6 troublesome word pairs

Differing by a mere space, or by letter or two, these verbal cousins can confound listeners and perplex proofreaders.

It never fails. After you send out an email newsletter, you inevitably catch a typo or someone makes you aware of one.

“You used the wrong word,” your boss says. It’s frustrating, but it’s Murphy’s Law. If your marketing and PR efforts haven’t been plagued by it yet, they will be.

Some word pairs that often foil the best of marketers:

1. Affect and effect.

Affect typically is a verb; effect usually is a noun. To keep them straight, think of copy written for Zantax or some other drug. The effects of it are nausea, insomnia, irritability, et cetera, et cetera.

A person who takes a drug like Benadryl for seasonal allergies is affected by it; he or she can hardly stay awake during the day and dozes off during the afternoon meeting.

2. Complementary and complimentary.

Complementary means to “add to, complete, or reinforce” something else. Transmedia storytelling and cross-channel marketing use complementary content to create the full experience.

Complimentary is in relation to flattery or something given away for free as in the case of the drinks and hors d’oeuvres to be served at your invitation-only event.

3. Averse and adverse.

If you wrote about the polar vortex a few months ago, you should have used adverse to describe it because the word means something opposed to a subject. For example, you may have been stranded in Houston because of adverse weather conditions.

If you mean that the subject is opposed to something, the correct word is averse: Noah is averse to any criticism about his artwork.

4. Conscience and conscious.

To have a conscience is to have a Jiminy Cricket; that is, you have “a sense of right and wrong.” To be conscious is to be awake or aware.

5. Every day and everyday.

Everyday is an adjective meaning “used daily” or “common.” Every day is a noun (day) modified by every. Levi’s actually used the wrong word when describing one of its lines of jeans; they were marketed as every day jeans even though the intention was that the jeans were perfect for daily wear. Every day is what happens when you’re in competition with your Fitbit. Because of it, you take a walk at lunchtime every day.

6. Principal and principle.

This one’s tricky because principal has three meanings: it can be an adjective meaning “foremost” or “major”; a noun meaning “chief official”; or, in finance, a noun meaning “capital sum.” A principle, in contrast, is a noun only, and it means “rule” or “axiom.”

If you’re talking about your business’s mission and goals, you’re talking about its principles. If you’re denoting which of those principles are the most important, you’re speaking of principal principles, which is almost as difficult to say as, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” You might want to avoid using both words at the same time.

Which word pairs have proven troublesome to you?

A version of this article first appeared on The Vocus Blog.

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This article first ran on Ragan.com in April 2014.

Topics: PR

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