GrammarPhile Blog

Avoiding Word Confusion in Business Communications

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Apr 13, 2010 5:00:00 AM

When reviewing and editing customer documents and when reading online articles and posts, we often find mis-used words that result in confusion. This week's post deals with some words that we've seen used incorrectly. Have you been guilty of any of these errors?

peaceable; peaceful. A peaceable person or nation is inclined to avoid strife {peaceable kingdom}. A peaceful person, place, or event is serene, tranquil, and calm {a peaceful day free from demands}.

pendant, n.; pendent, adj. A pendant is an item of dangling jewelry, especially one worn around the neck. What is pendent is hanging or suspended.

people; persons. The traditional view is that persons is used for smaller numbers {three persons}, and people with larger ones {millions of people}. But today most people use people even for small groups {only three people were there}.

pertain; appertain. Pertain to, the more common term, means "to relate to" {the clause pertains to assignment of risk}. Appertain to means "to belong to by right" {the defendant's rights appertaining to the Fifth Amendment}.

partly; partially. Both words convey the sense "to some extent; in part" {partly disposed of}. Partly is preferred in that sense. But partially has the additional sense of "incomplete" {partially cooked} and "unfairly; in a way that shows bias toward one side" {he treats his friends partially}.

over. As an equivalent of more than, this word is perfectly good idiomatic English. [Ed. note: Don't use over when you want to avoid idiomatic English. Use more than instead {He saved more than 200 people in his career as a lifeguard}.]

overly. Avoid this word, which is widely considered poor usage. Try over as a prefix or unduly.

in the process of. You can almost always delete this phrase without affecting the meaning.

regrettable; regretful. What is regrettable is unfortunate or deplorable. A person who is regretful feels regret or sorrow for something done or lost. The adverb regrettably, not regretfully, is the synonym of unfortunately.

home in. This phrase is frequently misrendered hone in. (Hone means "to sharpen.") Home in refers to what homing pigeons do; the meaning is "to come closer and closer to a target."

irregardless. An error. A nonword. Use regardless (or possibly irrespective).

gourmet; gourmand. Both are aficionados of good food and drink. But a gourmet knows and appreciates the fine points of food and drink, whereas a gourmand is a glutton.

fortuitous; fortunate. Fortuitous means "by chance," whether the fortune is good or bad {the rotten tree could have fallen at any time; it was just fortuitous that the victims drove by when they did}. Fortunate means "blessed by good fortune" {we were fortunate to win the raffle}.

Source: The Chicago Manual of Style.

Topics: business writing

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