Word Traps

But first... a look at this crazy language:

Can you read these right the first time?

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present!

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it - English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.  English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France.  Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.  We take English for granted.  But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work  slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?  If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth?  One goose, 2 geese; so one moose, 2 meese?  One index, 2 indices?  Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?  If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.  In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?  Ship by truck and send cargo by ship?  Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?  You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all.  That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.
PS.  Why doesn't "Buick" rhyme with "quick"?


Now, on to the Traps:

[delete] material in brackets means better to delete; redundant or wrong.
See also the punctuation notes.


à la mode.

a, an. A hotel, an $8 bill, with [a] 100-pound weight.

abbey is the residence of monks (Benedictines, Cistercians, Carthusians) headed by an abbot, and of nuns, headed by an abbess. See friars.

about / some. About (not "some") 50 people. About only used with approximates ("about 45" but not "about 44" except with youngsters' ages).

absorption. It may be absorbed but the noun is absorption. There is a scientific word adsorption, but you'll know that one if you need it.

abysmal is extremely bad, as in abysmal ignorance; abyssal pert. to the lowest ocean depths.

Act II, Scene iii (act in upper Roman small caps, scene in lower roman, reduce type point size to match).

activate to rouse action; actuate to put into motion.

ad nauseam. Not ad nauseum. And we've only just begun.

adage. [old] adage.

admit. admit [to] a deed.

[advance] planning.

adultery. Need a mnemonic? Don't try it. But if you do, at least one of you has to be married.

adverse (hostile, antagonistic), averse (reluctant, disinclined). He was averse to suffering the adverse conditions.

advocate [for]. If you can't drop the for and retain the sense, then find a new word, as that one didn't either. "I advocate [for] better transit" if that's what you advocate. If you are campaigning for something, say so - rather than "I advocate for the hard of hearing."

Aegean, n. the Sea; Augean , adj., filthy, formidable.

affect, n., is a feeling, an emotion (and the emphasis is on the first syllable). As a verb (emphasis on the second syllable) it is to influence (have an effect upon) or pretend (The song affects me; she affects an accent); see: effect. The sentence "These measures may affect savings" could imply that the measures may reduce savings that have already been realized, whereas "These measures may effect savings" implies that the measures will cause new savings to come about. (Thanks to American Heritage Dictionary for this one). Usually, "When you affect a situation, you have an effect on it."

affective relates to emotions; effective produces results.

affinity with or between, not for.

Afghans spend afghanis.

afterward is not the afterword of a book (rel. foreword)

aid v. and n., aide (a person only).

ailment sick, aliment food (alimentary canal)

albumen egg white; albumin protein in blood.

allege a condition to be true, never a person. (Police allege that the accused stole the car; not The alleged thief.)

all for naught. Not not. ("Who's there?")

all right. Never alright. And while we're at it, it's a lot of something, never alot of anything. And any time, not anytime.

alluvion flood or flow of water; alluvium sand deposited by water; eluvium sand deposited by wind; illuvium material leached from one layer of soil into another.

almost must always come immediately before the word or phrase it modifies, to avoid confusion and to be plain right. "I almost gave her a hundred dollars" is not the same as "I gave her almost a hundred dollars." Therefore, do not write "There almost was a disaster" if you mean "It was almost a disaster."

altercation is strictly words, no blows.

alternative (offering a choice), alternate (by turns).

amend, amendment (change, add), emend, emendation (correct).

amid (things that cannot be separated; "amid the rubble"), among (things that can be separated).

[and/or] replace with "or ... or both"

and which, and that, and who require a preceding parallel which, that, who.

androgenous produces males or male characteristics; androgynous has both m. & f. characteristics.

anno Domini (capital D only)

another equates things of equal size and type. Not "100 here and another 200 there"

antennas are aerials; antennae are insect feelers.

anticipate means to look ahead and plan for it. Not "greater than anticipated." And not a synonym for "expect," which does not imply any preparation.

any is usually plural.

anymore is reserved for negative statements. "I don't want anymore of that, any more!"

any time is two words

anybody, anyone, anything, anyway, anywhere are each one word, unless the second part is emphasized.

apiece, if it really is only one piece; each, otherwise. "Nails cost 10 cents apiece; cars cost $25,000 each."

appendixes (pref. Cdn over Br. appendices)

appraise, assess or evaluate; to apprise is to inform.

approximate. Use about, nearly, almost. Avoid "approximate estimate."

arbitrator is an appointed authority and makes a decision; a mediator is a negotiator and does not make binding decisions. An arbiter, meanwhile, is not appointed but simply respected. Fowler: "An arbiter acts arbitrarily but an arbitrator must not."

Arctic / Antarctic - mnemonic: "The Arctic Circle is an arc - with a c."

aroma is pleasant.

artifact (pref. Cdn over Br. artefact)

as ... as (replace "as bad, if not worse, than" with "as bad as, if not worse than")

as far as requires a verb.

[as to] whether.

[as] yet.

[as of] yet.

asocial (indifference) / anti-social (hostile)

assume expresses a theory or hypothesis ("for the sake of argument, let's assume..."); presume is a belief for want of contrary proof ("I presume that is because...")

assure ends uncertainty and dispels doubt, ensure guarantees without contract, insure is commercial contract.

ATM is an Automated (not Automatic) Teller Machine. Avoid "ATM [machine]."

attain reaches a desired goal, not problem. Obtain, incidentally, is for tangible items, not attain-able goals.

attorney / lawyer. A lawyer has a degree in law. Period. A person who acts on behalf of another is an attorney (she is also a lawyer). Analogous to "rescuer" and "lifeguard." A lifeguard is not a rescuer until he rescues someone.

auger (drill), augur (foretell)

aural (ear), oral (mouth)

authoritarian states turn totalitarian only if they become for violent regimes like Nazi Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union.

awake. Avoid "I was awoken by..." (s.b. awakened); as a p.part. use awaked "He had awaked."

away is out, gone, but anchors aweigh are riding just above the ocean floor.

awhile. Either "stay for a while" or "stay awhile."

[delete] material in brackets means better to delete; redundant or wrong.
See also the punctuation notes.


bad[ly] . "I feel badly" would mean I have a poor sense of touch.

bandanna. Count the N's.

Barbra Streisand. Count the A's.

baal is a false god; Baal is the sun god of several peoples.

babble is chatter; babel is a din, racket; Babel is the tower city.

bach is to live as a bachelor (not batch).

backdoor and backstairs are secret and devious adjectives ; back door and back stairs are physical places.

bagfuls use the same bag, repeatedly, while three bags full indicates three separate and full bags.

bail (a bucket handle, or to remove water by bucket); bale (of hay, or to compress into a bale)

bait, bate. Bated breath.

bans are prohibitions while banns is (singular) a notice of intended marriage.

bar includes the legal profession and sand bar; barre is ballet rail; bahr is a body of water (river, lake or sea).

barbaric (crude, e.g., a loincloth), barbarous (cruel, moral condemnation).

barbed wire. Barb and Bob should have nothing to do with it.

barefaced (not bald or bold)

barrette hair ornament, beret French cap, biretta Catholic priest hat, Beretta James Bond's gun.

[basically], [basis] . Omit or recast to avoid.

bats fly but batts are matted cotton. Would a flying batt be a pillow fight?

bazooka antitank weapon; bouzouki stringed musical instrument.

[be] (with a participle) . E.g., "he will [be] join[ing]"

beach meets the water; a beech is a tree.

beadle church waker-upper; beetle insect, or to scurry; betel leaf, a narcotic.

bed and breakfasts. See Punctuation.

behalf. "On behalf of" means acting as a representative (lawyer); "in behalf of" is in defence (friend).

being as replace with since, because, inasmuch.

begs the question. If you think it means the same as "raises a/the question" then don't use it. You'll embarass yourself, as practically everyone else should be who (mis)uses this phrase, which does have a legitimate use in formal logic, but I doubt that's you intended.

bemused is bewildered. We are not amused.

bereft is not to lack something but rather to have been dispossessed of it.

beside (prep.) by the side of;besides (adv.) moreover or (prep.) in addition to, except.

besides means "also"; should often be recast as "other than."

best known swimmer means the best, as far as we know, whereas best-known swimmer means that of swimmers, she has the highest name recognition.

"between" is to "and" as "from" is to "to." Between 10 and 20. From 10 to 20.

between emphasizes the individual, or the extremes of number; among emphasizes the group.

bib napkin, bibb part of ship's mast or a faucet, Bibb lettuce.

biceps is a single musle. It just ends in an "s".

bigamy is a criminal offence committed by only some polygamists. (Polygamy is a practice, not an offence).

biped two-footed animal; bipod two-footed stand (sim. tripod).

blasé refers to overindulgent wordliness. The correct word for unconcerned is unconcerned, not blasé.

block for all except political bloc.

bluepoint oyster but blue point Siamese cat.

blueprint is a completed plan, not a preliminary one.

boll weevils (cotton pods); bole (a tree trunk; soft clay).

bologna is eaten, unlike its foolish, exaggerated homonym, baloney.

bombs explode while bombes are good to eat.

bootee for the feet; booty for pirates.

borders are preferable, in North America, to the British frontiers. Here, frontiers are for Davy Crockett. Also, note hyphenated usage, with pure name of countries, as in U.S.-Canada border or the Spain-Portugal border; however, when there is no confusion, the adjective is used, as in the Canadian border and the Portuguese border.

born, borne. Born for birth, borne for putting up with; Borne for birth in active "she has borne three children" or passive followed by by: "the three children borne by her...." (use born if not followed by by: "born to them; borne by her")

both is only two things; often delete; do not use for "each" as "a store on both sides of the road."

both...and watch for syntactic correspondence. (Both her boss and her employee... ;not Both her boss and employee).

brainchild is not the inventor but the invented.

bravado is false bravery.

breach (infraction or gap; think of "break"), breech (rear or lower portion; e.g., "breech birth," "breech of a gun.")

Bretons live in Brittany (France), not with Britons in Britain.

buck naked. No butts about it. But one: don't use it. It's considered politically incorrect by some (images of slaves and such). Use stark naked instead.

bullion, bouillon. The first is to gold as the second is to soup. It's an expensive mistake to confuse bullion with bouillon in a recipe.

burgeon implies new. Existing but worsening situations or problems, etc., cannot be burgeoning.

but used negatively after a pronoun. If at end of sentence, use accusative ("Nobody knew but her."); earlier use nominative ("No one but he knew.").

but...however should not appear in same sentence. Two shifts.


caddie carries golf clubs; caddy is a small box or tea container.

caduceus is the rod of Hermes; caducous is falling early, as leaves.

Caesar. Whether salad, Sid or emperor, it's a before e.

calendar is a noun, schedule; calender is a verb, to press with rollers; colander is a vegetable strainer.

cavalry (soldiers on horseback) / Calvary (hill of Jesus' crucifixion)

callous is cold and insensitive; callus is hard, thick skin layer

canaster is a tobacco, perhaps kept in a canister.

cancer is worse than canker (sore in the mouth) or chancre (ulcer caused by VD).

canon law, cannon fire.

canter a horse, cantor music.

canvas tarp, canvass solicit

capital city or top of a column or money,capitol a building, Capitol building for U.S. Congress.

carat (200 mg), caret (^), karat (1/24 part pure gold).

carol a joyous song; carole a round dance; carrel a library cubicle.

careen / career. Ships may careen (lean); cars may career (speed, lurch).

cast in concrete / carved in stone. Both are fine. But come now, how could it be cast in stone?

caster / castor. That noxious perfumer's oil, from a beaver's groin, is castor, as is the bean from which the medicine is extracted. Casters would make crates of either roll around more easily. Caster sugar might make the medicine go down.

CAT scan (computerized axial tomography)

cataclasm breakdown or disruption; cataclysm major disaster or war; catechism question-and-answer belief instructional format.

catch a ketch if you are chasing a small sailboat.

Catch-22 is a circular dilemma. Otherwise, it's just a catch.

catty-corner, cater-corner, kitty-corner. All are fine (it comes from the French quatre for four). But only in a pro shop is is likely possible to find a caddy corner.

cavalry horsemen, Calvary a hill near Jerusalem, but a personal calvary (non-cap.).

cedar tree; ceder one who cedes; cedor one who assigns a claim to another; Seder Jewish ritual meal

celebrant is religious, otherwise use celebrator.

celebrity names... Let's spell them right: Courteney Cox, Rosalynn Carter, Elisabeth Shue, Kirstie Alley, Ellen DeGeneres, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anne Heche, Jay McInerney, Katarina Witt, Sarah McLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Barbra Streisand, Nicolas Cage, Joycelyn Elders, Muhammad Ali, Elijah Muhammad (but the prophet is Mohammed).

celibacy is not necessarily abstinence, just unmarried, particularly religious vow. Same for the celibate.

censor (judge of morals), censure (semi-official reprimand)

census [roll] / [count] . Avoid redundancy.

cerous related to cerium, cirrous resembles a cirrus cloud; scirrhous is having a scirrhus, a cancerous tumor.

chatelain masc., chatelaine fem.

chaise longue, not lounge.

choler anger, cholera disease

Champaign is in Illinois and Ohio. Champagne is French, or Swiss, or a colour.

choral adj., pert. to music, chorale n.; coral pinkish color or marine skeletons; corral n., v., pen (for) animals.

chord (music and math), cord (string, vocal cord, 4x4x8-ft wood pile).

chute is a sluice, slide, parachute.

circumstances. In them, a situation exists; under them, action is required or, more rarely, inhibited.

claim demands recognition of a right. Try: say, declare, maintain, contend, allege, profess, assert.

clench your fist, but clinch a deal (make final).

clew is a ball of thread. clue hint.

Cliffs Notes. S, no apostrophe.

close proximity should be "near."

cockscomb is a plant, the crest of a rooster, or a clown's cap; coxcomb is a fop or conceited dandy.

cocoa is a drink made from cacao beans; not from coco, a coconut palm. Then there are koko trees in N.Z....

coddle an egg or a pampered person; cuddle a kid, but not a cuttle [fish].

coign is a projecting corner or advantageous viewing position; quoins are the decorative corner stonework.

cole slaw.

coliseums there are many of, but only one Colosseum.

collide, collision requires two or more moving objects. Can't collide with a lamp-post.

Columbus. Note District of ColUmbia; but the country of ColOmbia.

common belongs to many; mutual is reciprocal. We share a common love of art, a mutual love for each other.

comic is intended to be funny, comical is funny with or without that intention.

comparatively better avoided when what is meant is "fairly" or "only a little."

compare [and contrast]. A comparison includes both similarities and differences.

compare to likens things while compare with considers their similarities and differences; use contrast to show differences.

complacence is self-satisfaction, implies false security; complaisance is a willingness to please others.

complement(ary) whole lot, finishing touch, supporting; compliment(ary) flatter(y).

compound may be better said with multiply, aggravate, heighten, worsen, add to, intensify.

comprise [of] . An audience is composed of people, or comprises people; people constitute an audience. See include.

concept should be "idea."

condone means to overlook, not pardon.

consensus [of opinion] . Similarly, avoid [general] consensus,

consider is not followed by as when it means believed to be ("I consider him [as] stupid.")

contagious is spread by contact whereas infectious is spread by air. Figuratively, either is okay.

continual happens repeatedly but not constantly, continuous is an unbroken sequence.

convince cannot be followed by an infinitive; use "of" or "that" or persuade to.

convocation assembly, invocation opening prayer, benediction closing prayer

copyrights concern rights, over a lot more than just writing.

corespondent in a divorce case (think co-respondent); not the journalist correspondent.

cornet musical instrument; coronet tiny crown or jewelled band.

corporal rank below sergeant; corporeal real, bodily; Yet (go figgur!) corporal punishment.

corporations. In American English, corporations are singular. "Sears has [not have] the right idea."

could have, should have, would have, or as a contraction: could've, etc. Not could of, etc.

council and councillor (or with one L in the States) are always nouns, counsel is a noun or verb but always is advising or consulting (legal counsel).

country is geographical, nation is political and social.

courier is a messenger; currier is one who would win favor by flattery; or a leather-worker.

Court of St. James's. Yep, all those S's.


craic is not an illegal substance - it's Irish entertainment.

craft is right except when you mean kraft paper.

crap is a losing throw in craps; crape is mourning fabric; crépe is a thin pancake or crinkled fabric or paper.

crescendo is a gradual increase in volume or intensity.

crevasse is a major crack in large ice formations or earth's surface; crevice is a small crack, in walls, e.g.

croquet is a game, croquette is a food.

croissant. Outside the United States, pronounce is kwass-ohn if you expect to be served one.

crosse is the stick in lacrosse.

culminate is to arrive at a high point. Troubles do not culminate with the president's resignation.


cupola is domed, cupula is cup-shaped. Francis Ford is a Coppola.

[current, currently] best often deleted entirely.


[delete] material in brackets means better to delete; redundant or wrong.
See also the punctuation notes.


dates need commas only to separate two numbers. December 8, 1952. January 1947. 21 March 1973.

Daylight Saving[s] Time. Singular, as we are saving daylight.

decimate reduces by one tenth, which is about 90 percent short of annihilate.

deduce draws a conclusion while deduct subtracts

defective quality (broken), deficient quantity (missing part).

defence but defensive. (Defense is an American thing; they haven't learned the proper British mnemonic of "Ice is a noun and has a C. Is is a verb and has an S.")

definitive is conclusive (adj.) or a postage stamp in a series (n.). Meanwhile definite is precise. A definite order is clearly understood; a definitive one is not subject to negotiation.

demeaner is a demeaning person; demeanor is behavior.

dentil moulding, an architectural motif that reminds one of dental work; dentelle is lacework.

dependant (and dependence) is a noun, dependent is an adjective in Canada. "A dependAnt bE dependEnt all the days of his life."

depends on is proper; depends is inadequate. "It depends on whom you believe."

deplore a thing, but condemn a person for his [deplorable] trait.

derring-do. Sorry. That's the way it's spelled.

descendant (a noun only) came from an ancestor, while descendent (an adjective) is descending or hanging.

deserts are arid, barren, or something deserved (just deserts); desserts have more calories and S's.

despite, in spite of mean the same thing, but, as they indicate a shift, should not have a "but."

destroy is incomparable, almost. [Completely] destroyed, but partially destroyed.

diagnosis defines a disease or condition; prognosis is the likely outcome. People cannot be diagnosed, only their condition.

differ / diverge. Do not use the latter unless the rift is increasing, i.e,. unless the difference is diverging.

different can often by excised without loss to meaning. "He wrote six [different] books."

different from is the usual form, and the only acceptable form when it precedes a noun or pronoun. Different than is used in indirect comparisons. "He has a different view than you or I" (note the implied "do" at the end of the sentence).

disburse money and disperse crowds.

disc, slipped disc, compact disc, videodisc but floppy disk, diskette

discreet circumspect, discrete unattached, separate or unrelated (discrete particles). Want a mnemonic? The t in discrete separates the two e's.

Disneyland  is in California. Walt Disney World (or Disney World on second reference) is in Florida. And it is no longer EuroDisney, but rather Disneyland Resort Paris (or Disneyland Paris on second referece)

disturb is physical agitation; perturb is mental.

divers (forget you ever saw this word unless it is the plural of diver; use "various, sundry"); diverse (use "different")

doctoral. No "I".

doggie small dog; dogie stray calf

doubt that for negative and interrogative uses, doubt if, whether for others.

dot-com (not dot.com or you'll end up with one too many dots!)

dove is a bird. It dived under a tree.

drudge (hard, annoying work), dredge (muck up from the bottom, or sprinkle flour on meat).

duct tape. Duck Tape is only one brand of duct tape.

due to requires a was/were or replace with owing to or because of or attributable to.

DVD is "digital versatile disk" (not videodisc).



each other for things, or for two people ("My husband and I see each other regularly, even though our six villas are in different countries from each other."), one another for more than two people.

each. When each precedes the noun or pronoun to which it refers, the verb should be singular: "each of us was...." When if follows, the verb is plural: "They each were...." Also note: "They each are subject to sentences of 5 yrs." and "They are each subject to a sentence of 5 yrs."

Earth is a planet; earth is the ground of that planet.

eek at a mouse; eke out a living; may be used without "out" but looks odd.

effect is a result (the song has an effect...); vb. is to bring about or result in (She will effect a change if...); verb is synonymous with produce. See affect.

effective produces results; affective relates to emotions.

either suggests a duality, and in other situations should probably be deleted.

el is an elevated railway or the letter L; ell is a corner, addition, or cloth measure.

elegy is mournful poem or music; eulogy is funeral oration.

e-mail, or even E-mail (there is not standard yet; just be consistent) hyphenated, like A-frame, B-movie, C-clamp, D-Day, etc.

eminent distinguished; immanent inherent, transcendent, (God is immanent); imminent likely to happen soon.

[end] result. Redundant.

enormity is monstrous, evil. Not big. Sept 11, 2001 finally gave journalists a chance to use this word correctly, even if they didn't know it.

entitled gives you permission; titled gives you a name. Books are titled.

envisage and (loftier) envision both require a mental image. If followed by "that," neither is correct.

epidemic an outbreak of disease among people; epizootic is among animals; episiotomy is a surgical procedure.

epitome. Spell it this way, but still pronounce it e-pit-oh-me.

endemic is long-standing problem.

engine / motor. It usually doesn't make any difference which word you use, but when it does, it pays to know that it's the electric motor that starts the engine.

enquiry is asking a question; inquiry is a formal investigation. Use enquire as a verb.

ensure (see assure)

en suite is two words.

epitome is typifying, not ultimate or unparalleled.

equally [as]

errant wandering, mistaken; arrant thoroughly, outstanding bad (arrant nonsense).

estimated at [about]

etymology is the study of word origins. Entymology is the study of insects.

even as should be reserved for simultaneous occurrences presenting a contrast or irony, not mere coincidence.

exoteric is the opposite of esoteric.

exult (celebrate joyfully), exalt (raise high). Neither has an "H"

[past] experience



fact that in any sentence should be recast to avoid. Try "although," "because."

facts are capable of direct verification and are not a matter of judgment, however defensible.

faint swoon, feint pretend to attack one place while concealing another, feign pretend, dissemble, imagine.

fait accompli, fete lavish party,


farther is literal distance, further is figurative distance.

fax. Debate rages on whether this is a noun or verb or both. Whichever, don't upcase it.

fay n. fairy, elf; fey adj. mischievous, strange, clairvoyant, enchanted.

faze disconcert, daunt, take aback; phase phase out, phase in, phase one.

feet, foot: A ten-foot hole is ten feet deep.

ferment, excite; foment, provide, instigate (foment a riot, ferment imagination).

fever, temperature. If he "has no temperature" he is probably dead. They are not synonyms.

fewer relates to quantity and plural nouns, less to number, singular nouns. "Fewer dollars, less money." But: "less than $100 a year" and "less than 50 miles to go" because it is not looked at as 100 separate dollars or 50 separate miles. "Less pay and fewer perks."

figuratively not literally, not really; literally really, actually; virtually almost entirely. Watch for opposite intent.

filet lace with special pattern, or filet mignon; fillet thin boneless strip of meat or fish.

filter for most except philter for a love potion.

finalize s.b. complete, conclude, finish.

[first] announced, conceived, organized, reported, revealed, created.... Delete.

flank. There are only two, one on each side (not north and east, but maybe north and south). Also note "flanked [on each side]."

flare temporary or sudden, flair instinctive talent.

flaunt wave ostentatiously or contemptuously; flout the law, beat or violate, treat with scornful disregard.

floe is glacial ice.

florescent, flowering of blooming, as a society; fluorescent light.

flotation. Really.

forbid needs "to," only, while prohibit can use only "from" or an object noun ("the law prohibits killing").

forego go before; forgo do without.

foreword in a book, forward, for everything else.

forever (Am. and Cdn pref. over Br. "for ever")

former, latter can refer only to one of two things.

fortuitous is accidental, but not necessarily fortunate.

forward direction, foreword first part of a book.

friars live in a friary; monks and nuns live in abbeys (q.v.). Franciscans are friars, led by a guardian. Dominicans are led by a prior and live in a priory, as do Carmelites, led by a prioress. The other mendicant friar order is the Augustinians. See abbey.

fridge, not frig. Except when the friggin' fridge is on the blink.

fuchsia. These flowers were named for botanist Leonard Fuchs. Remember that, and you'll never misspell them again.

fulsome means exaggerated and offensive. But since no one knows that, don't use the word at all.

future better deleted in "[future] plans" and "[future] prospects."



Gaelic Scots or Irish, but Gallic French or Gauls.

gaff is a fraud, hoax, criticism (he can't stand the gaff); gaffe is a clumsy remark, blunder.

gall irritate, long-suffering resentment; Gaul was divided into three parts by Caesar.

gallop like a horse, but to music it's probably a galop.

gambit is an opening move [hence don't add "opening"] involving strategic sacrifice or concession.

garret attic; garrot a tourniquet, or a duck; garrote strangulation.

gel n. ; jell v.

geld v. castrate; gelt is money (slang).

gelid icy cold; jellied food in aspic

gerunds often do not need to be set off with articles ("they said that [the] joining of these two..."); and they require a genitive only if the noun or pronoun has a normal possessive ("his coming" but not "many's having to...")

gest is a tale; gist is the essence, "the gist of it"

gherkin is a cucumber

ghetto, ghettos but graffito, graffiti. English is a damnable language, especially when it borrows from others.

gibe taunt; jibe with the truth.

gleam sparkle; glean pick grain or information; learn.

gofers have two legs, gophers have four.

greater...area. Omit one from "greater London area."

grey in Canada and Britian is gray in the States. Except the dogs. They are greyhounds everywhere. The bus companies are Greyhound and Gray Line.

grill on a stove, grille on a car or window or radiator. Ye Old Bar and Grille is pretentious claptrap.

grip grasp or suitcase; gripe complaint; grippe flu.

grisly is gruesome while grizzly is grey. The bears are grizzly.

guarantee is always correct, so use it if in doubt about guaranty.

guerrilla, not guerilla.

Guiana is a region in n. South America; Guyana is a country in South America; Guinea is in Africa; guinea is a coin.



habits are usual and customary. Avoid redundancy.

had better is the conditional required form for "it had better be the best" and "they had better behave"

hale to compel, "haled into court," also "hale and hearty"; hail is a salute, flag a taxi, "hail-fellow-well-met."

hamlets are tiny. Avoid redundancy.

harangue requires at least two listeners and is prolonged and tedious. Tirade is abusive, may be directed at only one person.

hangar is for airplanes

hanged [to death] . Similarly avoid starved [to death], strangled [to death].

hare-brained and harelip.

hay is, at least to horses, edible. Straw is not.

healthy things possess health; healthful are those that promote it.

"Hear! Hear!"

heeled "well-heeled"


historic makes or is part of history; historical is based on history. A historic ruling makes history, a historical one is based on precedence.

hitherto until now, thitherto until then (better use "previously").

HIV [virus]. May spell out on first use, but use HIV-positive, not human immunodeficiency virus-positive.

hoard is a supply of something, we hoard gold; horde is a herd, swarm, crowd.

home in on a signal; pigeons do not fly home, they home; hone is to sharpen.

home page. Two words. As is Web site.

homogeneous all members of a group being roughly at the same level; homogenous similar biological structure.

Hudson's Bay Co. but Hudson Bay.

hue and cry. hew is a verb.

hurdle a relatively low barrier (don't "hurdle" a tall fence); hurtle throw, as hurtle a discus or a ripe tomato.

hyperbola mathematics; hyperbole exaggeration.

hyper- above normal; hypo- below normal (hypocritical = insincere; hypercritical = fault finding)



iced tea; not "ice tea."

if. Introducing a subjunctive clause ("if I were") or an indicative one ("if I was"). If untrue, improbably or has a "would" in it, it's subjunctive (If I were king); if true, try "If I was happy then, I don't remember it now." If two parts, both must be either subjective or indicative: "If he is elected, he will be the youngest mayor. If he were assassinated, he would be the youngest to die in office."

impatiens are the flowers.

impostor. No E.

impractical and unpractical things can be done but aren't worth doing; impracticable things can't be done.

impugn to challenge, attack or assail with arguments; impute to attribute, blame, accuse (no argument or explanation needed). Impute bad motives on the Watergate burglars; Impugn their motives by saying they were just paid crooks.

incipient emerging, developing; insipient foolish; insipid bland, colorless.

include indicates the following are only part of a greater whole. Do not use when describing totality (Use comprise).

indefinitely means without prescribed limits (ten minutes or a million years?); not "a very long time."

independent is not a political party; therefore, don't capitalize it.

[individual] person. Or, individual [person]. Not both.

infer from an implication. Imply that which someone else may infer. "When he said, 'You think I'm a donkey?' he implied that he understood this distinction. I inferred from his tone of voice that he was none to happy about my questioning him on it."

ingenious clever; ingenuous simple, trusting.

innocent. People plead not guilty or guilty; they do not plead innocent.

inquiry (see enquiry)

inside [of]

instigate incites, urges. Use introduce in "a fresh approach is needed to introduce change."

intense pain (strong) but intensive study (deep and thorough).

inter- between, among; intra- within, inside.

Internet, though not a brand name, is every bit as much a proper noun as White House (short form of Net, no apostrophe). However, intranet is not a proper noun.

interval is the period between two events.

invocation opening prayer, benediction closing prayer, convocation assembly.

irony uses words to convey a contradiction between literal and intended meanings. Sarcasm is more stinging. The intent of irony is to amuse, of sarcasm is to wound.

it. check all sentences that begin with "It." Recast if possible out of the passive.

its / it's If you're the kinda guy that drops the apostrophe from dont, and put's one into her's, then their ain't nuthin we can say hear that will ever learn you the difference between its and it's. Give up now and hire an editor.



jalousie blinds.

jamb is the door or window side-post. You can jam your finger against the jamb.

Jew / Jewish. Jew as an adjective or a verb is grossly insulting. The proper adjective is Jewish, the noun is Jew, and there is no verb.

jibe with the facts; jive with the music; but gibe means to taunt.

join [together] .

John Hancock had the flamboyant signature that has given rise to the request for yours. John Henry was a man of song.

Johns Hopkins. It was his great-grandmother's maiden name, Miss Johns.

jugular an important vein; jongleur a minstrel; and juggler a trickster.

jury-rigged is carefully constructed from available materials in an emergency; jerry-built is shoddy. But gerrymander is named for Mr. Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814).

just deserts (from deserve, not dessert).



Kazakhstan dropped the H for a while, then put it back. The people are Kazakhs, and the adjectival form is Kazakh.

kind. "Those are the kinds of numbers" or "this is the kind of number...." Kind is singular (not "these kind of...").

knots [per hour] .

koala [bears] are not bears.

kudos is singular, and pompous.

Ku Klux Klan. It's Ku, not "Klu." Smart people know this already, as do some extremely stupid people (that is, members of the organization) who don't have a klu.



lam to go on the lam, to flee hastily; no sheep involved.

lamas have two feet, llamas have four.

Laundromat is a service mark for a self-service laundry. Capitalize it if you use it.

leach is a percolating process in soils; leech is a blood-sucker.

leave alone is to allow to remain in solitude; let alone is to refrain from disturbing. Let it ever be so. Now leave me alone with my solecisms.

least is a comparative of more than two; use less for two.

lectern is a stand for notes; podium holds one person and lectern; dais holds several; rostrum is any platform, for one or many.

less is quantity, fewer is number. Use less if the word it modifies is singular; fewer if plural. "One less bell to answer; fewer peals to hear."

level, mark are empty words. "Hovering around [the] 500 [mark]"

liable is exposed to regrettable risk; likely suggests probability. It's likely to snow, dress warmly or you're liable to pneumonia.

licence, license. "Ice is a noun and has a c in it. Is is a verb and has an s in it." Licensed premises.

lie, lay. Lay, laid, have laid, laying the book; Lie, lay, have lain, lying in bed.

light years are a measure of distance, not time.

lighted, lit. Either correct; lighted more usual as an adjective (a lighted torch).

lightning strikes, lightening makes lighter.

like is never followed by a verb, as and as if always are. However, the following are acceptable: She looked like her mother used to, he can't dance like he used to, I feel like walking.

like compares things, and such as is followed by examples.

limited is not a synonym for meager, small, brief, rare. It is set within bounds.

linage is the number of lines; lineage is ancestry.


lintels and beams; lentils are beans. Funny, this language, eh?

[local] residents.

loath is reluctant; loathe is a verb, meaning hate. They are pronounced the same.

lode as in mother lode.

logos versus proper names. See special notes in the punctuation section. In summary, it's Ikea, not IKEA; Nike, not NIKE, K.D. Lang, not k.d. lang, Adidas, not adidas. It would be IKEA only if people pronounced it letter by letter: "I'm going to Eye-Kay-Eee-Ay."

loose an arrow into the sky and you may lose it.



Mach is the speed of sound (capitalize); "Mach 2."

magnate is a big shot.

mandatory is not mandatory when it's already required. "The law requires the [mandatory] use of seat belts." However, that same lay may make it mandatory to wear seat belts.

mantel over a fireplace; mantle over your shoulders, around the earth, job responsibilities or (v.) to conceal.

marginal means falling near a lower limit (a marginal profit); not (a) small or slight (improvement).

marque is a brand, esp. automobile

marquee tent, theatre use; marquis a nobleman, his wife a marchioness; marquise is a gem cut.

Marseille, not Marseilles, is the French city on the Mediterranean. Versailles has a trailing S; Marseille does not, at least to the French. Without the cap, marseille is a heavy cotton fabric with a raised pattern of stripes or figures.

La Marseillaise is the French national anthem, composed by Rouget de Lisle in 1792.

martens are weasels, martins are birds (swallows).

masseuse, like an actress, must be female. A male massage therapist is a masseur.

masthead is the box in a newspaper, often on the editorial page, with the name of the editor and publisher. That strip at the top of page one is the flag or nameplate.

materiel is military weapons and supplies.

may: see might.

meantime is a noun ("in the meantime"); meanwhile is an adverb ("Meanwhile, back at the ranch").

mendacity falsehood; mendicity begging.

met, the first time, met with thereafter.

mettle is the inherent character or courage you show when you show your mettle.

might is the past tense of may; it also indicates slim to impossible chance ("You might find gold at the end of a rainbow"). We hope it does not replace "may" in "You may eventually learn the distinction."

mike, not mic, for microphone.

militate works against whereas mitigate moderates. "It will militate against his chances" is correct.

milk is a noun or a verb; the adjective is milch ("giving milk"). The milk maid milks the milch cow to get the milk.

milk toast is buttered toast in hot milk; milquetoast is a timid, apologetic person; Milquetoast is his namesake.

millennia. The real word has two n's, but the car -- the new Mazda Millenia -- has just one. I expect all right-thinking people of to boycott Mazda for this outrage. And stay away from Coors beer, made by the people who brought us "Artic" Ice.

minimize means to reduce to an absolute minimum; not to play down or depreciate.

minuscule is a frequently misspelled word: It's not miniscule. Helpful hint: Think minus.

minx, a flirtatious young woman, possibly wearing minks.

Mohammed is the Muslim prophet. Two of his followers, however, are spelled Muhammad Ali and Elijah Muhammad.

mores are morals, morays are eels. They are pronounced the same.

more so is two words. More so, it's usually one word too many.

most is not a substitute for almost in "almost everybody" and "almost all the time."

mucus n. is mucous adj.

mustache, in the States and Canada, but moustache in England.

mutual describes reciprocal relationships (mutual friendship); common things are shared.



nauseous means sickening to contemplate; nauseated is sick to the stomach.

naval officers may ponder their navels.

[near] disaster. "Saved from [near] disaster."

neither. "Neither," alone, uses singular verb. "Neither...nor" uses verb agreement with noun nearest it. "Neither...or" is always wrong.

nemesis extracts judgment or is unbeatable, not a long-time rival.

new is often superfluous.

nice is precise or delicate ("a nice distinction"); otherwise find another word. In fact, as no one will understand the nice use of this word anyway, forget you ever heard it. File it with "flaccid," "gynecologist," "zoology" and "despicable" -- words that, should you be careful enough to pronounce correctly, will only make you sound odd.

none need not always be singular. Watch for consistency throughout sentence.

none the less are three words in Canada, not one, as they are in the States.

nor often misused after negative expressions ("He cannot eat nor sleep" s.b. "He can neither eat nor sleep," "He cannot eat or sleep," or "He cannot eat nor can he sleep." )

not all is confusing. Recast.

not only...but also. Recast for grammatical balance: "Not only does the rate vary by city but also by area" to "The rate varies not only by city but also by area."

not so much should be followed by as, not by but. "He was not so much a father as a person."

notorious is never admirable.

number. "A number...were....", "The number...was...."

number. (verb agreement) 1) "and" usually dictates a plural verb, unless the sum often combined and usually considered as a single unit (even then, a plural verb is ok. "Eggs and ham are good for..." or "Ham and eggs is a good breakfast" are both correct. 2) "or" separates elements. If all elements are singular, use sing., if each is plural, use pl., mixed, use agreement with noun or pronoun closest the verb. If awkward ("Is he or we wrong?") though correct, recast: ("Is he or are we wrong?")

[delete] material in brackets means better to delete; redundant or wrong.
See also the punctuation notes.


obsolete things are no longer used or needed; obsolescent things are becoming obsolete.

obtain tangible items; attain goals.

occur, take place. Scheduled events take place, accidents occur.

officious is not nearly as bad as we'd like it to be. It means attentive, eager to please. Sorry 'bout that.\

often. The T is silent, damn it. Has been, ever since we stopped saying oft. You don't sound the t in soften - why do you do it in in often? Just to get my goat, I bet. Like chalk squealing on a blackboard.

Okanogan is south of the border, the Okanagan is north of the border. The O and the A make the difference. And they care.

Olympic-sized pool is almost always a gross exaggeration (50 meters long).

on the part of. Use by.

on to, onto. Jump onto the horse, move on to the next subject.

on, upon have no distinction other than idiom.

one of the/those. Watch subtle agreement: "He is one of those who runs" is incorrect as the verb "runs" is governed by "those," not by "one." Should be "He is one of those who run" or "He is one who runs, as do several others." Sometimes can best be eliminated: "One [of the] reason[s]..."

one or more is plural.

one's or his and her? Only if the subject was "one" can you use "one's" as the possessive. If the subject was anything else of indeterminate gender (singular), use "his or her." One should mind one's p's and q's. A traveller should be watchful of his or her wallet.

only careful attachment to word or phrase it modifies: "The bus only ran on Sunday" (did it fly other days?) should be "the bus ran on Sunday only, or only on Sunday."  See also, almost

oral (mouth),  aural (ear)

ordinance a law, decree; ordnance [military] materiel.

outside [of]



paddies grow rice, only. Therefore, "rice paddy" is redundant.

palate is taste, palette is for paint, pallet is a mattress or platform.

pantheons are a group of famous people, or tombs for famous people. The Parthenon is a temple to Athena.

parlay wager again; parley confer, v. or n.

parole a prisoner

partly means in part, partially means incompletely, but has connotations of favoritism, so best reserved for that use.

party refers, except in legal or telephone sense, to a group. Use individual or person.

past may often be deleted. E.g., [past] experience

pastoral, refers to the country or the preacher or the country preacher, but never with an "I".

peak of a mountain or a cap, maximum; peek glimpse; peke, Pekingese dog; pique displeasure; provoke or excite; piqué fabric.

peal only refers to loud ringing, or peals of laughter.

a Pekin Duck must be cooked before it can be called a Peking Duck.

percent is usually written out, except when used adjectivally: 15 percent; a 15% bond. It hasn't been per cent for over 50 years.

percolate means to pass through, not up or down.

peremptory decisive, precluding debate; preemptory establishing a prior claim; supplanting.

phosphorous (adj.) phosphorus (n.)

pickup truck (one word)

pidgin is not spoken by pigeons. Eventually, if formalized rules evolve, it may become creole. This is true anywhere in the world (not restricted to New Orleans!).

plantar warts.

plus is a preposition ("with the addition of"), not a conjunction. Therefore "One plus two is three" and "One and two are three."

plural. In American English, corporations are singular. "Sears has [not have] the right idea." For a discussion of other plural oddities, see Punctuation.

pointe in ballet.

poll refers to head, horn, count.

pom-pom anti-aircraft gun; pompon for cheerleaders.

pore over documents, not pour.

possible does not admit a [may] in the sentence: It is possible she may (use "will") decide...

practice, practise. "Ice is a noun and has a c in it. Is is a verb and has an s in it."

[pre] as in [pre]planning, [pre]recorded.

precaution[ary measure] .

premises are plural.

present, presently often best deleted.

presently can, and perhaps should, be replaced with "soon"; currently is the big word for "now."

preventative. Prefer preventive.

principle is fundamental, and always a noun (It's the principle); principal may be n. or adj. meaning chief or first in importance. "The principal is my pal."

prior to should always be replaced with "before," unless "before" has been used before: "He had that scare before, prior to his first heart attack."

priority can be high, or low. Be specific.

pristine does not mean spotless, but rather original state.

prodigal means wasteful, not wandering.

prone on your face, supine on your spine, prostrate any position, submissive, recumbent any position, comfortable.

proper noun plurals. Add "s" or "es": Browns, two Germanys, Joneses. (However: Mercuries, Ptolemies, Rockies, Alleghenies.)

prostate gland; prostrate lying face down.

prototype is first, experimental, model. Avoid redundancy.

proved is preferred over proven (except with "proven resources")

proverbial must be connected to a Proverb. (Not "the proverbial one-finger salute")

provided generally preferred over "providing" in "He will, provided he can ...." Or, replace with "if."

pry is the pref. Cdn form. Brits will prise (unless they are peeking), and even that Canadians spell prize.

psychology.  Both psychologists (with their Ph.D. or Psy.D) and psychiatrists (with their M.D., which means they can add drugs into the treatment) can be psychotherapists, but only those who follow Freud can be psychoanalysts.



quantum leap is a small but significant advance from one plane to another. Generally avoid.

Quebec province, as it is written in English; Québec is its capital, with accent, in English. (Montréal too).

Queen Elizabeth II is the monarch, and the ship Queen Elizabeth 2 (or QE2) was not named for her.

query is single question, inquiry (Br, Cdn and Am pref. over enquiry) may be single or extensive investigation.

quoins are decorative corner stonework.



rabbet a groove in wood; rarebit is Welsh rabbit; Rabat one of four Morocco capitals.

rabbi the official leader of a Jewish congregation; rebbe a title of respect or teacher in Hebrew school.

rack up points; rack or wrack to cause agony, but go to wrack and ruin. Nerve-wracking or -racking, depending, I guess, on the degree of damage. (American: rack only for pain). Rack your brain.

rail n. bar or bird or v. complain; rale laboured respiration.

re- [again]

reaction should be reserved for spontaneous, not reflected, responses.

reason [why], [because] . Follow "reason is/was" with a noun or noun clause (often introduced by that).

reek a stench (offensive only); wreak havoc.

refute is the prosecutor's job, to disprove you. Yours is to deny or repudiate.

regarded as [being] .

religion. Protestants often refer to “the Catholic religion.” Catholicism is a faith or a church. (Only Protestants belong to “denominations.”) Both Catholics and Protestants follow the Christian religion.

renowned. It is not reknown.

replace a person with another, but a person is replaced by another.

repulse drives back while repel causes distaste.

reserve. Canadian Indians live on a reserve. In the States, it's a reservation.

responsible. Use only with people or corporate entities, not things. "He was responsible for..." but "It caused...."

restive can mean “stubborn,” “impatient,” or “restless,” but never “relaxed” or “rested.”

reverend. Use it like "honourable." Except, cap and abbreviate it in writing. Therefore, as you would write "the honourable John Smith" of the judge, you would write "the Rev. Bill Smith" of his brother, the preacher. Don't call him "a reverend," any more than your would call his brother "an honourable."

revue / review. Watch the revue; read the review.

revert [back]

riffle a deck of cards or pages; rifle someone's belongings (at rifle-point?)

roles are for actors. The rest of us should roll: call it, eat it, or do it.

roman type, but Roman numerals, candles, Empire, -esque, law, nose and rites.

ruble is Russian money

[delete] material in brackets means better to delete; redundant or wrong.
See also the punctuation notes.


sabbat a witches' assembly, Sabbath a religious specific day of rest; sabbath any period of rest.

sac in anatomy; sack a bag or, v., fire or destroy; sacque an infant's jacket.

saccharin n., saccharine adj.

sachet perfumed packet; sashay in square dancing; v. to glide conspicuously. cachet a seal, prestige, slogan.

sacrilegious. Don't let the spell of religion trap you.

safe[ty]-deposit box. And you thought it was a 'safety-posit box'?

Sahara [desert]

sailers are boats piloted by sailors.

salchow is a skating jump invented by Ulrich Salchow in 1909. No, it's not sowcow. Not even close.

salvage v. to save; selvage n. border of cloth.

savage breast, not beast. Congreve wrote it; he should know.

saviors there are a few of, but only one Saviour.

sceptic, sceptical, scepticism in Canada and Britain; in the States, it's skeptic, etc.

Scots most politely describes one's descent from Scottish ancestry. Scotch is best reserved for their whisky (whiskey with an "e" is Irish whiskey) or a brand name of tape, or, in lowercase, as a verb to put an end to something. "We should scotch calling the Scots 'Scotch.'"

scrip replaces money, not a script.

scrutiny means careful, thoughtful attention. Avoid redundancy.

scull is on water; skull is on your brain.

sculpt is an informal version of the proper verb, sculpture. Be proper. Sculpture it carefully.

seasonal periodical, pertaining to a season ("seasonal work"); seasonable suitable to the season; timely.

second largest avoid "It was the second largest in the world after the U.S." Either recast as "It was the second largest in the world." or "It was the largest in the world after the U.S."

self-confessed is tautological.

senhor(a/ita) Port.; señor(a/ita) Span.; signor(e/a/ina) Ital.; but seigneur is a gentleman or lord.

segue. To shift of topics or activities, use segue. Use a Segway Human Transporter only to shift locations.

serve provides general and continuing benefit, servicing involves installation and maintenance. Bulls service cows, mechanics service cars. Cable TV systems serve, or dis-serve, the country.

Shakespearean is Cdn pref. over Br. Shakespearian.

shall, will. Simple futurity uses I shall, you, he will. Determination or volition is I will, you and he shall. Drowning, a swimmer cries "I shall drown, no one will save me," while a suicide cries "I will drown, no one shall save me." But note all wrong examples: "We Shall Overcome," "We shall fight in the fields...," "I shall return."

sherbet, or, to be really fancy, sorbet. But don't dress it up any more with a second "R".


should like. Cdn & Br.: "I should like to have..." or "I should have liked to have." Am. repl. "should" with "would."

silicon occurs in sand, "silicon chip," "Silicon Valley"; silicone contains silicon, is a lubricant and breast implant.

since indicates action starting then and continuing till now. Therefore "He ran it since July" should be "He has run it since July."

[situation] often can be deleted.

skulk when you sneak around; sulking is reserved for teenagers.

slew many, v., killed; slough a swamp or despair or shed skin (v. to shed); slue, v. ,is nautical; sluff, v., discard a playing card. Slough is a town outside London, immortalized by Sir John Betjeman, Poet Laureate of Britian, in his poem of that name, begining "Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough! / It isn't fit for humans now." 

the Smithsonian Institution, not the "Smithsonian Institute," is a group of museums in Washington, D.C. Note the word "group" -- there is no single museum called "the Smithsonian."

Smokey is a Bear, or hangs with Burt Reynold's Bandit, or is the first name of Mr. Robinson. Whatever it is, it's always a proper noun, whereas smoky is the adjectival result of smoke (and was the name of a WWII dog). A smokie is a smoked pork sausage. The Great Smoky Mountains are named for the smoke, not the bear or the sausage, but are called on occasion by those who know them well, The Smokies, as are a sports team and baseball Park in the area.

[so as] to.

Soho is in London; SoHo is in New York, just SOuth of HOuston (which is not pronounced anything like it is in Texas).

sometime, some time. Two words if preceded by preposition or followed by a helping word (for some time, some time ago). If it can be replaced with "a short time" it is two words. Otherwise, one word.

sort. This sort of thing, or these sorts of things. Sort is singular.

spiritualism concerns communication with the dead; religious activities refer to spirituality

split compound verbs and infinities. Do it if it makes sense.

Spock is the late pediatrician and author. Mr. Spock is the "Star Trek" character.

spoonfuls. Never spoonsful or spoons full. Unless, of course, you mean the spoons, not their contents.

spoor animal's scent or trail; spore a reproductive cell.

squash a bug but quash a rumor. Squashing is messy; quashing is just supressive.

stalemates don't end; avoid use. Try deadlock for an ending, and impasse for a possibly only temporary obstacle.

stanch is a verb, staunch the adjective.

staph is short for staphylococcus, "staph infection."

stationery uses paper (both with an E); stationary stands (with an A).

step relationships are not hyphenated: stepson, stepmother, etc. But half sister is open and great-aunt is hyphenated.

straight and narrow, Straits of Gibraltar, strait-jacket, strait-laced (from straiten, to limit in range). "Straight but not narrow" is an open-minded heterosexual.

strategy (with an e) is an overall plan; stratagem (with an a) is a trick.

subjunctives. 1) stock phrases: "be that as it may," "God forbid," "far be it from me," "so be it," "as it were." 2) suppositions or hypotheses: "If I were you." 3) following verbs of command or request: "The Senate is insisting that the Navy consider[s] other options."

substitute for. Never by or with. Use replace with.

[subtle] nuances. How else could a nuance be?

successfully may often be deleted.

summery / summary. Read the summary on a summery day.



tack, from sailing, gives direction. Take a new tack. No tact required.

tad [bit] long.

Tartars are Mongolian; tartar is a sauce, a dental problem, or a violent-tempered person.

tee ball, but T-shirt. Despite some dictionaries who have forgotten that balls are hit off tees and shirts resemble T's.

teetotallers are not restricted to tea.

[temporary] respite. And by the way, look up its pronunciation.

tendinitis. No O, even though it does affect the tendon.

terrain, land; terrane, rock formation; terrene, mundane, earthy; terrine, cook-n-serve pot; stew; tureen for soups.

than. 1) "nearly twice as many diet than as exercise." 2) "Hardly had I landed than (make it when or recast to "no sooner had I landed than")" 3) "I would rather you shot the dog than me" shoots me, whereas "than I" shoots the dog.

than vs then. Use than in comparisons; use then for time. "He had more friends than I, then."

that, which. Which for non-defining, parenthetical clauses, always set off with commas. That for defining clauses, no commas.

thence is from there. Avoid "from thence" redundancy.

think [to oneself]. Indeed, to whom else would one think?

360-degrees is a spin that takes you right back to where you were facing before. Do you mean a 180-degree turnabout?

throes, n., pains of death or passion. Throws are wrestling moves or small blankets.

tic is a facial disorder. Tick goes with tock, or is a parasite.

together with. "The man together with his wife was (not were) happy."

toilet bathroom or fixture; toilette grooming or style of dress.

toll-free number is preferred to 800-number, as it includes 1-877 and 1-888 and more to come.

ton, is either the chiefly Br. long (2240 pounds) or the Am. and Cdn. short (2000 pounds) variety. A tonne is metric for 2204 pounds or 1000 kilograms.

tortuous winding road, a torturous experience for some.

total. "A total of...was" and "the total of...were." Often can be deleted.

totalitarian is reserved for violent regimes like Nazi Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union.

toward is pref. Am. and Cdn over Br. towards. Untoward, on both sides, however.

trademark applies to the product; trade name refers to the maker. Kleenex is a trademark; Kimberly-Clark is a trade name.

transpire means to leak out, not occur or arrive or receive.

treble is more common as a verb and noun, and as an adjective for amount; triple is an adjective for kinds.

troop for all except an acting troupe.

trooper is a cop; a trouper is one who keeps trying.

try and see how much distress you can cause a literate person. Try to get it right, eh?

turgid is inflated, bombastic while turbid is muddy, impenetrable.

[delete] material in brackets means better to delete; redundant or wrong.
See also the punctuation notes.


ugli is a fruit.

[The] Ukraine no longer likes its article.

umlaut is a pair of dots to change the pronunciation of a vowel (Mühler) while a dieresis indicates that the second consecutive vowel should be pronounced separately (naïve). (Also spelled diaeresis, but oddly, while deserved, never gets one.)

unaware, adj., not aware ("he was unaware"); unawares , adv., suddenly ("caught him unawares").

United Kingdom means Britain and Northern Ireland. Britain means England, Scotland and Wales.

United States is spelled out as a noun and abbreviated as an adjective. Omit periods only in currency: $US100.

[very] unique. Cannot be modified.

unknown. Consider little-known.

unlike. "Unlike [at] previous sessions...."

until or till. Never 'til or 'till.

up. Consider deleting.

urban describes a city; urbane is sophisticated.

urinalysis, not urine analysis.

utilize. Use another word. Like, use, maybe?


valance for window dressing; valence in physics, and the appeal of an activity as a goal to which one aspires.

vale [not veil] of tears. It's a valley, not a drapery.

venal open to bribery; venial excusable, as a "venial sin."

verbal is in words, usually written; oral is spoken.

verbiage is an insulting term that disparages needlessly wordy prose. There is no such word as verbage.

versus is v. in legal cases, vs. in sports events, and versus in running text. Only the legal one is italicized.

vice evil or secondary (vice-regal); vise is a tool.

vicious circle - not cycle. It's vicious because it is a hopelessly closed loop, not a spiral.

victuals is pronounced "vittles." Really! It is!

viola is a musical instrument. Voila is the French word that means something like "There it is!"

villain is a the bad guy; villein is a serf.

virtual means almost entirely. Don't use it for "virtual disaster."

virus (n.) causes diseases that are virous (adj.)



wail a lamentation, high-pitched sound; wale is a rib ("wide wale corduroy").

wangle through trickery ("wangle an invitation"); wrangle quarrel or herd livestock.


warrantee is the person to whom a warranty is given.

weather [conditions] .

well- uses the hyphen when attributive ("a well-aimed shot"), not when predicative ("the shot was well aimed").

welt is a result of assault; whelp is a puppy or good-for-nothing young man or to birth such; yelp is a whelp's cry.

whence means from where. Avoid redundancy.

whet [not wet] your appetite.

whether [or not] if the meaning is "if." Retain if an alternative is being stressed.

while away the hours, don't wile them away.

whilst is a perfectly fine synonym for while. But don't. It's pretentious and archaic.

whisky is brewed in Great Britain. The rest of the world, including the Irish, drink whiskey.

who, whom. "Rent to whoever (he who) needs it," not whomever. Also, "it is you who is responsible for this" - not "are."

whodunit has one n.

whose may refer to non-persons. Watch construction: "Pilots, whose minds are dull, do not usually live long."

widows had husbands, not late husbands: "The widow of [the late] chairman..." otherwise, it's "the wife of the late chairman.

wiener schnitzel (derived from Wien/Vienna). But weiner is a frankfurter (from Frankfurt). Shall we talk hamburgers now? A weaner is a piglet.

will, would. Be consistent. Will is indicative (certainty), would is subjunctive. If the habitual sense of would is expressed elsewhere in the sentence, use the simple past tense ("He would go every year" s.b. "He went every year").

worth while and its adjective worthwhile are both best replaced for clarity.

wounds heal, leaving scars. Scars don't heal.

wrack. See rack.

[w]reckless. It's the lack of reckoning, rather than wrecking.

wunderkind. It's no wonder.



Xerox is a capitalized trademark for a photocopy. It is also the trade name of the producer.



yea is a vote, the opposite of nay. Yeah is an informal yes. Yay! is an enthusiastic response (or a measure of yay big).

year['s time] or years[' time]. Either way, redundant.

yes, no. Either Edwards says no or Edwards says "No." Not Edwards says No. However, The sign says No Smoking.

yin and yang

yoga is the exercise system practiced by a yogi and others; while Yoga is the Hindu philosophy. It is not known if this was practiced by either Yogi Bera or Yogi Bear.

you who is is correct. Really!

[delete] material in brackets means better to delete; redundant or wrong.
See also the punctuation notes.


zoology has four syllables and the first one does not rhyme with zoo.

zoom is upward or at least forward (zoom lens); swoop is downward.

[delete] material in brackets means better to delete; redundant or wrong.
See also the punctuation notes.


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