Recently, I received a letter from a new private school opening in my neighborhood. The letter asked parents to attend an open house session to learn more about the school.
It’s the kind of direct mail that we all receive, and the only reason I paid attention to it was because of an error in the salutation. It read, “Dear prospective parent/guardian.”
Prospective means “likely or expected to happen or likely to become or be.” I’m already a parent and have been for many years. And so were most of the people who received the letter, otherwise they would not have received it. To address us “prospective parents” is wrong. To address us as “prospective clients” or “parents of prospective students” would have been correct, but awkward. In this case “Dear parent” would have been the better choice.
Word choice can be tricky. The English language is full of words that don’t mean what people think they mean or words that have subtle shades of meaning.
Here are a few examples.
Averse means opposed to or having a strong dislike of something. Example: “He was averse to the idea of using a new style guide.”