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The Editing Hour: Commonly Misused Words

Last Monday’s post on “that” vs. “which” and “I” vs. “me” led to some interesting comments about other words people often confuse. Here is the list with a few more added. They’re in no particular order.

1. Irregardless—this is not a word! It’s regardless, regardless of how much emphasis you want to put on it.

2. Enormity—sadly, this one is up for debate. While I contend that it can only mean “atrociousness,” some people argue that it IS standard English to use it as a synonym for “enormousness.”

3. Myriad—literally, this means 10,000, but it’s fine to use it to mean “a great number” or “innumerable.” It’s NOT fine, however, to say, “I saw a myriad of animals while on my safari.” It’s “I saw myriad animals while on my safari.” People screw this up in print all the time.

4. Begs the question—(this one courtesy of Sierra Godfrey) to be honest, I’ve never understood the correct way to use this phrase. What I know is that it is INcorrect to use it to mean “raise the question.” You can’t say, “The bank lost all my money, which begs the question whether banks are a reliable place to store money.” Here is the explanation from a website aptly titled Beg the Question:

“Begging the question” is a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place.

A simple example would be “I think he is unattractive because he is ugly.” The adjective “ugly” does not explain why the subject is “unattractive”—they virtually amount to the same subjective meaning, and the proof is merely a restatement of the premise. The sentence has begged the question.

5. The reason is—You can’t say, “The reason I ate the banana is because I love fruit.” It’s “The reason I ate the banana is that I love fruit.” Thanks Glen for that one.

6. I couldn’t care less—as Glen explains in his comment on the previous Editing Hour: “Let us say care is on a scale from 0 (no care) to 10 (care very much). If my care level is at 10 I could care less. If my care level is at 0 I couldn’t care less. “I could care less for what Ralph Nader says” means you care what he says. “I couldn’t care less for what Ralph Nader says” means you don’t care what he says.”

7. Another thing coming—It’s “another think coming,” not “another thing coming,” as in, “If you think you’re staying out all night, you’ve got another think coming.” Thanks RJ Squirrel for that one.

8. Comprise/compose/consist of—You can’t say, “The team was comprised of nine players.” You CAN say, “The team is composed of nine players,” “The team consists of nine players” or “The team comprises nine players.”

9. Could of—It’s “could have,” contracted to “could’ve,” not “could of.” Seems obvious, but I see this a lot.

10. Alright—It’s not a word. It’s “all right”. Same for “alot.” It should be “a lot.”

11. Farther/Further—Farther is used for physical distance, whereas further means to a greater degree.

12. Fewer/Less- Use fewer when referring to counting nouns. Use less when referring to partitive nouns. For example, “I have fewer apples than you” but “I have less butter than you.”

13. Lie/Lay—Sad that I have to mention these, but people still confuse them. You “lie” down, but you “lay” something else down. “Lay” need a direct object. The past tense is even more confusing: “Yesterday I lay down” and before that “I had lain down” but “Yesterday I laid the dog down” and before that “I had laid the dog down.” Lie/lay/lain, lay/laid/laid. (“Lied” is the past tense of to tell a lie, not to lie down.)

14. Sit/Set work exactly the same way. You sit down, but you set something else down.

15. Rise/Raise—same thing. You rise (yourself), but you raise the flag. (rise/rose, raise/raised)

16. Inflammable—confusing, but this means that it CAN catch on fire, not that it can’t.

17. It’s/Its—The reason THAT this is confusing is that we think of possessives as having the ‘s, but in this case the possessive “its” doesn’t have an apostrophe. If it’s not short for “it is,” there’s no apostrophe.

18. i.e./e.g.—”i.e.” means “in other words,” while “e.g.” means “for example.”

19. Who/which/that—who is used for people, that for things (see that vs. which on the previous Editing Hour.

20. Nauseous/nauseated—You can’t be nauseous, unless you are emitting noxious fumes. You are nauseated, the thing that makes you feel that way is nauseous.

21. Healthful/healthy—This one is similar to nauseous/nauseated, although I admit to rarely using the word “healthful.” You are not healthy, you are healthful. The spinach you eat is healthy.

22. Toward—It’s not “towards,” just “toward.”

23. Anyway—It’s not “anyways,” just “anyway.”

24. Noone—It’s “nobody” but “no one.”

There are a gazillion words people confuse, especially if you get into homonyms like “stationary” and “stationery,” but these are some of the most common. If you think of others, please post them in comments, and I’ll add them to the list!

Next week on The Editing Hour: Is it Continual or Continuous? Disburse or Disperse? Tune in Monday to find out!

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