Certain word pairs that look or sound alike can cause confusion. I’m not talking about the ones you hear about often, such as “there” and “their,” “it’s” and “its,” and “to” and “too.”
That’s the remedial stuff. Here’s an advanced course in confusing word pairs.
1. Everyday/every day
Contrary to what you see practically every day
, these are two different concepts. Everyday
is an adjective that means ordinary or commonly occurring, while every day
means each and every single day.
Sly and the Family Stone assure us that in spite of the band’s fame and lifestyle, the members remain “everyday
people.” Elvis Costello, unfortunately, gets it wrong when he sings, “Everyday
I write the book.” Clearly he means every day
. Who knows how many record sales this cost him?
[For more on everyday vs. every day, read: “Simple tricks for avoiding a common language error
is a nautical term meaning to adjust course on a sailboat. So you take a different tack
, not tact
, which refers to a keen sense of what to do to maintain good relations or avoid offending someone. The redoubtable New York Times
columnist Maureen Dowd got this one wrong in a column last year
. (See the paragraph that begins, “The master of his own narrative …”) Perhaps she meant tactic
There must be something about the sea that causes confusion. Jibe
refers to a sudden shift from side to side or to change a vessel’s course. It also means to agree. For instance, your figures don’t jibe
with hers. Jive
is a whole other thing. As in “Don’t give me that jive
,” “Oh, stewardess, I speak jive
,” and, “Back off, you jive
turkey.” Have Mr. T, Jimmy “J.J.” Walker, and Barbara Billingsley taught us nothing?
an idea; you home
in on a solution. Hone
means to sharpen. Home
, in this case, refers to following a signal.
is a verb; loan
is a noun. You never, ever loan
anyone something. You lend
it to him or her—just as you wouldn’t apply for a lend
Few people get this one right. To say, “The book is comprised
of 25 chapters,” is wrong. Instead, say “composed
of.” (Or better yet, just say the book has
25 chapters.) Here is a proper use of comprise
: “The neighborhood comprises
[READ: “Effect or affect? Home or hone? Find out”
are what you offer people in good cheer or fondness (“Give my regards to…”) Regards
a synonym for regarding
. Simply say, “In regard
to.” No “s.” Ever. (A certain presidential candidate gets this wrong
almost every day).
I estimate that three out of four Facebook users don’t know how to spell the word that’s synonymous with “yippee.” For example, they’ll express joy over someone’s engagement or pregnancy with a hearty, “Yeah!” But yeah
is slacker for “yes.” The word they are usually seeking is spelled yea. For ultimate clarity, try spelling it the informal, yet still acceptable way: yay.
A leader leads
. When he’s done leading, he led
. So, you lead
the troops into battle. Years later, you tell the story of the day you led
your troops to battle. Remember that the word is inconsistent with the past tense of “read.”
People don’t tend to mistake the two in writing, but they almost always do so when speaking. Most people know that a small token or keepsake is spelled memento
. Yet they pronounce it momento
, which is Spanish for moment.
Rob Biesenbach is a Chicago-based communications consultant, actor, speaker and author of the ACT LIKE YOU MEAN BUSINESS: Essential Communication Lessons from Stage and Screen, published by Brigantine Media. He tweets at @RobBiesenbach.