality we hope lives on. Sole is a fish, part of a shoe, or as an adjective, a synonym for single, lone, only (i.e.: sole survivor.)
27. Everyday/Every day. Used as one word, everyday means routine, run-of-the-mill. Throw in “single” to differentiate. His everyday wardrobe consisted of gray slacks, white shirt, and blue tie. He wore the same outfit every (single) day.
28. Pore/Pour. You pore over your manuscript looking for errors. If you’re lucky, your spouse pours you a glass of wine while you’re working.
29. Anymore/Any More. One word if you’re dealing with a time issue; two words if you’re talking about quantity. You don’t smoke anymore since you were diagnosed with lung cancer. OR You don’t smoke any more than you did before you were diagnosed with lung cancer.
30. Who/Whom. Not sure when to use which? Change the sentence slightly. If you can replace the problem word with “she” or “he,” use “who.” She let the dogs out. Who let the dogs out? If you would replace the problem word with “her” or “him,” use “whom.” The dogs belong to him. The dogs belong to whom?

I could go on and on, but what these 30 words should show you is that you cannot rely on SpellCheck! If you’re not 100% sure of the meaning or correct spelling for a specific word, take a few minutes to look it up. should be bookmarked on every writer’s desktop.

A few phrases often misconstrued:

1. Bated breath, not baited.
2. Toe the line, not tow.
3. Couldn’t care less. If you could care less, you would.
4. “I literally died.” Gee, I hope not. I think you figuratively died.
5. For all intents and purposes, not intensive purposes.
6. Do a 180. A 360 is a full circle that takes you back where you started.
7. One and the same, not one in the same.
8. Whet your appetite, don’t wet it.
9. You’ve got another think coming, not thing.
10. Statute of limitations. Statues need not apply.

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