Understanding common errors in the use of words is helpful in mastering proper grammar and other essential grammar concepts. This page will quickly give you a foundation in common errors in the use of words. The following pages contain a short list of the more common errors in the use of words.
Common Errors in the Use of Words
The following pages contain a short list of the more common errors in
the use of words. Such a list might be extended almost indefinitely. It
is only attempted to call attention to such mistakes as are, for
various reasons, most liable to occur.
A should be repeated for every individual. "A red and black book" means one book, "a red and a black book" means two.
Abbreviate, and abridge; abbreviation is the shortening of a piece
of writing no matter how accomplished. An abridgement is a condensation.
Ability, power to do something, should be distinguished from capacity, power to receive something.
Above should not be used as an adjective, e. g., "The statement made
in above paragraph." Substitute preceding, foregoing, or some similar adjective.
Accept, not accept of.
Accredit, to give one credentials should be distinguished from credit, to believe what one says.
Administer is often misused. One administers a dose of medicine, the
laws, an oath, or the government; one does not administer a blow.
Administer to is often incorrectly used for minister to, e. g., "The red cross nurse administers to the wounded."
Admire should not be used to express delight, as in the phrase "I should admire to do so."
Admit should be distinguished from confess.
Advent should be distinguished from arrival, advent meaning an epoch-making arrival.
Affable means "easy to speak to" and should not be confused with agreeable.
Affect should be distinguished from effect. To affect is to influence; to effect is to cause or bring about.
Aggravate should not be used for annoy or vex or provoke. It means "to make worse."
Ain't is a corruption of am not. It is inelegant though grammatical to say I ain't but absolutely incorrect in other persons and numbers.
Alike should not be accompanied by both as in the phrase "They are both alike in this respect."
All, All right should never be written alright. All and
universally should never be used together. All should not be
accompanied by of, e. g., "He received all of the votes." Be careful
about the use of all in negative statements. Do not say "All present
are not printers" when you mean "Not all present are printers." The
first statement means there are no printers present, the second means there are some printers present.
Allege is a common error for say, state, and the
like. It means
"to declare," "to affirm," or "to assert with the idea of positiveness"
and is not applicable to ordinary statements not needing emphasis.
Allow means permit, never think or admit.
Allude to is not the same as mention. A person or thing alluded to is not mentioned but indirectly implied.
Alone which means unaccompanied should be distinguished from only which means no other.
Alternative should never be used in speaking of more than two things.
Altogether is not the same as all together.
Among should not be used with one another, e. g., "They divided the spoil among one another." It should be "among themselves."
And should not be placed before a relative pronoun in such a position
as to interfere with the construction. It should not be substituted for to in such cases as "Try and take more exercise."
And which should not be used for which.
Another should be followed by than not from, e. g., "Men of another temper from (than) the Greeks."
Answer is that which is given to a question; reply to an assertion.
Anticipate should not be used in the sense of expect. It means "to forestall."
Anxious should not be confused with desirous. It means "feeling anxiety."
Any is liable to ambiguity unless it is used with care. "Any of them"
may be either singular or plural. "It is not intended for any machine"
may mean "There is no machine for which it is intended," or "It is not
intended for every machine, but only for a special type."
<a name="Page_27">[Pg 27]Anybody else's, idiomatic and correct.
Anyhow, bad, do not use it.
Apparently is used of what seems to be real but may not be so. It
should not be confused with evidently which is used of what both seems
to be and is real.
Appear is physical in its meaning and should be distinguished from
seem which expresses a mental experience. "The forest appears to be
impenetrable," "This does not seem to me to be right."
Apt means "skilful" and should never be used in place of likely or liable. It also means "having a natural tendency."
As should not be used as a causal conjunction, e. g., "Do not expect
me as I am too uncertain of my time." The word as stands here as a
contraction of inasmuch. Substitute a semicolon, or make two sentences.
As to is redundant in such expressions as "As to how far we can trust him I cannot say."
At is often incorrectly used for in, e. g., "He lives at Chicago." It is also improperly used in such expressions as "Where is he at?"
As that should not be used for that alone. Do not say "So as that such and such a thing may happen."
Audience is not the same as spectators. An audience listens;
spectators merely see. A concert has an audience; a moving picture show has spectators.
Aught means "anything" and should not be confused with naught or the symbol 0 which means "nothing."
Avenge means to redress wrongs done to others; revenge wrong done to
ourselves. Avenge usually implies just retribution. Revenge may be used of malicious retaliation.
Avocation should not be confused with vocation. A man's vocation
is his principal occupation. His avocation is his secondary occupation.
Aware is not the same as conscious. We are aware of things outside
of ourselves; we are conscious of sensations or things within ourselves.
Awful and awfully are two very much abused words. They mean "awe
inspiring" and should never be used in any other sense.
Badly should not be used for very much. It should not be confused
with the adjective bad. "He looks badly" means he makes a bad use of his eyes, say "He looks bad."
Bank on is slang. Say rely on or trust in.
Beg is often incorrectly used in the sense of beg leave, not "I beg to say" but "I beg leave to say."
Beside, meaning "by the side of" should not be confused with besides meaning "in addition to."
Between applies only to two persons or things.
Blame on as a verb should never be used.
Both, when both—and are used be sure they connect the right words,
"He can both spell and punctuate" not "He both can spell and punctuate."
Do not use such expressions as "They both resemble each other." Be
careful to avoid confusion in the use of negative statements. Do not say
"Both cannot go" when you mean that one can go.
Bound in the sense of determined is an Americanism and is better
avoided. We say "he is bound to do it" meaning "he is determined to
do it," but the phrase really means "He is under bonds, or obligation to do it."
Bring should be carefully distinguished from fetch, carry and
take. Bring means to transfer toward the speaker. Fetch means to
go and bring back. Carry and take mean to transfer from the speaker,
e. g., "Bring a book home from the library." "Fetch me a glass of
water." "Carry this proof to the proofreader." "Take this book home."
But is sometimes used as a preposition and when so used takes the
objective case. "The boy stood on the burning deck whence all but him
had fled." But should not be used in connection with that unless
intended to express the opposite of what the meaning would be without
it, e. g., "I have no doubt but that he will die" is incorrect because
his death is expected. "I have no fear but that he will come" is
correct, as the meaning intended is "I am sure he will come."
But what is often incorrectly used for but that. "I cannot believe
but what he is guilty" probably means "I can but believe that he is
guilty." "I cannot but believe" means "I must believe."
Calculate does not mean think or suppose.
Calculated does not mean likely. It means "intended or planned for the purpose."
Can which indicates ability is to be distinguished from may which indicates permission.
Cannot but should be carefully distinguished from can but, e. g., "I
can but try" means "All I can do is try." "I cannot but try" means "I cannot help trying."
Can't seem should not be used for seem unable, e. g., "I can't seem to see it."
Childlike should be carefully distinguished from childish. Childish refers particularly to the weakness of the child.
Come should not be confused with Go. Come denotes motion toward
the speaker; go motion from the speaker, "If you will come to see me, I will go to see you."
Common should be distinguished from mutual. Common means "shared
in common." Mutual means "reciprocal" and can refer to but two persons
or things. A common friend is a friend two or more friends have in
common. Mutual friendship is the friendship of two persons for each other.
Compare to, liken to, compare with, means "measure by" or "point out similarities and differences."
Condign means "suitable" or "deserved," not necessarily severe.
Condone means "to forgive" or "nullify by word or act," not "make amends for."
Consider in the sense of regard as should not usually be followed by as, e. g., "I consider him a wise man," not "as a wise man."
Contemptible is used of an object of contempt and it should be
distinguished from contemptuous which is used of what is directed at
such an object, e. g., "He is a contemptible fellow." "I gave him a contemptuous look."
Continual should not be confused with continuous. Continual means "frequently repeated." Continuous means "uninterrupted."
Convene, which means "to come together," should not be confused with
convoke which means "to bring or call together." A legislature
convenes. It cannot be convened by another, but it can be convoked.
Crime is often used for offenses against the speaker's sense of right.
Properly crime is a technical word meaning "offenses against law." A
most innocent action may be a crime if it is contrary to a statute.
The most sinful, cruel, or dishonest action is no crime unless prohibited by a statute.
Dangerous should not be used for dangerously ill.
Data is plural.
Deadly, "that which inflicts death" should not be confused with deathly, "that which resembles death."
Decided must not be confused with decisive. A decided victory is a
clear and unmistakable victory. A decisive victory is one which decides the outcome of a war or of a campaign.
Decimate means to take away one-tenth. It is not properly used in a general way of the infliction of severe losses.
Definite which means "well defined" should not be confused with definitive which means "final."
Demean is related to demeanor and means "behave." It should be carefully distinguished from degrade or lower.
Die. We die of a certain disease, not with or from it.
Differ in the sense of disagree is followed by with. "I differ with you." Differ as indicating unlikeness is followed by from.
Different should be followed by from never by with, than, or to.
Directly should not be used for as soon as.
Discover, "to find something which previously existed" should be distinguished from invent something for the first time.
Disinterested means "having no financial or material interest in a
thing." It should be carefully distinguished from uninterested which means "taking no interest in" a thing.
Dispense, "to distribute" should not be confused with dispense with, "to do without."
Disposition is not the same as disposal.
Distinguish which means "to perceive differences" should not be
confused with differentiate which means "to make or constitute a difference."
Divide should be carefully distinguished from distribute.
Don't is a contraction of do not. Doesn't is the contraction for does not. I don't, they don't, he doesn't.
Due should not be used for owing to or because of.
Each is distributive and is always singular. Each other which is
applicable to two only should not be confused with one another which is applicable to more than two.
Egotist, a man with a high or conceited opinion of himself, should not
be confused with egoist which is the name for a believer in a certain philosophical doctrine.
Either is distributive and therefore singular and should never be used of more than two.
Elegant denotes delicacy and refinement and should not be used as a term of general approval.
Else should be followed by than, not by but. "No one else than (not but) he could have done so much."
Emigrant, one who goes out of a country should not be confused with immigrant, one who comes into a country.
Enormity is used of wickedness, cruelty, or horror, not of great size,
for which enormousness should be used. We speak of the enormity of an offence but of the enormousness of a crowd.
Enthuse should not be used as a verb.
Equally as well; say equally well, or as well.
Every place used adverbially should be everywhere.
Except should never be used in the sense of unless or but.
Exceptional which means "unusual," "forming an exception" should not be confused with exceptionable which means "open to objection."
Expect which involves a sense of the future should not be confused
with suppose and similar words, as in the phrase "I expect you know all about it."
Factor is not to be confounded with cause.
Falsity applies to things, falseness to persons.
At fault means "at a loss of what to do next." In fault means "in the wrong."
Favor should not be used in the sense of resemble.
Female should not be used for woman. The words female, woman,
and lady should be used with careful attention to their respective shades of meaning.
Few, which emphasizes the fact that the number is small should be
distinguished from a few which emphasizes the fact that there is a
number though it be small. "Few shall part where many meet." "A few persons were saved in the ark."
Fewer applies to number; less to quantity.
Firstly should not be used for first although secondly and thirdly may be used to complete the series.
Fix should not be used in the sense of repair, arrange, or settle.
Former and latter should never be used where more than two things are involved.
Frequently should be distinguished from commonly, generally,
perpetually, usually. Commonly is the antithesis of rarely,
frequently of seldom, generally of occasionally, usually of casually.
Funny should not be used to mean strange or remarkable.
Gentleman Friend and Lady Friend are expressions which should be
avoided, say "man or woman friend" or "man or woman of my acquaintance"
or even "gentleman or lady of my acquaintance."
Good should not be used in the sense of well. "I feel good."
Got is said to be the most misused word in the language. The verb
means to secure by effort and should be used only with this meaning, e. g.,
"I have got the contract." Have got to indicate mere possession
is objectionable. Mere possession is indicated by have alone. Another
common mistake is the use of got to express obligation or constraint. "I have got to do it."
Guess should not be used in the sense of think or imagine.
Handy should never be used to express nearness.
Hanged should be used to express the execution of a human being. Hung is the past participle in all other uses.
Hardly. "I can hardly see it," not "I can't hardly see it."
Healthy which means "possessed of health" should be distinguished
from healthful and wholesome which mean "health giving."
High should not be confused with tall.
Home is not a synonym for house. A beautiful house is a very different thing from a beautiful home.
Honorable as a title should always be preceded by the.
How should not be used for what, or for that. It means "in what
How that should not be used when either one will do alone. Such a
sentence as "We have already noted how that Tillotson defied rubrical order...." is very bad.
If should not be used in the sense of where or that.
Ilk means "the same" not kind or sort.
Ill is an adverb as well as an adjective. Do not say illy.
In should not be used for into when motion is implied. You ride in a car but you get into it.
Inaugurate should not be used for begin.
Individual should not be used for person.
Inside of should not be used as an expression of time.
Invaluable, meaning "of very great value" should not be confused with valueless, meaning "of no value."
Invite should not be used for invitation.
Kind is not plural. Do not say "These" or "those" kind of things.
Kind of should never be followed by the indefinite article. "What
kind of man is he?" not "What kind of a man is he?" Kind of or
sort of should not be used in the sense of rather or somewhat.
Kindly is often misused in such expressions as "You are kindly
requested to recommend a compositor." Undoubtedly the idea of kindness
is attached to the recommendation not to the request and the sentence should be so framed as to express it.
Last is often misused for latest. "The last number of the paper"
is not the one that appeared this morning but the one that finally closes publication.
Latter applies only to the last of two. If a longer series than two is referred to, say the last.
Lay, which is a transitive verb, should not be confused with lie.
Lay is a verb which expresses causitive action; lie expresses
passivity. "He lays plans." "He lies down." The past tense of lay is laid, that of lie is lay.
Learn should not be used in place of teach.
Lengthy is a very poor substitute for long, which needs no substitute.
Liable should not be used for likely. Liable means an unpleasant
probability. Likely means any probability. Liable is also used to express obligation. He is liable for this debt.
Like must never be used in the sense of as. "Do like I do" should be "Do as I do."
Literally implies that a statement to which it is attached is accurately and precisely true. It is frequently misused.
Loan is a noun, not a verb.
Locate should not be used in the sense of settle.
Lot or lots should not be used to indicate a great deal.
Love expresses affection or, in its biblical sense, earnest benevolence. Like expresses taste. Do not say "I should love to go."
Lovely means "worthy of affection" and, like elegant, should never be used as a term of general approbation.
Luxuriant which means "superabundant in growth or production" should
not be confounded with luxurious which means "given over to luxury." Vegetation is luxuriant, men are luxurious.
Mad means insane and is not a synonym for angry.
Means may be either singular or plural.
Meet should not be used in the sense of meeting except in the case of a few special expressions such as "a race meet."
Mighty should not be used in the sense of very.
Mind should not be used in the sense of obey.
Minus should not be used in the sense of without or lacking.
Most should not be used instead of almost, as in such expressions as "It rained most every day."
Must should not be used for had to or was obliged. In its proper use it refers to the present or future only.
Necessities should be carefully distinguished from necessaries.
<a name="Page_35">[Pg 35]Negligence, which denotes a quality of character should be
distinguished from neglect which means "a failure to act."
Neither denotes one of two and should not be used for none or no
one. As a correlative conjunction it should be followed by nor never by or.
New beginner. Beginner is enough; all beginners are new.
News is singular in construction.
Never is sometimes used as an emphatic negative but such usage is not good.
Nice should not be used in the sense of pleasant or agreeable.
No how should not be used for anyway.
No place should be written as nowhere.
None should be treated as a singular.
Not, like neither, must be followed by the correlative nor, e. g., "Not for wealth nor for fame did he strive."
Not ... but to express a negative is a double negative and therefore should not be used, e. g., "I have not had but one meal to-day."
Nothing like and nowhere near should not be used for not nearly.
O should be used for the vocative and without punctuation.
Oh should be used for the ejaculation and should be followed by a comma or an exclamation point.
Obligate should not be used for oblige.
Observe should not be used for say.
Observation should not be used for observance.
Of is superfluous in such phrases as smell of, taste of, feel of.
Off should never be used with of; one or the other is superfluous.
Other. After no other use than, not but.
Ought must never be used in connection with had or did. "You
hadn't ought or didn't ought to do it" should be "You ought not to have done it."
Out loud should never be used for aloud.
Panacea is something that cures all diseases, not an effective remedy for one disease.
Partake of should not be used in the sense of eat. It means "to share with others."
Party should never be used for person except in legal documents.
Per should be used in connection with other words of Latin form but
not with English words. Per diem, per annum, and the like are
correct. Per day or per year are incorrect. It should be a day, or a year.
Perpendicular, which merely means at right angles to something else mentioned, should not be used for vertical.
Plenty, a noun should not be confused with the adjective plentiful.
Politics is singular.
Post does not mean inform.
Predicate should not be used in the sense of predict or in the sense of base or found.
Premature means "before the proper time." It should not be used in a general way as equivalent to false.
Pretty should not be used in the modifying sense, nor as a synonym for very in such phrases as "pretty good," "pretty near," and the like.
Preventative, no such word, say preventive.
Promise should not be used in the sense of assure.
Propose, meaning "to offer" should not be confused with purpose meaning "to intend."
Proposition should not be confounded with proposal. A proposition
is a statement of a statement or a plan. A proposal is the presentation or statement of an offer.
Providing should not be used for provided.
Quality should never be used as an adjective or with an adjective
sense. "Quality clothes" is meaningless: "Clothes of quality" equally
so. All clothes have quality and the expression has meaning only when
the quality is defined as good, bad, high, low, and so forth.
Quit, "to go away from" is not the same as stop.
Quite means "entirely," "wholly," and should never be used in the
modifying sense as if meaning rather or somewhat. "Quite a few" is
Raise is a much abused word. It is never a noun. As a verb it should
be distinguished from rear and increase, as in such phrases as "He
was raised in Texas." "The landlord raised my rent."
Rarely ever should not be used for rarely or hardly ever.
Real should not be used in the sense of very.
Reference should be used with with rather than in. Say with
reference to, not in reference to. The same rule applies to the words
regard and respect. Do not say "in regards to," say "with regard to."
Remember is not the same as recollect, which means "to remember by an effort."
Rendition should not be used for rendering.
Researcher has no standing as a word.
Reside in the sense of live, and residence in the sense of house or dwelling are affectations and should never be used.
Retire should not be used in the sense of "go to bed."
Right should not be used in the sense of duty. "You had a right to
warn me," should be "It was your duty to warn me, or you ought to have
warned me." Right should not be used in the sense of very. Such
expressions as right now, right off, right away, right here are not now in good use.
Same should not be used as a pronoun. This is a common usage in
business correspondence but it is not good English and can be easily
avoided without sacrificing either brevity or sense. Same as in the
sense of just as, in the same manner should be avoided.
Score should not be used for achieve or accomplish.
Set should not be confused with sit. To set means "to cause to sit."
Sewage, meaning the contents of a sewer, should not be confused with sewerage which means the system.
Show should not be used in the sense of play or performance. Show up should not be used for expose.
Since should not be used for ago.
Size up should not be used for estimate or weigh.
Some should not be used for somewhat as "I feel some better."
Sort of should not be used for rather.
Splendid means shining or brilliant and should not be used as a
term of general commendation.
Stand for means "be responsible for." Its recent use as meaning
stand, endure, or permit, should be avoided.
Start should not be used for begin, e. g., "He started (began) to speak."
State should not be used for say.
Stop should not be used for stay.
Such should not be used for so. Say "I have never seen so
beautiful a book before" not "I have never seen such a beautiful book before."
Sure should not be used as an adverb. Say surely.
Take is superfluous in connection with other verbs, e. g., "Suppose we
take and use that type." Take should not be confused with bring.
Take stock in should not be used for rely or trust in.
That should not be used in the sense of so. "I did not know it was that big."
Think should not have the word for added, e. g., "It is more important than you think for."
This should not be used as an adverb. "This much is clear" should be "Thus much is clear."
Through should not be used for finished.
To is superfluous and wrong in such expressions as "Where did you go to?"
Too alone should not modify a past participle. "He was too (much) excited to reply."
Transpire does not mean happen. It means to come to light or become known.
Treat should be followed by of rather than on. This volume treats of grammar, not on grammar.
Try should be followed by to rather than and. "I will try to go," not "I will try and go."
Ugly should never be used in the sense of bad tempered or vicious. It means "repulsive to the eye."
Unique does not mean rare, odd, or unusual. It means alone of its kind.
Upward of should not be used in the sense of more than.
Venal should not be confused with venial.
Verbal should not be confused with oral. A verbal message means
only a message in words; an oral message is a message by word of mouth.
Very should be used sparingly. It is a word of great emphasis and like
all such words defeats its purpose when used too frequently.
Visitor is a human caller. Visitant a supernatural caller.
Want should not be used in the sense of wish, e. g., "I want it"
really means "I feel the want of it" or "I lack it." Want, wish, and need should be carefully distinguished.
Way should not be used in the sense of away in such expressions as "Way down East."
Ways should not be used for way, e. g., "It is quite a ways (way) off."
What is often misused for that, e. g., "He has no doubt but what (that) he will succeed."
Whence means "from what place or cause" and should not be preceded by
from. This applies equally to hence which means "from this place."
Which should not be used with a clause as its antecedent, e. g., "He
replied hotly, which was a mistake" should be "He replied hotly; this
was a mistake." Which being a neuter pronoun should not be used to
represent a masculine or feminine noun. Use who. Between the two neuter
pronouns which and that let euphony decide.
Who should not be misused for whom or whose, e. g., "Who (whom)
did you wish to see?" "Washington, than who (whose) no greater name is
recorded." Impersonal objects should be referred to by which rather than who.
Without should not be used for unless, e. g., "I will not go without (unless) you go with me."
Witness should not be used for see.
Worst kind or worst kind of way should not be used for very much.
Womanly means "belonging to woman as woman."
Womanish means effeminate.