GrammarPhile Blog

More Commonly Confused Words

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Oct 29, 2013 5:30:00 AM


owlIt seems that the list of commonly confused words just keeps growing. Here are more words we often see and hear misused.

among; amongst. Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate indicates these words are interchangeable. Under amongst, the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary simply has "=among" and no definition. Useamong instead of amongst.

more than; over. Over generally refers to spatial relationships {the plane flew over the city}Over can, at times, be used with numerals {She is over 30} {I paid over $400 for this ski}. But more than may be better {Their salaries went up more than $20 a week}. Let your ear be the judge.

welcome; welcomed. The Merriam-Webster Eleventh Collegiate (MW) lists welcome as a transitive verb and as an adjective {was always welcome in their home}. But it lists welcomed only as a transitive verb {he welcomed us into his living room}.

notable; noticeable; noteworthy. Notable ("readily noticed") applies both to physical things and to qualities {notable sense of humor}Noticeable means "detectable with the physical senses" {a noticeable limp}Noteworthy means "remarkable" {a noteworthy act of kindness}.

loathe, vb.; loath, adj. To loathe something is to detest it or to regard it with disgust {I loathe tabloid television}. Someone who is loath is reluctant {Tracy seems loath to admit mistakes}.

jealousy; envy. Jealousy connotes feelings of resentment toward another, particularly in matters relating to an intimate relationship. Envy refers to covetousness of another's advantages, possessions, or abilities. 

repetitive; repetitious. Both mean "recurring over and over." But whereas repetitive is fairly neutral in connotation, repetitious has taken on an air of tediousness. 

disorganized; unorganized. Both mean "not organized," but disorganized suggests a group in disarray, either thrown into confusion or inherently unable to work together {the disorganized 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago}

disk; disc. Disk is the usual spelling {floppy disk} even though the dictionary informs that the word is derived from the Latin discus. But disc (a variant) is preferred in a few specialized applications {compact disc} {disc brakes} {disc harrow}.

decimate. The word literally means "to kill every tenth person," a means of repression that goes back to Roman times. But the word has come to mean "to inflict heavy casualties," and that use is accepted. Less accepted is the further extension to mean "to inflict heavy damage." Avoid decimate (1) when you are referring to complete destruction or (2) when a percentage is specified. That is, don't say that a city was "completely decimated," and don't say that some natural disaster "decimated 23 percent of the city's population." 

deserts; desserts. The first are deserved {Martha Stewart got her just deserts}, the second eaten {mango ice cream for dessert!}.

despite; in spite of. For brevity, prefer despite

premier; premiere. Premier is a noun or an adjective. As a noun, it means "a prime minister" {John Charest is the premier of Quebec}. As an adjective, it means "first in position, rank, or importance" and "first in time, earliest" {You can see the premier episode Monday night}Premiere is a noun or a transitive verb. As a noun, it means "a first performance or exhibition" {the premiere of a play}. As a verb, it means "to have a first public performance" and "to appear for the first time as a star performer" {He will premiere his fabulous movie Monday night}. [Note: The NYT Manual of Style and Usag esuggests that premiere as a verb is jargon, and is to be avoided.] 

different. The phrasing different from is generally preferable to different than {this company is different from that one}, but sometimes the adverbial phrase differently than is all but required {she described the scene differently than he did}.

Sources: The Associated Press Stylebook; The Chicago Manual of Style; Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary.


Topics: misused words

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