Handy Word Guide

The problem with spelling checkers is that they are stupid. You're spieling checker while say awl yew rite is grate butt it cant sea wen ewe dew wright something reel baaed like these miss steaks (the preceding sentence passed a spelling check flawlessly). There is no substitute for knowing the meanings and usage of words. You will only get that from reading, not from watching TV. This page contains a few hundred of the most commonly confused words for easy reference.

What's really sad is that the original sources for many of these mistakes are not fan fiction — they're online news articles (newspaper, TV station, even wire services) from what should be educated journalists — people who should know that cars have brakes, flaunt means to show off, and comprise is not a synonym for compose. I just added one from Civilization IV. We are, by and large, amateur writers. There is perhaps some excuse for us getting it wrong. But the people who write for a living, and should know the meanings of the words they put on the page — what's their excuse?

To help out, however, here is a list of some of some commonly misused words (mostly homophones) for easy reference. Please note that this list does pretend to be a dictionary. It does not cover all possible meanings of the words in question, just the most significant or the most common in our writing. A far more comprehensive collection can be found at Common Errors in English.

Note: The punctuation advice has been moved to the new grammar & punctuation page. There is also an alphabetically sorted list of these words on the alphabetic list page. This list is only roughly in alphabetical order due to the grouping of homonyms.

Homophones - Confusing Words - Latin Etc. - Correct Phrases - Morphing Words

Abused Homophones

a — indefinite article, used before a consonant: A big truck.
an — indefinite article, used in place of "a" before a vowel: An empty truck.
and — conjunction: A truck and a car.

acme — the highest point: Performing in the Palladium was the acme of his career.
acne — zits: His face was pocked with acne scars.

ad — abbreviation for advertisement: An ad for trucks.
add — put more in: Add that to the stuff in the truck.

adverse — unfavorable, harmful: The adverse weather conditions slowed us down.
averse — opposed to, unwilling: He was averse to the idea and kept arguing.

aisle — a place to walk: The bride walked down the aisle.
isle — an island: Some enchanted isle.

a lot — many: There are a lot of trucks here here.
allot — to give or assign: More than the allotted number of trucks.
alot — (not a word)

accept — to receive or welcome: He accepted the keys to the truck.
except — excluding; to exclude: We have everything except a truck.

affect (v) — have an effect on: The bad weather affected the roads.
affect (n) — a technical term in psychiatry, referring to emotions.
effect (n) — consequence: The effect was that driving was hazardous.
effect (v) — to cause to happen: Perhaps this will effect a change in writers.
Note: stick with affect as a verb and effect as a noun and you'll generally be safe

aid — assistance: Doctors provide aid to the sick.
aide — assistant: Every commander needs a good aide.
aids — signals given to a horse by its rider.
AIDS — Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

all ready — entirely ready: The trucks are all ready to go.
already — before now: The trucks already left.

all right — synonym for ok: All right, let's do it.
aight — (not a word)
alright — (not a word)

aloud — capable of being heard: He said it aloud.
allowed — permitted: He was allowed to say it.

angel — a celestial being: Touched by an angel.
angle — where two lines meet: The road forked at a sharp angle.

antidote — remedy: The doctor administered the antidote.
anecdote — a short, humorous story: He laughed at the funny anecdotes.

any more — additional, extra: I'm full, so I can't eat any more shrimp.
anymore — from now on: Seafood gives me migraines, so I can't eat shrimp anymore.

a part — an element of: A piston is a part of an engine.
apart — separated: He took the truck engine apart.

are — present tense of "to be": You are reading this.
our — possessive of "us": That is our truck!

away — elsewhere: The truck went away.
aweigh — lift clear of the bottom: Anchors aweigh!

bail (v) — to empty a boat with a bucket, or leave an airplane: Bail out!
bail (n) — money required to ensure that a person appears for trial: Bail was set at $10,000.
bale — a bundle of something: Bales of hay.

ball — a spherical object, often bouncy.
bawl — to yell, or to yell at someone: bawl them out.

band — a ring or a musical group: What's your favorite band?
banned — past tense of ban: He got banned from FFN.

bare — unclothed: I have bare feet.
bear — a furry creature; to carry; to tolerate: I can't bear bad writing.

bazaar — a middle eastern market: Let's go shopping in the bazaar.
bizarre — strange: I bought something bizarre.

board — a plank: Put that board in the truck.
bored — tired of: I'm bored with putting stuff in trucks; also, made a hole.

boarder — someone who pays for housing and food: Mrs. Smith took in boarders.
border — an edge or frontier: The truck drove across the border.

born — arrived via birth: I wasn't born yesterday.
borne — carried: A plane becomes airborne.

brake — something to stop a vehicle: This truck has bad brakes.
break — to un-fix: Don't break anything.

breach — to break; something broken: a breach in the defenses.
breech — the rear end: a breech-loading gun.

bread — something you eat: A loaf of bread.
bred — various forms of breed: Racehorses are bred for speed.

breath — the air that is moved in and out of the lungs.
breathe — the act of moving air in and out of the lungs.
breadth — how broad something is.

bumble — to move clumsily. Bumblebees bumble around flowers.
fumble — to clumsily handle or drop. The courier fumbled with the packet.
bungle — to do incompetently: The mechanic bungled the truck repairs.

but — except: We have everything but a truck.
butt — what a billygoat does; a target; the posterior.
butte — a flat-topped hill

buy — purchase: I want to buy a truck.
by — a preposition: The truck is parked by the garage.
bye — short for goodbye (colloquial).

canon — an original or authoritative source: Fanfic writers should respect canon.
cannon — a really big gun: The cannon bombarded the fortress.

censer — a thing incense is burned in.
censor — to edit out prohibited content.
sensor — something that senses.

chanty — a sailor's working song, probably from "chant".
shanty — a hut or small building.

close — near: The truck was parked close to the car.
closed — not open: The door of the truck was closed.
I want to smack Sid Meier every time I see "Our close borders spark tensions" in Civ IV.

clothes — what you wear.
cloth — what clothes are made out of.
cloths — multiple pieces or types of cloth.

coma — a deep state of unconsciousness from which a person cannot be aroused.
comma — a punctuation mark often misused by novice writers.

come on — let's go, continue: Come on, get on with it.
common — not rare: Trucks are very common examples here.
comon — (not a word)

complement — something which completes: A fine wine complements the meal.
compliment — praise: Good writers get genuine compliments.

conscious — awake: The truck driver is conscious.
conscience — internal sense of right and wrong: The thief had a guilty conscience.

cord — a string, wire, or other long, flexible thing.
chord — several simultaneous musical notes; a line across a circle.
cored — removed the core from: He cored the apple.

council — a ruling committee: The town council banned loud car stereos.
counsel — (v) to advise; (n) a lawyer or advisor; advice.

cubical — cube-shaped: a cubical box.
cubicle — permanent "temporary" office: nobody likes working in a cubicle.

customer — someone who buys something: Customers are found in stores.
costumer — someone who makes costumes: Costumers are found at SF cons.

defuse — disarm; reduce tension: To defuse a bomb.
diffuse — become widespread: Blood diffused through the water.

desert — A dry, sandy sort of place: North Africa is primarily desert.
dessert — a sweet food eaten at the end of a meal: Ice cream is a tasty dessert.

die — to cease to live: The king must die; also, singular of dice.
dye — to make another color: Dye the king's robes purple.

do — to take an action: I didn't do it!
dew — water condensed on surfaces: The morning dew glistened on the roses.

discreet — circumspect: Take a discreet peek at the secret files.
discrete — separate: The mixture is made of two discrete parts.

discussed — to talk about: The Heroes discussed their plan.
disgust — a strong loathing: He looked at the roadkill with disgust.

dominate (v) — to control: The rooster tried to dominate the chicken coop.
dominant (adj) — being in control: The rooster was the dominant chicken.

dual — having two parts: A dual-part story.
duel — a two-person fight: A story about a duel.

elicit — to draw forth: His hostile words elicited an angry response.
illicit — illegal, unlawful: The candidate accepted illicit donations.

elude — to escape from or avoid: My muse is eluding me.
allude — to refer to: The speaker alluded to the symbolism in Pilgrim's Progress.

emigrate — to move out of a country.
immigrate — to move into a country.

eminent — conspicuous, prominent, famous: He was an eminent statesman.
imminent — about to happen: The heroes were in imminent danger.

ensure — make certain something happens: Ensure that the truck is here on time.
insure — issue or obtain insurance: Be sure to insure the new truck.
assure — remove doubt; promise: He assured us that the truck was coming.

expatriate — someone living in a foreign country: An American expatriate in Paris.
ex-patriot — Not a word; if it were, it would mean a person who is no longer a patriot.

fair — equitable; pleasant; a public gathering.
fare — a price paid for passage: The bus fare was fifty cents.
faire — Short for "Renaissance Faire".

fallow — not cultivated: The field was allowed to lie fallow this year.
fellow — companion, man in general: There's a fellow here with a truck.
follow — to travel behind: Follow that truck!

fain — gladly: I would fain return.
fane — a shrine or temple.
feign — to fake: He feigned interest.

faze — to disconcert: Nothing can faze him.
phase — a stage in something: Going through a phase.

fiscal — to do with money: The new fiscal year starts today.
physical — to do with the body: A physical handicap.

flew — past tense of fly: The bird flew.
flu — shortened term for influenza: He had the flu.
flue — the passage in a chimney: The smoke went up the flue.

forward — opposite of backward: The truck went forward.
foreword — introduction to a book. The words that come before the book.

foul — a rules violation, or repulsive: The foul ball fell into foul water.
fowl — a bird: Chickens are fowl. (chicken coops, on the other hand...)

grisly — gory: A grisly murder.
grizzly — flecked with grey: Grizzly bears have grizzled fur.

gilt — fake gold: The sign on the truck had gilt lettering.
guilt — a feeling of shame: The truck driver was overcome with guilt.

heal — to make well: It takes time for broken bones to heal.
heel — part of the foot: The boot had a high heel.

hear — to sense with an ear. (easy: hear, ear)
here — not there. (easy: here, there)

heir — one who inherits. The king's heir is the prince.
hair — what grows on a head. The king's hair is brown.
hare — a bunny. The king's hare has long ears.

hoard — a collection of stuff: A hoard of treasure.
horde — a lot of people: A horde of Mongols.

homing — Seeking a specific target: A homing pigeon; a homing missile.
honing — the act of sharpening: Honing a knife.

illusion — something imaginary: A magician's tricks are illusions.
allusion — indirect reference: Milton's poetry contains allusions to the classics.

interment — burial. The interment will be after the funeral service.
internment — captivity. He endured three years of internment.

its — possessive of "it": The truck is in its garage.
it's — contraction of "it is": It's where the other trucks are.

know — to have knowledge: I know that's a truck.
no — a word of negation: That's no truck!
now — the present time: The truck is here now.

leach — to remove with water: The nutrients were leached out of the flooded soil.
leech — a bloodsucking creature: There's a leech on my leg!.

lead — a heavy metal: Turn lead into gold; to direct: Lead us to victory!
led — past tense of lead: You led us to the supermarket!

lessen — reduce: Unload the truck to lessen its weight.
lesson — instruction: A tipped truck is a lesson in bad loading.

lie — an untruth: Never tell a lie.
lye — a caustic chemical: Never drink lye.

lieu — place: Now only used in "In lieu of."
loo — a British bathroom: I'm going to the loo.

lightning — the cause of thunder: The truck was hit by lightning.
lightening — making lighter: Dumping cargo is a way of lightening a truck.

loath — reluctant: He was loath to drive the truck with worn-out brakes.
loathe — abhor: He loathed trucks.

lose — opposite of find: How could you lose a whole truck?
loose — opposite of tight: The truck's lug nuts are loose.

loser — opposite of winner: The loser has to do the dishes for a week.
looser — opposite of tighter: Your pants will feel looser if you lose some weight.

maybe — adv. possibly: Maybe we shouldn't drive this truck.
may be — adv.+v. might be: I may be in the truck.
A simple test: If you can replace "may" with "will" then it's "may be"; otherwise it's "maybe".

medal — a military decoration: The Iron Cross is a medal.
metal — a material: Iron is a metal.

meddle — to involve oneself: Do not meddle in other people's business.
mettle — inner strength: It takes a lot of mettle to be a spy.

minute (n) — (pronounced min-it) 60 seconds: This will only take a minute.
minute (adj) — (pronounced my-newt) very small: A minute puncture in a truck tire.
minuet — a dance of the 17th century.

memento — an object kept as a reminder: She took photos as mementos of her trip.
momento — Spanish for moment: Solo un momento.

mourn — to grieve: They mourned the loss of the only working truck.
morn — morning: "When on a summer's morn I wake...."

moot — of no significance (esp. legal): If a truck is out of gas, its performance is moot. Also, arguable or open to question.
mute — not speaking: It is better to remain mute and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

muscle — a body part: I'm getting sore muscles from loading all those trucks.
mussel — a shellfish: A truckload of mussels going to market.

naval — to do with the navy: Go to the naval base.
navel — the bellybutton: Go contemplate your navel.

new — not old: A new truck.
knew — understood: He knew all about trucks.

not — to express negation, denial, or refusal: That's not true!
knot — an interlacing of a cord or rope: He tied a knot.
naught — nothing, lost, done in vain: It was all for naught.

pail — a bucket: The pail was full of water.
pale — light-colored: His face was pale; a barrier: beyond the pale.

palatable — edible: A good cook can make anything palatable.
palpable — able to be felt: The tension was palpable.

palate — the upper part of the mouth; taste perferences.
pallet — a straw mattress; a platform used to move items: Load the pallets in the truck.
palette — an artist's color tray; a range of colors.

passed — past tense of pass: The truck passed by.
past — before the present: A story of the past; preposition: The truck went past.

patience — endurance and perseverance: Beta readers need enormous patience.
patients — doctors' clients: Doctors prescribe diets for enormous patients.

peace — the opposite of war: The leaders signed a peace treaty.
piece — a part of something: I want a piece of pie.

peak — the top: Climb to the peak of the mountain.
peek — to look: Peek out the window.
pique — to arouse: What you see will pique your curiosity.

pedal — something pushed with the foot; to ride a foot-powered vehicle.
peddle — to sell: The farmer's son peddled vegetables door to door.
petal — part of a flower, usually the showy part.

peel — a vegetable skin: Potatoes have peels.
peal — a sound: They heard the peal of bells.

personal — specific to a person: That is my personal opinion.
personnel — employees: That is my opinion of the personnel.

plane — a flat surface; a woodworking tool; an airplane.
plain — not fancy: It was a plain truck.
plains — flat terrain: Buffalo roamed the Great Plains.

pole — a rod or staff: The flag flew from a tall pole.
Pole — a citizen of Poland: The truck driver was a Pole.
poll — a survey: I got a call from someone taking a political poll.

pore — a hole; to study closely: Poring over intelligence reports is boring.
pour — to dump liquid on: Pouring coffee on intelligence reports is bad.

pray — to call upon a deity: Let us pray.
prey — hunter's target: The cat pounced on its prey; also, (v) to hunt.

principal — a main or important part; head teacher: The principal is my pal. (easy: both end in -al)
principle — a rule: A principle is a rule. (easy: both end in -le)

private — not public: That is private information.
privet — A type of shrub: A privet hedge.

prospective — forthcoming or likely to occur: A prospective new client.
perspective — angle of view: It can't be seen from this perspective.

raise — to move upward: Raise your hand.
rays — flat cartilaginous fish: Stingrays; lines: Rays of sunlight.
raze — to knock down: Raze the city.

reckless — uncaring or unaware of danger: a reckless driver.
wreckless — not having wrecks (not really a word).

read — interpret from written words: Please read this list of words.
reed — a grass-like water plant: The ducks hid in the reeds.
rede — advice or a rule (archaic): Right is thy rede.

red — a color: That truck is red.
read — performed reading: We read about trucks.

reign — to rule: The king reigns.
rein — what you steer a horse with, as in the phrase "To give free rein".
rain — to drip: Why is it raining in my kitchen?

right — correct: The right way; permission: This man has no right to be here.
rite — ritual: Getting your first bad review is a rite of passage.
wright — someone who makes something: A playwright or a shipwright.
write — what we do: Write a story.
Note: copyright means the right to copy; write it right!

ring — something circular: Ring around the rosie.
wring — twist tightly: Wring out the washcloth.

road — what you drive on: There is a truck on the road.
rode — past tense of ride: I rode in the truck.

role — a function or a character: An actor plays a role.
roll — a list: The student made the honor roll.
Also a tiny loaf of bread, to move by turning, and numerous other meanings.
roll call — checking attendance from a list.

scar — n. a visible mark of a healed wound: A scar on his cheek. (scarred)
scare — v. to frighten: Trucks scare him. (scared)

scull — to move with oars: The crew sculled the boat.
skull — the head bone: The Jolly Roger is a skull and crossbones.

seam — stitching: To sew a fine seam.
seem — appear: The weather seems fine for now.

seen — past participle of saw: They were not seen.
scene — a location: They had already left the scene.

sell — v. to make a sale: We should sell this truck.
sale — n. act or result of selling: This truck is for sale.

sense — to detect: I sense a truck coming; wisdom: common sense is uncommon.
scents — smells: The scents of the flowers were intoxicating.
cents — pennies: The price is fifty cents.
since — in the time after: I have added over 100 words since this started.

sew — to stitch: Sew a seam.
sow — to plant seeds: Sow barley.

sheer — undiluted: Sheer terror; very thin: Sheer curtains.
shear — to clip or cut: Shear a sheep.

sight — something seen: What a sight that explosion was!
site — location: The bridge was the site of the explosion.
cite — to refer to: Cite your references; to write up: Cited for speeding.

sleight — skill or trickery: Sleight of hand.
slight — minimal: I have a slight headache.

sole — only; the bottom of the foot or shoe: The sole sole had a hole.
soul — spirit: His soul was tormented.

stake — a pointy piece of wood: Stick a stake in that vampire; something at risk: The stakes were high.
steak — a tasty piece of meat: Stick a steak on that grill.

steal — to take unlawfully: Someone might steal that truck.
steel — a metal: Trucks are made of steel.

straight — directly: Go straight north.
strait — something tight or constricted: The Straits of Gibraltar, for instance.
Note: It's straitjacket, strait-laced, and strait and narrow.

suit — v. to fit or be appropriate: Soot suits you.
suit — n. masculine formal wear: He bought a pinstriped suit; also, lawsuit.
suite — n. a set of things: He bought a new bedroom suite.

summary — a short synopsis: A story should have a good summary.
summery — pertaining to summer: We look forward to summery weather.

symbol — a sign; something that stands for something else.
cymbal — one of a pair of metal discs used as a percussion instrument.

tenant — one occupying rented property: There was a tenant in the apartment.
tenet — a rule or principle The first tenet of writing is to know what you write.

tail — a caudal appendage: The mouse has a long tail.
tale — a story: A tale about a cat and a mouse.

their — possessive of "them": That is their stuff. (easy: her, our, your, their)
they're — contraction of "they are": They're reading too. (easy: they+are)
there — location other than here: It's over there. (easy: T+here)

than — the second half of a comparison: Trucks are bigger than bicycles.
then — a time other than now: Wash the truck, then you can drive it.

threw — verb, past tense of throw. He threw a rock.
through — preposition: Walk through the gate.

throne — a fancy chair: The king was on his throne.
thrown — past participle of throw: The court jester was thrown out.

timber — trees or logs: The truck was loaded with timbre.
timbre — tone: The sound of the truck's defective engine had a strange timbre.

to — think of towards: Going to town.
too — also: I will go too; excessively: Too bad.
two — between one and three: Two trucks.

tome — a large book: This tome is about trucks.
tomb — a grave: The Tomb of the Patriarchs is famous.

trader — one who trades or sells: He was a trader in spices.
traitor — one who betrays: He was a traitor to his country.

vain — conceited: The movie star was vain; futile: It was in vain.
vane — a thin, flat surface, often moveable: A weather vane.
vein — a blood vessel: The jugular vein.

vale — a valley: The little brown church in the vale.
veil — a thin covering: A bridal veil.

vial — a small bottle: A vial of blood.
vile — foul: A bottle of something vile.

ware — goods such as pottery (often compound): The dishes were stoneware.
wares — goods for sale: The shopkeeper advertised his wares.
wear — to be clothed in: Wear a sweater when it's cold.
were — past tense of "to be": The trucks were here.
were- — as in werewolf, etc.: creature that can change from human to animal form.
where — at what location: Where is the truck?

waste — squander; something wasted: Don't waste your time on bad fanfic.
waist — the middle of the body: A belt goes around your waist.

wave — to flap around: Wave the flag.
waive — to grant an exemption to: Waive the rules.

way — path or direction: Which way did the truck go?
weigh — check the weight of, or have weight: How much does that truck weigh?
whey — the liquid part of curdled milk, squeezed out from the curds.

weary — tired: Reading fanfic at 3 am leaves me weary the next day.
wary — afraid: I am wary of letting my characters become Mary Sues.

weather — rain, snow, etc.: What is the weather like today?
whether — or not: See whether it's raining.
wether — a neutered ram; normally seen in the word "bellwether".

wet — damp, or to make damp: If you go out in the rain you'll get wet.
whet — to sharpen: Hard work will whet your appetite.

wine — fermented grape juice: A fine wine was served with the meal.
whine — whimper or complain: Don't whine about the food.

witch — n. person with magical powers: The witch turned me into a newt!
which — pronoun. This is the newt which was once human.

who — pronoun for an unknown person, used as a subject: Who gave that to you?
whom — pronoun for an unknown person, used as an object: To whom did you give it?
Note: remember "Who did what to whom?" If you can't remember or aren't sure, just use "who"; even if you're wrong, you won't look pompous and affected as you would if you misused "whom".

whose — possessive of "who": Whose truck is this?
who's — contraction of "who is": Who's on first?

wreak — to inflict, especially vengeance: The bombing wreaked havoc on Dresden.
wreck — to ruin: The truck was wrecked when it ran off the road.
reek — to stink: The garbage truck reeked.

your — possessive of "you": This is your stuff.
you're — contraction of "you are": You're reading this.
yore — ancient times: In days of yore.

Other Confusing Words

In addition, there are some confusing words which are not homophones but tend to get misused a lot.

acrophobia — the fear of heights.
agoraphobia — the fear of open spaces.

accurate — a measurement that is accurate is one that is correct (though not necessarily exact).
precise — a measurement that is precise is one that is exact (though not necessarily correct).

anxious — to look forward to with dread: He anxiously awaited his physical.
eager — to look forward to with keen desire: He eagerly awaited the circus.

borrow — to recieve a loan: Can I borrow your truck?
lend — to make a loan: I'll lend you my truck.

bring — to move something toward the speaker: Bring it when you come.
take — to move something away from the speaker: Take it when you go.

compose — to make up: The parts compose the whole.
comprise — to contain: The whole comprises the parts.
consist (of) — to be made of: The whole consists of the parts.
constitute — to form: The parts together constitute the whole.

continual — happening again and again: The faucet drips continually.
continous — constant, unbroken: The continuous roar of truck engines.

copyright — the right to copy (such as a story). Not copywrite or copywright.
Note that it is, however, playwright, coming from the meaning of wright as a maker, such as in wheelwright.

decimate — to destroy one-tenth: The mutinous Roman legion was decimated.
devastate — to cause extensive destruction: The city was devastated by bombing.

disinterested — neutral, impartial: A disinterested mediator.
uninterested — not interested: He was uninterested in how the engine worked.

fault — a problem: His big fault was his over-confidence.
falter — to fail: His bravery faltered when he saw the enemy.

flaunt — to wave about: He likes to flaunt his triumphs.
flout — to openly defy: He likes to flout the rules.

fraught — loaded, accompanied: The mission was fraught with danger.
Related to "freight"

house — a residential building, often single: The truck was parked by the house.
home — a place someone lives: His home was the sleeper of his truck.
Note: This distinction has been deliberately confused by the real estate industry advertising "homes" instead of "houses" to take advantage of the connotations of happiness and comfort the word "home" implies.

imply — suggest something: I'm not trying to imply that I own these characters.
infer — conclude from evidence: Don't infer that I own these characters.

laying (lay) what you do to something else: Lay those coats on the bed.
lying (lie) — what someone or something (including you) does: The coats are lying on the bed.

nimrod — a mighty hunter, from a person in the Bible.
The association with foolishness may be Bugs Bunny calling Elmer Fudd "a poor little Nimrod", possibly also confused with "nimnull."

poisonous — toxic if ingested: Arsenic is poisonous.
venomous — capable of injecting toxin: Rattlesnakes are venomous.

prone — lying face down.
supine — lying face up, on one's back.

unique — the only one of its kind. Either something is unique, or it isn't. "Very unique" is very wrong.

vicious — nasty: A vicious dog.
viscous — sticky or gooey: a viscous liquid.

Latin Words

There are a number of Latin words, phrases, and abbreviations in common use, or perhaps I should say common abuse. An entire dictionary could be devoted to them (and probably has been) but here are a few critical ones.

per se — by itself: Using Latin words is not, per se, wrong.
e.g. — exempli gratia: for example; introduces an example of what precedes it.
i.e. — id est: that is; introduces a synonym for what precedes it.
etc. — et cetera: and others. Don't write "and etc." — it would mean "and and others."

Correct Phrases

There are a number of phrases that are, for some reason, commonly misused. In some cases the problem is that they refer to things which are no longer common, and hence not recognized by the speaker or writer. In others, it's a mystery. Some are eggcorns and others are just strange. Here, for the benefit of those who are unsure, are the correct forms of a few, with the common incorrect word in parentheses.

bated breath (baited) - holding one's breath, not eating worms.
bear with (bare) - endure, don't strip!
couldn't care less (could) - lack of caring, not willingness to care.
free rein (reign) - freedom of a horse, not rulership.
hair's breadth (hare's breath) - the width of a hair, not rabbit respiration.
intents and purposes (intensive) - intention, not strength.
a moot point (mute) - a meaningless point, not a silent one.
strait and narrow (straight) - constricted, not direct.
toe the line (tow) - stand right in line, don't pull it.
through the wringer (ringer) - a wet clothing squeezer, not a bell.

Also, to beg a question is to assume the answer, not to bring up the question. The latter would be to raise or to pose a question.


Morphing Words

Some words have a disturbing tendency to change pronunciation and meaning independently of each other. While choosing the proper one is unlikely to be a problem to someone accutomed to reading, to someone who "reads" by reproducing sounds, and writes similarly, these words can cause confusion.

lead - verb, pronounced leed - present tense.
led - verb, pronounced led - past tense.
lead - noun, also pronounced led - a heavy gray metal.

read - verb, pronounced reed - present tense.
read - verb, pronounced red - past tense.
red - adjective, also pronounced red - a color.


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