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Columbia Business Monthly

Additional Common Usage Problems

Feb 02, 2018 09:53AM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Dr. Henry Price
Writing Expert, Sam E. McCuen and Associates

Small businesses have a lot of things in common with huge corporations, and the need to communicate effectively with both actual and potential customers would be at the top of any list.

When I taught journalism at the University of South Carolina, I gave my students a quick and simple grammar and usage test on the first day of class. The test didn’t count toward their grades, for which mercy many of them were deeply grateful.

What it did do, however, was get their attention. Most of us think we know all we need to know about grammar and usage. After all, English is our native language. The best grades on my grammar test, however, almost always went to students for whom English was a second language because they spent years actually studying it.

Some months ago, we looked at a few of the more common usage problems in English. Here are some more of them.

  • all ready/already: “All ready” means everyone is prepared; “already” means by now.
  • amend/emend: “Amend” means to change formally; “emend” means to correct.
  • anticipate/expect: Both mean to foresee, but “anticipate” carries the possibility of preventing; “expect” means to foresee without necessarily being about to prevent.
  • anxious/eager: “Anxious” means worried and uneasy; “eager” means intensely desirous.
  • appraise/apprise: “Appraise” means to evaluate; “apprise” means to inform.
  • chomping at the bit: Horses don’t “chomp” at a bit; they “champ” at it.
  • compose/comprise: To “compose” is to create or put together (the whole is composed of its parts); to “comprise” is to contain (the whole comprises its parts).
  • continual/continuous: “Continual” is repeated, with breaks; “continuous” is uninterrupted.
  • envelop/envelope: “Envelop” is a verb that means to surround or cover; “envelope” is a noun that means a container for a letter.
  • every one/everyone: “Every one” means each single one; “everyone” means everybody.
  • forego/forgo: To “forego” is to precede; to “forgo” is to go without.
  • hanged/hung: “Hanged” means executed; “hung” means put up. One way to remember it is that people are hanged; things are hung. 
  • hone/home: “Hone” is a verb that means “to sharpen”; “home” is a noun that means a place where a person or family lives. You home in on a target.
  • imply/infer: To “imply” is to hint; to “infer” is to deduce. Sources imply; receivers infer.  
  • it’s/its: For some reason, this gives us a lot of trouble. “It’s” can only be one of two things: the contraction for “it is” or for “it has.” If it doesn’t make sense reading it as one of those two, you want “its.”
  • lend/loan: “Lend” is a verb, the past tense of which is “lent”; “loan” is a noun.
  • media/medium: “Media” is plural; “medium” is singular (a newspaper is a mass medium, but it is one of the mass media). 
  • moot point: Many people use this to mean the point isn’t worth arguing because it’s settled. Actually, it means just the opposite — a moot point is an arguable point.
  • more than/over: “More than” is used with figures, as in “More than 100 people attended”; “over” refers to a spatial situation, as in “The airplane flew over the building.”
  • proved/proven: “Proved” is a verb and the past tense of prove; “proven” is an adjective and means tested and found effective.
  • uninterested/disinterested: “Uninterested” means indifferent or uncaring; “disinterested” means impartial.

There are, of course, many more words that can give us usage problems. If you would like to know more about them, I suggest Working With Words by Brian Brooks, James Pinson, and Jean Gaddy Wilson.

Dr. Price, a consultant with Sam E. McCuen and Associates of Lexington, taught copy editing and writing for more than 30 years at the University of South Carolina. Anyone interested in Price’s “Good Writing Is Good Business” seminars should contact McCuen and Associates at 803-920-9263 or [email protected].