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Shedding light on word usage confusion I get it, we all make mistakes. And, of course, it’s no big deal to goof up here and there. But if you don’t understand the reason something is wrong, you are doomed to repeat it. So why not

Shedding light on word usage confusion

I get it, we all make mistakes.

And, of course, it’s no big deal to goof up here and there. But if you don’t understand the reason something is wrong, you are doomed to repeat it. So why not take a minute to find out the reasoning behind the rule?

The following are some commonly confused and misused words and explanations of when to use what.


Bring it here; take it there!

When deciding to use bring or take, remember that BRING indicates movement toward someone or something. TAKE implies movement away.

For the last time, it’s 10 items or fewer!!!

Just in case the grocery store has you confused, FEWER refers to items that can be counted; LESS refers to general amounts. “If fewer people paid attention to the checkout signs, there would be less confusion.”

Lie vs Lay – ignore Bob Dylan!

In the present tense, LIE means to recline or rest; LAY means to put or place. So, Dylan’s song should actually be Lie Lady Lie. But we’ll give him some creative leeway on this one. Eric Clapton, on the other hand, should know better…Lay Down Sally is just ridiculous.

Does this effect affect you?

Use the word AFFECT when you’re looking for a verb that means “to influence.” EFFECT is usually a noun that means “result.” So, for example, “The instructions didn’t affect the outcome but did produce interesting side effects.” That being said, effect can also be used as a verb that means “to bring about,” as in, “The valiant editor hoped to effect change but failed miserably.”

To whom it may concern – who cares?

WHO is used for subjects and subject complements (the thing doing the action in a sentence). “Who is typing?” WHOM is used for objects (the person or thing being acted upon). “To whom did you give the dictionary?” Here’s a good way to figure it out: If you can replace “who” with “he,” then that’s what to use. He is typing. If it can be replaced with “him,” then use “whom.” I gave the dictionary to him. That’s not so confusing, right?

Which, That, Who – when to use what

THAT should be used to introduce a restrictive clause (a clause that’s essential to the meaning of a sentence), i.e., “Dogs that are unfriendly can bite.” WHICH should be used to introduce a nonrestrictive or parenthetical clause (a clause that can be left out without changing the meaning of a sentence and typically is in brackets or has a comma before and after), i.e., “Dogs, which are my favourite animal, are usually friendly.” In either case, if referring to people or a person, use WHO, i.e., “This is the boy who bit the dog.” “This boy, whom I don’t like, bit the dog.”  Begging the question, who are that boy’s parents?

I vs Me – depends on the circumstance

I think grade-school teachers have scared people into thinking that I is more correct than ME but, depending on the situation, either pronoun can be acceptable. For example, “You and I went to the beach. Those bullies kicked sand on you and me.” When the sentence calls for a subject pronoun (the one doing action) it should be I; when the sentence needs an object pronoun (thing being acted upon) the word to use is me. Just say the pronoun alone in the sentence, “I went to the beach; bullies kicked sand on me.” If you end up talking like Cookie Monster (Me want cookie!), chances are you need to change up the pronoun.

Is it all right to use alright?

While it may do the trick for Pete Townsend and The Who, the word alright is not all right for use in formal writing. Unlike the phrase “all ready” and the adverb “already” that have unique definitions, ALL RIGHT and ALRIGHT share the same meanings. The shorter, one-word variation is fine for texting or casual written dialogue, etc., but for anything that matters, stick with all right and you’ll be okay.

Historic vs historical – know when to use which

Though often used interchangeably, they shouldn’t be. These related adjectives have two distinct meanings. HISTORIC refers to something that is important or influential in history, e.g., “It was a historic win for the Vancouver Canucks.” HISTORICAL describes anything from the past, whether important or not. “Unfortunately, historical records indicate the team has never achieved its ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.” And before you ask, you can use A or AN with historic; it all depends if you want to sound like a fuddy-duddy.

Yup, we all run into issues every so often. Fortunately, Google and Siri are here to help keep us all in the know, because even editors take the weekends off.

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