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“]
Tack 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?
You hone an idea; you home in on a solution. Hone means to sharpen. Home, in this case, refers to following a signal.
Lend 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 500 houses.”
Regards are what you offer people in good cheer or fondness (“Give my regards to…”) Regards is not 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.