You’ve probably heard the saying, “Always use spell check but never depend on it.” One of the main reasons for this is because spell check will never catch those times when you choose the wrong word over the correct one. I’m not talking about words that mean the same thing, but one just sounds better or offers a better connotation than another; I’m referring to choosing between two words that have totally different meanings–and choosing the wrong one.

Standing in line at my local grocery store the other day reminded me of just how prevalent the misuse of words is in our society. I was in the express lane, which was available for customers with “15 items or less.” (If you don’t see what’s incorrect about this phrase, please keep reading!)

The list of such words is rather exhaustive, and there’s no way I could ever compile a complete one. I have, however, assembled a list of words that often get used in the wrong manner in hopes that you’ll be more aware of these the next time you use them in your writing. And, remember that other piece of good advice: when in doubt, use a dictionary!

Advert–to refer to vs. Avert–to avoid

Affect–to influence (always a verb) vs. Effect–result (noun) or to accomplish (verb)

Altogether–entirely vs. All together–unity

Amiable–friendly or kind people vs. Amicable–something two parties have agreed upon

Amount–a bulk quantity vs. Number–individual items

Backward, forward, toward–American usage is without the “s”; British usage is with the “s.”

Beside–next to vs. Besides–in addition to

Born–referring to birth vs. Borne–past participle of bear

Comprise–to include or be made up of vs. Compose–to form the substance of something

Continual–occurring over a period of time with pauses vs. Continuous–occurring over a period of time with no interruptions or pauses

Counsel–advice vs. Council–group of advisors

Couple of–use together for adjective form, not “couple” by itself

Definite–exact vs. Definitive–conclusive

Discreet–careful to avoid mistakes vs. Discrete–separate or detached

Elicit–to bring out (always a verb) vs. Illicit–unlawful (always an adjective)

Enormity–evil vs. Enormousness–very large

Etc–refers to things vs. Et al–refers to people

Farther–physical distance vs. Further–extent

Fewer–individual items vs. Less–bulk quantities

Forego–to go before vs. Forgo–to do without

Hanged–form of execution vs. Hung–other forms of hanging (as in pictures)

Imply–to suggest (to give out) vs. Infer–to take a suggestion or hint (to take in)

Ingenious–intelligent or clever vs. Ingenuous–childlike simplicity and candidness

Loath–reluctant (adjective) vs. Loathe–to hate (verb)

Odious–hateful vs. Odorous–having to do with smell

Perpetuate–to prolong something vs. Perpetrate–to commit an act

Persuade–to influence actions vs. Convince–to influence thoughts or beliefs

Precede–to be in front of or go ahead of vs. Proceed–to move forward with an action

Stationary–immoveable vs. Stationery–writing papers

That–used as a restrictive relative pronoun to refer to a particular item vs. Which–a nonrestrictive relative pronoun to add information about an item (in this sense should followed by a comma).

Tortuous–having twists or bends vs. Torturous–inflicting pain in a cruel manner

What words would you like to add to this list? Which words cause you the most headaches in remembering how they’re used?

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