mistakes are equal.
following sentences: (A) Their is no doubt that Sally has less socks in
her drawer than Fred has. (B) To assure we meet our deadline, we need to
complete the principle part of the report by tomorrow. (C) For over 20
minutes the team members argued with each other.
Some word-choice errors (their
for there, less for fewer) are evident to nearly everyone
with basic skills in literacy. Others (assure for ensure,
principle for principal) are apparent to readers with average
language skills. Still others (over for more than, with each
other for with one another) are noticed only by particularly
How would you assess your own writing
and editing skills?
Test yourself on another three
sentences: (A) The company waited to long to begin negotiations with it’s
employees. (B) The delay effected many aspects of its operation (i.e.,
employee morale, productivity, customer relations). (C) As a result of
this dilemma, management made the heartwrenching decision to lay off 10%
of its work force.
The errors are (A) to for too,
it’s for its; (B) effected for affected, i.e. for
e.g.; and (C) dilemma for predicament, heartwrenching
Regarding the errors in sentence B,
to affect means to influence, whereas to effect means
to bring about, as in to effect change or to effect a
transaction. The noun, meaning result, is spelled
Also regarding B, i.e. is an
abbreviation for the Latin words id est, meaning that is,
whereas e.g. is an abbreviation for exempli gratia, meaning
for example, so i.e. should be used to introduce a
restatement; e.g. should be used to introduce an illustration or a
list of examples.
Regarding sentence C, dilemma
begins with the prefix di-, meaning two. It should be used
to describe a situation requiring a choice between two alternatives.
(Remember, the cliché is to be on the horns of a dilemma, not to
be on the horn of a dilemma.) If there is no suggestion of
alternatives, predicament or problem is the correct word.
Also regarding C, heartrending
should not be confused with gut-wrenching. As Anne Stilman advises
in Grammatically Correct, "Keep your internal organs straight!"
Of course, it’s one thing to identify
errors when you are told they exist in a given sentence; it’s quite
another to identify errors when you are editing large chunks of text that
may or may not be correct.
Although I don’t mean to be
straightlaced about all this, I’m not adverse to castigating writers who
flaunt the rules of correct usage. Here are three lists comprised of
common word-choice errors, categorized by how likely they are to be
noticed by the reader:
borrow for lend; enthused for enthusiastic; except
for accept; infer for imply; learn for teach;
Category B: adverse
(meaning unfavorable) for averse (meaning against);
aggravate (meaning to worsen) for irritate (meaning
to inflame or annoy); complementary (meaning
supporting or compatible) for complimentary (meaning
free); further (referring to time and quantity, as in "Let’s
discuss this further" and "Do you have further questions?")
for farther (indicating distance, as in "Let’s walk farther").
compared to (meaning to liken figuratively, as in "Sam
compared his bunion to a mountain") for compared with
(meaning to examine differences and similarities, as in "Compare
this sentence with that sentence"); comprised of (meaning to
embrace or take in, as in "The whole comprises its
parts") for composed of (meaning made up of, as in "The
whole is composed of its parts"); continuous (meaning
over time, without interruption) for continual (meaning over
time, at intervals); flaunt (meaning to show off) for
flout (meaning to show contempt for); straightlaced for
Remember: The more obvious the error,
the more likely it is to damage the writer’s credibility.
(To my sharp-eyed readers: In the
paragraph beginning Although, I intentionally misused
straightlaced, adverse, flaunt, and comprised of.)