GrammarPhile Blog

Answers to Last Week's Thursday Challenge

Posted by Kimberly Largent, aka Persnickety Editor   Sep 19, 2019 7:30:00 AM

So, how'd you do?

Perhaps after reading last week’s Sheryl’s She Shed blog challenge, you’ve had the opportunity to actually see the commercial on TV. If so, would you agree there’s something suspect about Victor’s indifferent response regarding the lightning strike? There are many theories circulating social media as to Victor’s role in the burning down of Sheryl’s she-shed. Do you have a humorous take on what might have happened? If so, we’d enjoy hearing from you. Let your imagination run wild and post your ideas below in the comments section.

Wow, as you can see, we received a range of answers to this challenge.

There are 31 wrong words, and as many of you pointed out, “chichi-er” could have simply been “chichier.” Inserting the hyphen was my mistake; I put my faith in material I read on the internet concerning “chichi,” instead of looking up the word in Merriam-Webster. Lesson learned? Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it correct!

We were initially looking for 31 wrong words; however, if you guessed 31 OR 32, we accepted you as a winner, since many of you included “chichi-er,” which took the total to 32.

Here is the list the first five people who answered correctly from the challenge we assigned our readers. Congratulations!  We'll be in touch with each of you.

  • Tara Bann
  • Deborah Baron
  • Amy
  • Desmond Ballance
  • Andrea Isiminger

If you're one of the winners, please send your email address to so we can send your gift to you.

And for those of you who guessed over or under in the number of mistakes, here’s the answer key. All mistakes are highlighted in yellow.Thanks to everyone who participated!

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Topics: common mistakes, misused words, common proofreading mistakes

Lie or Lay? Get It Right Every Time

Posted by Terri Porter   Jul 6, 2016 7:30:00 AM


The lay vs. lie question frequently generates a lot of fireworks, so it seems an appropriate one to address following the Fourth of July.

Substituting lay (to place or arrange) for lie (to recline or be situated) is undoubtedly one of the most common usage errors in English. Why? Because, for one thing, the past tense of lie is lay. For another, lie can also mean to fib, and using the word correctly might lead to ambiguity in certain instances, as here: Eric is lying about the house.

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Topics: lie, lay, laying, misused words, lying

5 Words Even Smart People Misuse

Posted by Terri Porter   Feb 11, 2016 5:00:00 AM

Although few people compare with the likes of, say, George W. Bush in creative applications of the English language, most of us have at one time or another used the wrong word in writing or speaking. Following are five misused word pairs we’ve seen in recent months at

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Topics: common mistakes, misused words

5 Words or Phrases You May Be Using Incorrectly

Posted by Terri Porter   Aug 13, 2015 5:30:00 AM

Talking about misused words and phrases can be tricky, especially given that the definitions in many commonly used dictionaries (e.g., Merriam-Webster) morph to reflect popular usage — even to the point where a word contains two definitions that mean the exact opposite, as in these examples:

Literally: (1) actually, (2) virtually; in effect
Peruse: (1) to look at or read in an informal or relaxed way, (2) to examine or read in a very careful way

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Topics: misused words

Similar but Different: Choosing the Right Word

Posted by Terri Porter   Feb 4, 2015 6:00:00 AM

This note accompanied a recent job submitted to “Please check for any blaring errors.” And this excerpt appeared in another job: “Two witnesses must be present when you sign your advanced directive.”

Encountering a word that’s similar to the one that belongs but isn’t quite right is like stepping on a slippery object while walking in a murky lake — you know you’re not on solid ground but aren’t sure why.

Sometimes the answer is obvious, as in the first example, in which “blaring” (a loud and unpleasant sound) should be “glaring” (obvious or noticeable). Sometimes it’s less so. We see the error in the second example quite a bit at “Advanced” means developed beyond an initial stage. “Advance” is the correct term here, meaning “made, sent or provided at an early time.”

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Topics: word choices, common mistakes, misused words

Words and Phrases People Often Mangle

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Sep 24, 2014 6:00:00 AM

 Mark Twain said something like "Say nothing and they'll just wonder if you're a fool. Open your mouth and you'll remove all doubt." If he were living today, he would certainly not aim that remark at you, because you're reading the GrammarPhile blog and that makes you smarter than the average bear (we hope!). You always want to appear intelligent, don't you? Study these words and use them properly. Mark Twain would be proud of you.

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Topics: common mistakes, misused words

Often-Confused Words

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Mar 12, 2014 6:00:00 AM

Does word confusion rein supreme in your marketing office? Do you and your staff pour over documents for hours only to discover five or ten subtle errors when the 5000 copies come back from the printer? [Hold your e-mails. We know those words are wrong!] Check these oft-confused words and see if you can avoid some typical errors that people make all the time.

libel, slander. Libel may result from injurious remarks that are circulated in writing, slander from those that are spoken. But note that because words spoken over the radio or on television are likely to be recorded, what would normally be slander is treated as libel. In this connection it is useful to remember that, legally, publishing means making public and does not strictly imply printing. In a college or elsewhere, a lecturer who has large audiences but who never writes books could classically claim that he published regularly.

licorice, liquorice. The first spelling is standard in the United States; the second prevails in Great Britain. Both are distortions of the Greek glykyrrhiza (sweet root). Modern French réglisse is a further distortion by metathesis. Americans are often startled when, on the wrappers of toffee from England, they encounter liquorice. It is in fact the result of folk etymology--a spelling arrived at, one might guess, under the influence of liquor. If spelling were made either good or bad by any consideration but the custom of the country, one would have to say that the American spelling of this particular word, being closer to the Greek root, is the better one.

momently, momentarily. The difference between what lasts only for a little while (I forgot momentarily / I was dizzy but momentarily) and what may happen at any moment (He is expected momently) is worth making clear by keeping apart the uses of these two words. The merit of this is evident if, bearing in mind the short while meaning, we use the longer form in such a sentence as He will die momentarily. Note that in the Merriam-Webster Fifth Collegiate Dictionary, the word momentarily has no definition attached as at any moment. As English has grown, however, we now find the modern dictionary (Merriam-Webster Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary) including at any moment as a definition following momentarily. Is this a result of misuse and the dictionary's acquiescence? Would you fight this movement by using momently at your next opportunity? "Yes, Boss, I will join you and the clients in the conference room momently." Go ahead, be provocative!

pore, pour. You pour water. Our editors pore over your white paper searching for errors. These words are confusing, sure. They're derived from the same word pouren even though they are spelled differently in modern English. But look smart. Use them correctly in your writing. [The word pore for those things in your skin comes from an altogether different word poros, meaning passage.]

rein, reign. Even in the best agencies, confusion sometimes reigns, as does the queen. If your sales force is selling features your products will never have, you need to rein those salespeople in, as if you're a stagecoach driver and they're wild horses.

I hope this post helps you to overcome word confusion. What words do you find that are commonly confused? Add your comments.

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Topics: misused words

Comprise or Include? Compare to or Compare with?

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Nov 13, 2013 5:30:00 AM

water skierHere are some words we often find mixed up in documents we read. Are you using these words correctly?

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Topics: misused words

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.

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Topics: misused words

Common Confusions

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Oct 9, 2013 11:28:00 AM


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Topics: misused words

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