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Top 20 Abused, Misused, And Mistreated Words

Aug 17, 2007
Many words in the English language are used incorrectly. Every writer can benefit from a refresher that outlines some of these most commonly misused words. If you are not always sure of when to use some of these words, you're in good company. Many intelligent and well-educated people continue to use these words incorrectly. But before you publish your next document or click the 'submit' button on that email, double check for any violations of these 20 abused, misused, and mistreated words.

accept: to receive; to answer positively
except: not including; everything but

anxious: worried/nervous
eager: excited/looking forward to

affect: to pretend; to influence
effect: a result

assure: to make certain (such as with a person)
ensure: to make sure (such as with a thing)
insure: to provide or obtain insurance

beside: at the side of
besides: in addition to

between: two items that are related
among: three or more things related

choice: a decision or an option
choose: to make a decision
chose: past tense of choose

compliment: to praise
complement: something that completes

farther: literal or physical distance
further: to a greater extent

fewer: comparative with plural items
less: items that are singular

imply: to suggest
infer: to deduce

its: possessive form of it
it's: contraction for it is or it has

lay: to place, which is always followed by an object
lie: to recline
**For present tense only. Tip: If you can replace the word in question with put, then use lay.

nauseated: not feeling well
nauseous: disgust

set vs. sit:
In general, set refers to an object ("Set the materials down on the table") and sit does not ("She sat for an hour, waiting for the bus").

that vs. which
--"Which" is frequently used to introduce a nonrestrictive clause, a phrase that isn't necessary or supplies additional information and is usually set off by commas.
For example: The burned CD, which she received from a friend, wasn't as great of quality as the original from a music store.
--"That" is used for introducing restrictive clauses that refer to things, phrases that ARE essential to the meaning of the rest of the sentence.
For example: The CD that consists of all of the band's top-ten singles is her favorite.

that vs. who/whom
In most cases, "who/whom" is the standard form when referring to human beings, especially in regards to an individual person. "That" is used when referring back to a class, species, or type. "Which" should never be used in reference to humans.
A correct example with "who": She goes to the hairstylist who is the best.
A correct example with "that": He is the type of hairstylist that should charge more because he is the best.

their: possessive form of they
there: in or at that place
they're: contraction for they are

whose: possessive form of which, who
who's: contraction for who is

your: possessive form of you; belonging to you
you're: contraction for you are

While spell check quickly catches misspellings, misused words can easily slip past spell check and into your documents. One way to identify words used out of context is by turning on your word processor's grammar check feature. However, though grammar check will identify a majority of misuses, it shouldn't be your final proofreading expert. Some misuses, particularly those that involve uses of 'that vs. who/whom,' can pass through grammar check but still need repair.

For important and published works, consider sending your documents to a professional proofreading service. Even professional writers use proofreaders. After staring at your document for hours on end, it's easy to skim over sentences with missing words, typos, and words used out of context. Professional proofreading services are affordable, fast, and ensure that readers always associate you and your company with top-notch quality work.
About the Author
Author is a skilled and professional copywriter. For more information about proofreading your work, visit http://www.WritersRelief.com
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