Grammar Grabbers - Misused Words & Phrases

Grammar Grabbers

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Speaking of "misused" . . . here's sort of a country and western story of "love" gone bad.
Be sure to click your way back to the best grammar site on the Internet ... no, no, I mean back to Grammar Grabbers!

Actually, what I meant by "misused" is that I'm tired of all the abuse I've taken as Bill Cutler. It's time to reveal my true identity and return to my rightful and respected position as the King. What? You don't believe me! Here, I just happen to have a clip from a movie taken way back when I made the transition. Going from a young and sexy superstar to an old and ordinary unknown ... what was I thinking?!

Nothing sounds sillier than someone using a horribly wrong word. Those of you old enough might remember how much you laughed at Leo Gorcey of The Bowery Boys and his malapropisms. (He'd probably call this paragraph a "long-windowed explanation"). But there are less obvious pitfalls of this kind into which you can tumble. Here are a few hundred thousand. Just kidding!

Ability. Capacity. "Ability" refers to the physical, mental, financial or legal power to do something. For example, my ability to tapdance resulting from my lessons at the Lounge Lizard Dance School. "Capacity" is the full extent to which something can be filled, held or absorbed, e.g., with patience for stupid jokes.

Accident. Mishap. An "accident" can be lucky or unlucky. A "mishap" is an unfortunate, but minor accident. Disasters, catastrophes and calamities are not mishaps.

Allegedly indicates the making of a claim or expressing of an opinion. Reportedly is used when something is in writing or widely known. Reputedly means "generally supposed to be" and can refer to a warranted or unwarranted reputation.

Speaking of unwarranted reputations, did you know that shrews
have had their good name undeservedly dragged through the mud?
No? Well, click here for the real story. (Rated "PG" for "pretty good".)
Be sure to click your way back to this page

Alternate means "every other" or "one after the other". (An "alternate" also is a substitute.) Alternative refers to "one or the other" (a choice).

Among. Between. The first of these is used for more than two persons.
The second one refers to two persons.

Anxious. Eager "Anxious" means "worried" or "distressed". Use "eager" if you mean "feeling or showing keen desire".

Can. May. Use the first for "able" and the second to indicate possibility.

Capital refers to upper-case letters, certain cities, money / property or excellence. Capitol is a building where the U.S. Congress or a state legislature meets.

Commence is "legalese". Use "begin" . . . or utilize commence if you insist on big words.

Common means shared by all or many, e.g., "common knowledge". Mutual means "reciprocal", as in mutual funds. Don't get them mixed up . . . like I do when I invest my money and look for "mutual shares" and "common funds".

Compare to (for similarities) and contrast with (for differences).

Compliment means "praise" / "to praise". Complement, also a noun or a verb, means "add to", "enhance" or "a complete set", as in "full staff".

Comprise means "consists of" (thus a team comprises -- not "is comprised of" -- many players). Individual components constitute, not "comprise" the whole.

Consecutive refers to an uninterrupted succession. Successive requires only a regular sequence. January, February, March and April are consecutive months. January, March, May and July are successive months.

Continual means "repeated at frequent intervals", e.g., a phone ringing. Continuous means "without interruption", e.g., a siren wailing.

Dependant, the noun, is a person you claim on your income tax form. Dependent, the adjective, is what you become after paying your income tax.

Disinterested. Uninterested. If you are "disinterested", you are "impartial / neutral". It's the other one that means "not interested".

Economic refers to: (i) income, expenditures, etc. of a household, business, community or government; and also (ii) wealth or material needs. Economical means "thrifty" (with time, money, words, etc.).

Effect. Affect. The first means "to bring to pass" or "as a result". The second means "to influence or change" or refers to feigning / pretending, as in "affect indifference when negotiating a price".

Elude means "to avoid", "to slip
away from" or "to escape detection".

Allude has a similar pronunciation but
means "refer to indirectly".

Ensure is used for "guarantee / make sure". Insure refers to insurance.

Envelop (pronounced "in-vell-op") is a verb and means "to surround or wrap up". Envelope is what those boring interoffice memorandums used to arrive in . . . before e-mail.

Expect and anticipate both mean "look forward to", but the latter has the additional meaning of "to forestall or perform in advance", e.g., "I had an answer ready because I anticipated your question."

Farther refers to distance. If you disagree, we can discuss this further.

Fewer is used with numbers. Less refers to quantity / amount. Example: "My wife gave me fewer chores last weekend, so I had less work!"

General Consensus or Consensus of Opinion are redundancies. Consensus by itself means general opinion or agreement.

Historic involves something of history-making consequence. Historical is concerned with or contained in history.

House is merely the structure, usually occupied by a single family. Home is where you reside and does not have to be a structure; important elements are peace, comfort and family ties.

Imply. Infer. A speaker implies. A listener infers.

Incomprehensive. Incomprehensible. The first means "incomplete" or "not able to understand". The second has one meaning: "cannot be understood".

Irregardless is wrong. Unlike "irrespective", regardless uses a suffix.

Irritate. Aggravate. The first is a stronger version of "annoy". Use the second only when an existing situation is made worse.

Its. It's. The first is a possessive pronoun ("The desk ... its surface"). The second is a contraction of "it is" ("The desk ... it's where you work").

Many: a large but indefinite number. Numerous: a great number of units / persons. Multiple: consisting of many parts (or, in mathematics, the product of a specified number, e.g., "25 is a multiple of 5").

Nation describes a community of people who share a common language, culture or economic life, but not necessarily its own sovereign territory. Country is the sovereign land or territory of a nation.

People. Persons. Use "people" in societal or political terms, as in "the people of this country" or "MPs represent the people". Use "persons" when referring to numbers, e.g., 19 persons.

Practical means "realistic", "sensible" or "workable" in relation to acts or processes. Practicable means "feasible" or "capable of being used".

Presently at one time meant "now"; today it means "soon", "directly" or "in a short time". Currently means "now".

Real, the adjective, defines only nouns and pronouns ("real gold", "the real you"). Really, the adverb, is used to modify verbs and adjectives ("really moving", "really good" not "real good").

Recur is what an event or experience does when it repeats at regular intervals, often in a pattern (thus "recurring debits"). Reoccur implies a one-time repetition (as in "take another aspirin so your headache doesn't reoccur . . . either that or move farther away from your computer monitor).

Stationery is writing material. Stationary means "not moving" or "not movable" (like me, when I express an opinion).

Did you hear that Toronto is building a 250-storey building? Not really, I just made up that story. To be honest, even the Oxford dictionary indicates you can interchange "storey" and "story" for a building's floor, but isn't it important these days to be different from everyone else; so use "storey". Sorry about this "story", ahhh, "storey", whatever.

Than indicates a comparison . . .

. . . Then means "next in order or time".

Transitory and transient both mean "short-lived", "occurring or existing only briefly" or "fleeting"; however, the first is usually applied to events and situations, while the latter applies to people.

Whom (or Whomever). Who (or Whoever). Are you ready for this, because you need to be patient through this long explanation?

"Whom" must be the object (receiving the action) of a verb or preposition. (Whom did you send?). "Who" must be a verb's subject (about which something is said). (Who is there?) Confusing? Use "who" in every case; you'll be right more than half the time.

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