5 common linguistic missteps

Errors in usage, spelling and redundancy plague many of us who write as part of our workday. Here’s a handful of examples of what not to do.

Words can be misused in a variety of ways, as illustrated in the following examples, each followed by an explanatory discussion and a revision.

1. A massive diffused bomb sat in the middle of the courtyard.

One form of erroneous word usage is use of a similar-sounding word, as in the case of effect in place of affect, or as shown in this example.

Instead, it should read: “A massive defused bomb sat in the middle of the courtyard.”

2. Passwords can be harvested from keystroke loggers and other malware on publically accessible computers.

Another error is the misspelling of an inflected ending, as with extention instead of extension, or the misspelled adverbial form of public:

Corrected version: “Passwords can be harvested from keystroke loggers and other malware on publicly accessible computers.”

3. This policy engenders an altruistic comradery.

A third category of mistakes is to misspell a word adopted from another language based on how it “should” be spelled analogously with established English words—for example, “per say” in place of “per se” or how the last word in the above sentence was spelled.

Rendered properly: “This policy engenders an altruistic camaraderie.”

4. A collaborative approach is comprised of four stages.

This sentence deploys the reference to the whole before that of the parts, which is correct when comprise is concerned, but “is comprised of,” though it has an entry in the dictionary, is not considered proper English.

The technically correct wording is, “A collaborative approach comprises four primary stage gates,” but in this case (and many others), “consists of” works just as well or even better: “A collaborative approach consists of four stages.”

5. Economic conditions in markets we currently serve may significantly restrict growth opportunities for our organization.

Some adjectives and adverbs are almost always extraneous. For example, different, as when it appears in such phrases as “several different factors,” is already implied in the reference to a plurality of factors, and a current state is generally understood, through use of present tense, in such statements as, “Economic conditions in markets we serve may significantly restrict growth opportunities for our organization.” (Redundancy is not an error, but it is annoying enough to earn honorary error status and therefore inclusion in this post.)

A version of this post first ran on Daily Writing Tips.


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