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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In my previous post on writing for the online audience, I talked about key words (making sure you have direct, relevant words in your titles and subheads), making your article easy to read (by using bullets, italics, or bolding to capture attention), and using effective formatting (making sure there’s plenty of white space and short paragraphs).

Today, I’d like to add 3 more tips that will help strengthen your online style and effectiveness:

1. Be direct and brief. Leave the storytelling effects to the print media, because with online writing, readers want their articles quick and to the point. In fact, it’s been found that most readers don’t spend much time actually reading online articles at all. They simply scan and skim them to see if what they need is there. If not, they’ll move on.

This has 2 implications for you as a writer:  (1) make sure your important points are easy to find in your article, and (2) don’t let your article get bogged down with unnecessary verbiage.

Think action-oriented when writing online. Get the info into the readers’ hands as quickly as possible, lead them to act on it (if you’re driving them to your website or to a P.O. S.), then get them out! They’ll be forever thankful!

2. Break some grammar rules. Just like you need to leave your flowery prose in your poetry book when you step into the Web, you can also afford to leave behind some grammar rules you’ve learned along the way for the sake of your readers. For example, it’s OK to allow the occasional sentence fragment, if it means it’s helping you be brief and make your point quicker.

I would still suggest using strong verbs instead of passive ones, and writing in understandable sentences, but it’s OK if you end your sentences with a preposition and use “who” instead of “whom” from time to time!

3. Focus on your readers’ needs at all times. Sometimes when we write, it can easily end up being more about us if we’re not careful. Everyone has a story they just have to tell or information they want to get out. That’s fine…for print. But online, it’s all about the reader. What  types of searches are your readers’ doing to find you? What information are they looking for? Make sure you’re delivering what they came to your article to find. That’s one sure way to make certain they come back!

Thanks for joining me for learning about online writing. If anyone has other tips that have worked for you, please leave a comment and share!