Confusing word pairs are everywhere.
I’ve been writing about them for years, and I had thought I had the topic well covered.
Apparently I don’t. Here are nine more pairs to pay attention to:
1. Can vs. may
Use “can” when referring to the ability to do something.
Example: “I don’t think your brother can make you unconscious just by looking at you.”
Use “may” when asking for permission to do something or when referring to the possibility of something.
Example: “You may not throw knives at each other.”
Example: “Your excessive use of exclamation points may annoy readers.”
2. Continual vs. continuous
“Continual” means to recur at regular and frequent intervals.
Example: “Because she was new to the copy desk, Amy checked the style guide continually.”
“Continuous” means to go on without pause or interruption.
Example: “The continuous flow of alcohol made last night’s happy hour quite entertaining.”
3. “Compare to” vs. “compare with”
Use “compare to” for items that are similar.
Example: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
Use “compared with” for items that are very different.
Example: “When compared with Shakespeare’s sonnets, modern sonnets fall flat.”
4. Dosage vs. dose
“Dosage” is the amount of medicine to be taken by a patient during a period of time.
Example: “The dosage is three times per day for 10 days.”
“Dose” is the amount taken at one time.
Example: “This morning’s dose is 250 mg.”
5. e.g. vs. i.e.
The abbreviation “e.g.” means “for example” or “such as.”
Example: There are several online dictionaries available, e.g., Wordhippo, Wordnik, and Dictionary.com.
The abbreviation “i.e.” means “that is” or “in other words.”
Example: “Do a bit of research if you are uncertain which word to use, i.e., use a dictionary.”
6. Feel vs. believe
Use “feel” to express physical sensations.
Example: “I felt a chill as soon as I walked through the door.”
Use “believe” to express personal conviction or the acceptance of something as true.
Example: “I don’t believe we’ll ever agree about the singular they.”
7. Fever vs. temperature
Do not use these words interchangeably. A fever is the physical condition that occurs when a person’s body temperature is elevated.
Example: “He had a fever.”
Temperature refers to body temperature, which everyone has.
Example: “His temperature was normal.”
“Includes” indicates that a partial list will follow. Do not use “includes” if the list is complete.
Correct: “The alphabet includes the letters a, b and c.”
Correct: “The first 3 letters of the alphabet are a, b and c.”
Incorrect: “The first 3 letters of the alphabet include a, b and c.”
(This one is not part of a confusing word pair, just a word that’s often misused.)
9. Since vs. because
Using “since” when you mean “because” can make your writing unclear.
Unclear: “Since I began reading Patrick O’Brian, my writing has improved.”
More clear: “Because I began reading Patrick O’Brian, my writing has improved.”
More clear: “After reading Patrick O’Brian, my writing improved.”
What additional word pairs would you add to the list, Ragan.com readers?
A regular contributor to Ragan.com and PR Daily, Laura Hale Brockway is a medical writer and editor from Austin, Texas. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.