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March 25, 2012 - 10 Commonly Misused Words

The English language is filled with many subtle differences in words. Many of these words sound alike, but their meaning is distinctly different. As a result, writers often misuse these words and do not communicate the intent of their writing. Even worse, they lose credibility with their reader.

The following outlines ten commonly misused words. While there are numerous examples, understanding these misused words will train you to find other occurrences in your writing. Since these words are actually spelled correctly, a spell check tool in a word processor will not discover these misuses. Therefore, it is important to have a dictionary available when you are writing in order to ensure you are using these words properly.

Let's take a look at a few examples:

1. farther, further

Farther indicates distance, and further designates degree.

• He traveled farther than any of the other guests at the wedding.
• After hearing the lecture, the student wanted to further investigate the issue.

2. fewer, less

Fewer should be used with nouns that can actually be counted. Less should be used with quantities that cannot be counted.

• Fewer people attended the class than before.
• The team showed less enthusiasm after the heart-breaking loss.

3. aggravate, irritate

Aggravate means "to worsen." Irritate means "to annoy." Avoid using aggravate as a colloquial term for irritate.

• The malfunction of the restaurant's kitchen equipment irritated the executive chef, who worried that the breakdown would aggravate an already tense situation.

4. everyday, every day

Everyday means "ordinary or commonplace." Every day means "occurring daily."

• The doctor used everyday language to attempt to describe the difficult medical condition to the patient's family.
• The baseball team has played a game every day since last Saturday.

5. among, between

Among refers to groups of more than two things. Between refers to just two things.

• The minister felt privileged to sit among his congregation when the guest preacher visited last Sunday.
• The farmer's land included all the territory between Gable and Manning.

6. affect, effect

Affect is a verb meaning "to influence." Effect can be a verb or a noun. As a verb, it means "to bring about," and as a noun, it means "result."

• His sudden illness could affect his vacation plans.
• The mediator tried to effect a settlement that would satisfy the company and victim.
• The effect of the atom bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to the ending of the war.

7. in, into

Utilize in to indicate position. Use into to indicate motion to a point within a thing.

• As the man stood in the museum, he was fascinated by the historical artifacts.
• The man walked into the building, and he never returned.

8. can, may

Can indicates ability. May indicates permission.

• Can the dog jump over the fence?
• May I go upstairs?

9. who, whom

Use who or whoever when a pronoun serves as the subject of its clause. Use whom or whomever when it functions as an object in a clause.

• Frank, who is studying international relations, would like to visit the United Nations.
• James, whom I haven't seen since last August, wants me to travel to New York with him.

10. than, then

Than is a conjunction used to indicate a comparison. Then is an adverb indicating time.

• The new house is larger than the old one.
• She did her investigation; then she wrote her findings.

Become familiar with this list, and you will question your use of other words as well. A dictionary will serve you well to ensure your writing is most successful!

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