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Commonly Misused Words
adverse/averse: “Adverse” means unfavorable. “Averse” means reluctant.
affect/effect: “To affect” means to influence, change or produce an effect; to pretend. “To effect” means to accomplish, complete, cause, make possible or carry out. “Effect” is a noun, “affect” is a verb.
allude/refer: “To allude” means to refer to something without mentioning. “To refer” means to speak of directly.
allusion/illusion: An “allusion” is an indirect reference. An “illusion” is a false impression or image.
alumna/ae: An alumna is one woman. Alumnae are a group of women.
alumni/us: Alumni are more than one man or a group of men and women. An alumnus is one man.
around/about: “Around” refers to a physical proximity or surrounding (I’ll look for you around the front of the Hall). “About” indicates an approximation (Let’s have lunch about 11:30 a.m.).
beside/besides: “Beside” means at the side of (sit beside me); or apart from (that’s beside the point). “Besides” means further (besides, I said so); or in addition to.
between/among: “Between” shows a relationship between two objects only. “Among” is used when it’s more than two.
biannual/biennial: “Biannual” is twice a year. “Biennial” is every two years.
complement/compliment: “Complement” is something that supplements. “Compliment” is praise or the expression of courtesy.
compose/comprise/constitute: “Compose” is to create or put together. “Comprise” is to contain, to include all or embrace. “Constitute” is to make up, to be the elements of.
continual/continuous: “Continual” is a steady repetition. “Continuous” is uninterrupted.
criteria: plural (more than one criterion, which is a quality, a value or a standard of judgment)
curricula/curriculum: plural (more than one curriculum)
data/datum: data is plural noun and takes a plural verb. If used as a collective noun, when the group or quantity is regarded as a noun, it takes a singular verb (the data is sound).
disinterested/uninterested: “Disinterested” means impartial. “Uninterested” means someone lacks interest.
entitled/titled: “Entitled” means having the right to something (she is entitled to the inheritance). “Titled” is used to introduce the name of a publication, speech, musical piece.
farther/further: “Farther” refers to physical distance. “Further” refers to an extension of time or degree.
fewer/less: In general, “fewer” is used for individual items that can be counted. “Less” is for bulk or quantity that is measured (not counted).
historic/historical: “Historic” means important. “Historical” refers to any event in the past.
important/importantly: “Importantly” is incorrect unless it is an adverb.
imply/infer: “Imply” means to suggest or indicate indirectly. To “infer” is to conclude or decide from something known or assumed.
insure/ensure: “Insure” means to establish a contract for insurance of some type. “Ensure” means to guarantee.
lay/lie: “Lay” means to place or deposit, and requires a direct object (forms: lay, laid, laid, laying). “Lie” means to be in a reclining position or to be situated. It does not take an object (forms: lie, lay, lain, lying).
lectern/podium: You stand on a podium and behind a lectern.
like/as: Use “like” to compare nouns and pronouns. Use “as” to introduce clauses and phrases.
literally/figuratively: “Literally” means in an exact sense. “Figuratively” means in a comparative sense.
many/much: In general, use “many” for individual items that can be counted. Use “much” for bulk or quantity that is measured.
me/myself: Avoid using “myself.” In most constructions, it’s the objective pronoun you really want.
oral/verbal: “Oral” refers to spoken words. “Verbal” can refer to either spoken or written words, but most often connotes the process of reducing ideas to writing.
partially/partly: These two are not interchangeable. “Partially” is used to mean to a certain degree when speaking of a condition or state. “Partly” implies the idea of a part, usually of a physical object, as distinct from the whole.
peddle/pedal: To “peddle” is to sell. To “pedal” is to use pedals, as on a bicycle.
people/persons: “Person” is used when speaking of an individual. The word “people,” rather than “persons,” is preferred for plural uses.
premier/premiere: “Premier” is first in status or importance, chief, or a prime minister or chief executive. “Premiere” is a first performance.
presently/currently: “Pesently” means in a little while, soon. “Currently” means now.
pretense/pretext: “Pretense” is a false show or unsupported claim to some distinction or accomplishment. “Pretext” is a false reason or motive put forth to hide the real one, an excuse or a cover-up.
principal/principle: “Principal” as a noun is a chief person or thing; as an adjective, it means first in importance. “Principle” is a noun meaning a fundamental truth, doctrine or law; a guiding rule or code of conduct; a method of operation.
rebut/refute: To “rebut” is to argue to the contrary. To “refute” is to win the argument.
shall/will: “Shall” is used for the first-person future tense and expresses the speaker’s belief regarding his or her future action or state. If “will” is used for first-person future, it expresses his or her determination or consent. At other times, “will” is used for the second- and third-person future tense.
toward/towards: “Toward” is correct. “Towards” is not.
unique: “Unique” should never be modified by “truly,” “rather” or “very.” Something is either unique or it’s not.
who/whom: If a sentence has an objective clause referring to a person or animal with a proper name, use whom.

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