Writing – Commonly Misused Words

A.M. and P.M.:  It is incorrect to say 11 a.m. in the morning, or 11 p.m. at night.  The reason is obvious:  It’s redundant.  Try 11 o’clock in the morning or 11 a.m.;  11 o’clock at night or 11 p.m.

Around:  Around is a locative.  It designates location.  You would not use this word in relation to time.  Use “about” instead.  For example:  “We arrived at the party at about 2 o’clock.”

Account, as on account of The correct word is “because”.

Almost and nearly.  The first applies to numbers, the second to distances between objects.  Thus near for proximity, not for numbers.

Because.  “The reason is because…” is an abomination.  The correct usage is “The reason is that…”

Consensus.  When a number of people reach agreement, there is a consensus, not a general consensus.  A consensus is general.

Convince vs. Persuade.  No one can be convinced to do anything.  One may be convinced that he ought to do something or he may be convinced of the correctness of a position.  On the other hand, one is persuaded to.  Think of it this way:  One is convinced of his/her beliefs.  One can be persuaded to act.

Couple.  The word is plural, not singular.

Damage, damages.  Damage refers to physical harm to a person, place or thing, including storm damage.  No matter how widespread, storm damage is ALWAYS singular.  “Officials are surveying the hurricane damage.”  Damages refers to monetary awards in a civil case.

Daylight Saving Time:  Not daylight savings time.

Demolished and destroyed.  Far too often, a writer will say something was “completely” demolished or destroyed.  This is redundant.

Dived.  The word is dived, not dove.

Due to All too often “due to” is used when it should not be.  It is used correctly when one says something is “due to” someone else, meaning he is owed something.  Most of the time, it is used incorrectly to mean “the result of” or “the fault of.”  In that case, the correct phrase is because of.  For example:  “There was massive damage in the area because of the overnight storms.”  “Power lines were down because of the ice storm.”  People often use the phrase “due to” when we really mean “because”.

Farther and further Farther should be used only when actual distances are meant.  Further should be used when a state of mind is indicated:  “I’ll elaborate further.”  “We have further to go to come to an agreement.”  “I traveled farther than my friends to get to the location.”

Fewer and less It is incorrect to say “There are less soldiers than I expected.”  The word here is fewer.  However, when indefinite amounts or collective names are under discussion, the word is less  — “We have less flour than I thought.”

Hand Up, Hand Down:  Jury decisions are handed UP to a judge.  Judge’s decisions are handed Down.  Thus a jury will hand UP an indictment.  A judge will hand DOWN a ruling.

Head up No one heads up anything.  People lead, head or direct.

Impact.  This is another badly abused word.  An impact is a blow, but what is really meant most of the time is “effect’.  If two cars collide, the impact is apt to be severe, but if a politician promises somebody something, the result is better put as “effect”, rather than “impact.”

In Spite of:   The correct word is despite.  “Spite” means: “a malicious, usually petty, desire to harm, annoy, frustrate, or humiliate another person.”

Innocent  vs. Not Guilty.  One does not plead innocent in court.  One pleads not guilty.

It and they.  One of the most common errors made in scripts is the beginning of a sentence with a singular subject and the following of that with a plural object.  “The Army said they were going to…” is incorrect.

Lend and loan.  The verb is lend.  “He lent me a book.”  Not “He loaned me a book.”  Loan is a noun.

Momentarily.  The plane will take off momentarily means it will take off for a few moments.

National Organization for Women All too often, this organization is misnamed the National Organization of Women.

Over and Under vs More Than and Less Than.  “Over” and “under” designate placement of an object in space in relation to another object.  These words are locatives.  They designate location.  For example: “The roof is over my head.”  DO NOT use this word when referring to numbers.  “I have more than 100 dollars in my wallet.”

Protest.  One protests against something.  It is incorrect to say “In protest of…”

Public The public is sufficient.  The general public is wrong.  The public is general.

Replica A replica is not just a copy.  A replica is a duplicate created by the original artist or maker.

That.  The usage is “people who”, not “people that”.  “Who” refers to human beings.  “That” refers to objects.

Try.  One tries to do something, not tries and does something.  The latter is saying that one bother tried and does, which is not always the case.

Was and were.  “Was” is fine when it is the past tense of a sentence.  However, if doubt is expressed before the verb is reached, the word is “were”.  Thus, “If I were king…”

From Broadcast News Handbook:

Afterward, Backward, Downward, Forward, Toward, Upward:  There is no “s” on the end of any of these words!!  It’s not afterwards, backwards, towards, etc.

Using “I” or “Me”:  You should use those in conjunction with other nouns and pronouns in just the same way as you use them when they’re alone.  For example, you wouldn’t say “Bob went to the store with I.”  You also wouldn’t say “Bob went to the store with Jill and I.”  To determine correct word choice, remove the second person and the word “and” from the sentence, see if you should use “I” or “me” and then reinsert the second person and the word “and”.  For example, it would be “Bob went to the store with me”, so it should be “Bob went to the store with Jill and me”.  Also, it would be “I went to the store”, so it should be “Jill and I went to the store” not “Jill and me went to the store.”

“He”, “She” and “I” vs. “Him”, “Her” and “Me”:   I often hear students use him , her and me as the subject of sentences.  This is wrong.  You would not say “Him went to the store” or “Me went to the store”, so why would you say “Him and me went to the store”?  It’s “He went to the store”…”I went to the store”…”He and I went to the store.”

Giving Human Characteristics to Non-Human Things:   Rescue boats don’t pluck people out of the water.  Rescuers do.  Police departments don’t arrest criminals.  Police officers do.  Plans don’t intend to do anything.  Planners do.  Get the idea?  When you write a sentence, make sure the subject is capable of the action you’ve assigned to it.

The:  Don’t use this word in the first reference to something.  For example,  don’t say “The riots are still going on in Sweden this morning…” in your lead sentence.  What riots??   Say “Rioting is still going on in Sweden this morning…” instead.  On subsequent references, it’s okay to refer to “the” riots because you have established that there are riots happening.

But, However: Both of these words indicate that what follows contrasts with what has been said or written already, but many people mistakenly use them to continue a thought.  Your TV 1 instructor sees this in student scripts frequently.  For example:  “Bethany went to the grocery store but came back with groceries”.  Of course she did!  There is no contrasting thought in this sentence so what you should say is “Bethany went to the grocery store and came home with groceries.”A sentence in which “but” would be appropriate is “Bethany went to the grocery store but came home without any groceries.”  There is a contrast here because what happened differed from what we’d expect.  Another example: “He only wanted to stop crime in his neighborhood but that might have cost him his life.”  This should be: “He only wanted to stop crime in his neighborhood and that might have cost him his life.”  Use the word “and” or make the long sentences two sentences.  “He only wanted to stop crime in his neighborhood.  That might have cost him his life.”

In Spite Of:  This phrase makes no sense.  The word spite means “a malicious desire to harm ,frustrate or annoy another person.”  So what does “in spite of” mean?  The correct word is despite.  For example:  ” I went to work despite the fact that I felt ill.”

 Citizen vs. Resident:  This mistake drives your instructor nuts!  None of us are citizens of the city, county or state in which we live.  We are only citizens of the country in which we were born.  We are residents of the cities, counties, and states in which we live.  Officials get this wrong all the time.  Don’t follow their lead.

 “That”, “Who”:  Always use who when referring to people or animals with names.  Everything else is a “that“.  For example:  “My friends, who drove up from Miami, had a great time at the football game.”









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