It feels embarrassing and silly, but we’ve all done something similar…
You type out that long e-mail, giving explicit instructions about what you need your boss to do in order to move the project along. You explain exactly what you’ve done and what’s holding up the process. You feel responsible and responsive – two good qualities in an employee. You hit send. Suddenly, your stomach sinks as you remember you misused a word that you meant to go back and correct. Gulp…
That’s why we should go through this list of words that are easy to distinguish once you learn simple rules to help. In fact, some of these words don’t even exist in proper English and thus make us sound young (read: inexperienced) at the office. Of course, we all make spelling, grammar, and vocabulary mistakes, so don’t stress too much about it. Just learn as you go!
Some of these are homophones, meaning they sound (-phone) similar (homo-). Some are homographs, meaning they look (-graph) similar (homo-). Some are homonyms, meaning they’re spelled (-nym) similarly (homo-). Lastly, some just plain don’t exist, so chuck them out of your vocabulary for good. Speaking of…
- Irregardless and regardless – You should never use the word “irregardless”, regardless of why you think you should use it. It negates its own meaning. “Regardless” means without regard; thus, “irregardless” means without the regard you’re already without.
- On that note, “I could care less” isn’t meaningful, but “I couldn’t care less” is. For example:
My husband: “WWE wrestling is back on TV!”
Me: “I couldn’t care less.”
Words that don’t mean what you think they mean:
- Infamous and famous – Someone who is very famous is not necessarily infamous. Adolf Hitler is infamous. Cruella de Vil is infamous. Your friend who just hit 10K Instagram followers isn’t infamous…I hope.
- Literally and very – Literally does not mean “very much so”. Literally means it’s happening in a literal sense. If a joke is funny, you aren’t literally dying…hopefully.
- Ingenious, ingenuous, and disingenuous – Ingenious is a compliment, meaning clever. In the wake of the hiring freeze, it was ingenious of him to invent his own business. Ingenuous means naïve and trusting. Disingenuous means the opposite, i.e. pretending to be naïve and trusting whilst really being conniving. As you can tell, the three should not be used interchangeably lest you offend someone’s character.
- Antidote and anecdote — “Superman needs an antidote for Kryptonite. Perhaps Lois’ love will be the cure.” That’s an example of anecdotal information.
Words you type in work emails:
- Accept and except – I would have accepted your apology, except that you turned around and smacked me in the face again.
- Insure and ensure – In a work email, you’ll probably use ensure more than insure, e.g. “I ensure you that the project isn’t 3 months behind, regardless of what you’ve heard.”
- Affect and effect – The easy way to remember this is that “affect” is always a verb, and “effect” is always a noun. Your note of encouragement affected me in that it had a positive effect on me.
- Everyday and every day – Everyday (one word) is something that is ordinary or common in a mundane way, such as your 5PM drive through traffic. Every day (two words) means occurring on the daily, such as your 5PM drive through traffic. Wait a second… Let’s use both in a sentence: “Every day, I drive through the standstill, everyday traffic of L.A.”
- Who and whom – This one gets me every time I see those puppy adoption bumper stickers… “Who” does the action, while “whom” receives the action. For example, “Who saved who?” is grammatically incorrect, though widely printed on puppy paw stickers nationwide. Technically, it should read, “Who saved whom?”
- It’s and its – The apostrophe indicates a subtraction in letters, i.e. “It’s” means “it is”. “Its” without an apostrophe is possessive, just like I am with my man (JK……). It’s a good idea to fill its food bowl before it’s ready to eat its food.
- Bear and bare – Your birthday suit is bare skin, but if it’s bear skin, you should get that checked out. An easily confused homonym (sounds similar) of bear is in the sense of “I can’t bear the thought”, which has nothing to do with a bare body.
- Lose and loose – You can think of athletics for “lose” and dancing for “loose”. At Wimbledon, some players win, while others lose. On an unrelated note, the movie “Footloose” was about Kevin Bacon’s character dancing – or having a (not literally) loose foot.
- Pique, peak, and peek – Climbing to the peak of the towering mountain piques my interest, but not enough that I could peek over the edge.
- Wary and weary – Wary means cautious, whereas weary means emotionally exhausted. “I was wary of my Uber driver who was so weary, she started crying while she drove me down the busy interstate.”
- Compliment and complement – A compliment would be to say that your outfit complements you well.
- Ado and adieu – Both of these words remind me of old literature, so let’s use that as our guide. “Much Ado About Nothing” is a Shakespearean play that was written around the era when people commonly said, “I bid you adieu.”
Even with all these distinctions, trust me when I say there are plenty of words that trip me up, probably the most basic of which is “lay” versus “lie” and their past participles. I will always look those up before clicking “Send e-mail”.
I hope these word distinctions are helpful for you as you go out and conquer your corner of the world. May everyone know how brilliant you are, and when asked, don’t forget to point them toward The 30s Guide for Life for a good, grammatically correct laugh.
What other words do you commonly confuse? Leave a comment! Maybe I can invent a clever way to distinguish them.