Ah, the English language. You would think one’s native tongue would be easier to master. But alas, there are simply too many land mines in our little lexicon.
Just today I read an email in which the writer hoped I “excepted” his submission, and another in which someone wanted to pay me a “complement.” It got me thinking about the many words I commonly see misused in manuscripts. So I thought today I’d give you a little list and some tips on correct word usage.
You can lead a horse to water. (verb, present tense)
She led the class in a song. (verb, past tense)
Pencils used to be made of lead. (noun)
Time to lie down for a nap. (verb, present tense)
Yesterday she lay on the grass and daydreamed. (verb, past tense)
If you are going to use “lay” as present tense, it’s only if you are going to lay something down. The present tense verb “lay” needs to have an object.
Will this post affect the way you write? (verb)
If so, I hope it has a positive effect. (noun)
I’m trying to effect a change in the way writers use grammar. (transitive verb meaning to cause or bring about)
I passed by Starbucks and didn’t stop! (verb, past tense)
I can’t drive past Starbucks without being tempted. (preposition)
The one-dollar cup of coffee is in the past. (noun)
It’s time for a lesson in grammar. (contraction for “it is”)
Choosing the appropriate word has its difficulties. (possessive form, adjective)
The ONLY time you use an apostrophe is when you want a contraction meaning “it is.” There is NO apostrophe in the possessive form.
Help – I need some advice! (noun)
Please advise me on my publishing journey.
They stood in front of the altar to get married. (noun)
Before the wedding, she had to alter her dress. (verb)
When you’re on a horse, you should hold the reins. (noun)
Please try to rein in your feelings. (verb)
The king reigns over his country. (verb)
(Note that when you “rein in” your feelings or you try to “rein in” your kids, it’s a metaphorical use of the original “rein” which pertains to horseback riding.)
This blog has several discrete parts. (adjective meaning separate or distinct.)
Please be discreet when discussing details of your contract. (adjective meaning to be prudent or use discernment; or to be unobtrusive or unnoticeable)
* * *
This list is specifically taken from my own notes on mistakes I’ve seen lately, but obviously there are many more confusing words! A book I highly recommend is 100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionary. It’s fun reading and a great resource to keep on your shelf.
All you grammar police out there: Feel free to add your two cents (and good sense).
What words do you have trouble getting right in your writing?
Never confuse these words again! (Click to Tweet)
Yesterday you lay, but today you lie. A few commonly confused words. (Click to Tweet)
Can you “except” a “complement”? Words we commonly confuse. (Click to Tweet)
What’s the difference between “discrete” and “discreet”? Confusing words: (Click to Tweet)
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