A “Must Read” – 50 Commonly Misused Words in Business Writing
As we all know, email is one of the most common forms of business communication. We may sound like we’re talking correctly, but when it comes to putting our words down in writing, we don’t always get it right.
I recently stumbled upon a very useful article from ResourcefulManager that highlighted some of the most “misused & abused” words in business writing. A great read not only for those of us in the business world, but also for young adults navigating through high school or college.
So, let’s step up our game and come across more professionally (and educated) in our written communications with this handy reference guide.
First – Let’s Have Some Fun With Some Phrases Often Misused
In each of the following examples, which of the two choices is the correct phrase?
- “for all intents and purposes” OR “for all intensive purposes”
- “it’s a moot point” OR “it’s a mute point”
- “could have”/“should have” OR “could of”/“should of”
- “nip it in the bud” OR “nip it in the butt”
- Answer: the first phrase in each example is correct
50 Commonly Misused Words
accept vs. except
- accept – (verb) To agree with, take in, receive. Example: We accept your decision.
- except – (preposition) Apart from. Example: All committee members are present except for Ms. Brown.
acute vs. chronic
- acute – (adjective) Sharp, intense, critical. Example: The company has an acute shortage of skilled workers right now.
- chronic – (adjective) Constant, habitual, long-lasting. Example: She is unable to work because of a chronic illness.
adverse vs. averse
- adverse – (adjective) Unfavorable, opposing one’s interest. Example: They found themselves in adverse circumstances.
- averse – (adjective) Antipathy, repugnance, having the feeling of being opposed. Example: She is not averse to increasing her workload.
affect vs. effect
- affect – (verb) To influence something. Example: How will that affect the bottom line?
- effect – (noun) The result of. (verb) to cause something to be. Example: Her speech had the effect of motivating the listeners.
allusion vs. illusion
- allusion – (noun) A casual reference of mention of something. Example: Was that an allusion to Hemingway?
- illusion – (noun) Something that gives a false picture of reality. Example: He believes democracy is an illusion.
all right vs. alright
- all right – Fine, OK. Example: It’s all right to leave early.
- alright – Incorrect spelling, but often shows up in informal writing.
apprise vs. appraise
- apprise – (verb) Give notice to. Example: Please apprise me of the situation.
- appraise – (verb) Determine the worth of something. Example: The company was appraised before it was put up for sale.
assure vs. ensure vs. insure
- assure – (verb) To state with confidence, pledge, or promise. Example: I assure you the check is in the mail.
- ensure – (verb) To make certain. Example: Following the instructions ensures you won’t get hurt.
- insure – (verb) To purchase insurance. Example: Insure the package before you mail it.
beside vs. besides
- beside – (preposition) At the side of, next to, near. Example: Take a seat beside me.
- besides – (adverb) Furthermore, in addition to. Example: Besides, several of us will be out of town next week.
compliment vs. complement
- compliment – (verb) To give praise. Example: I complimented Steve on his speech.
- complement – (verb) To complete something or match it well. Example: Her skills complement the needs of our department.
continual vs. continuous
- continual – (adjective) Often repeated, very frequent – but occasionally interrupted. Example: They’ve received continual complaints.
- continuous – (adjective) Uninterrupted. Example: We couldn’t hear over his continuous talking.
disburse vs. disperse
- disburse – (verb) To pay, distribute, scatter. Example: They disbursed name tags to everyone attending the meeting.
- disperse – (verb) To drive off, spread widely, cause to vanish. Example: The throng of fans dispersed into the stands.
farther vs. further
- farther – (adverb) At or to a greater distance. Example: We are located farther down the highway.
- further – (adverb) More or additional – but not related to distance. Example: We need to have further discussion on that.
fewer vs. less
- fewer – (adjective) Of a small number, only used with countable items. Example: He made fewer mistakes than last time.
- less – (adjective or adverb) To a smaller extent, amount, or degree – used with quantities that cannot be individually counted. Example: If they made less noise, we could concentrate.
imply vs. infer
- imply – (verb) To suggest. Example: What are you implying by that accusation?
- infer – (verb) To deduce from evidence. Example: From the look on your face, I can infer you’re not happy with the decision.
its vs. it’s
- its – (pronoun) Possessive form of “it”. Example: The machine has lost its ability to scan documents.
- it’s – Contraction of “it is”. Example: It’s not a question of right or wrong.
lose vs. loose
- lose – (verb) Fail to win, misplace. Example: Did you lose your file?
- loose – (adjective) Free from anything that restrains. Example: Since dropping weight, his clothes seem loose.
of vs. have
- of – (preposition) Frequently confused with “have” since “could’ve” is pronounced “could of”. But “of” cannot be used as a verb.
- have – (verb) Proper verb form for “could have”, “should have”, and “would have”.
principal vs. principle
- principal – (noun) Person who has controlling authority. Example: She is a principal in the company. (adjective) Something essential or important. Example: Let’s talk about the principal reason we’re meeting today.
- principle – (noun) Basic truth, policy, or action. Example: It’s important to stick to our principles.
regardless vs. irregardless
- regardless – (adjective or adverb) In spite of. Example: We are leaving, regardless of whether you’re ready.
- irregardless – This is not a word (although you may find it in your dictionary!).
than vs. then
- than – (preposition) In contrast to. Example: I’d rather speak face-to-face than communicate by email.
- then – (adverb) Next. Example: We met for dinner, then went to a movie.
their vs. there vs. they’re
- their – (pronoun) Belonging to them. Example: Where is their car?
- there – (adverb) In a place. Example: The restroom is over there.
- they’re – Contraction of “they are”. Example: They’re not leaving without saying goodbye, are they?
whose vs. who’s
- whose – (pronoun) Possessive case of “who” or “which”. Example: Whose keys are these?
- who’s – Contraction of “who is”. Example: Who’s going to the game after work?
your vs. you’re
- your – (pronoun) Belonging to you. Example: Your briefcase is over there.
- you’re – Contraction of “you are”. Example: You’re not going to believe this.
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