October 2, 2010

Common Word Mistakes

Words can get shuffled around in our brains. We know which ones we want to use, but our brains tell our fingers to type a similar word, and there it is, instant mistake! Usage errors are easy to miss. One way to avoid them is to use the Find tab in the Edit menu in your word processing software. Here are some common mistakes to search for.

Misused Homophones:








Commonly Confused Words:

Lay means to place something down. I am laying the book on the table.
Lie means to recline or be placed. I lie down for a nap every day.

Sit means to plop your bottom down. My cat likes to sit on my computer.
means to put something in place or adjust it. Set the cell phone in its charger. She set her hair last night.

Who refers to people. Jack is the one who hit a home run.
That refers to animals and things. That is the dog I saw yesterday. That story made me laugh.

To decide when to use who or whom, phrase the problem as a question. If you can answer the question with him, then use whom. If you can answer the question with he, then use who. [Who or whom] went to the game? [He, not Him, went to the game.] The correct form is: Who went to the game?

Farther means physical advancement in distance. He walked farther down the road.
Further means advancement to a greater degree. She wants to further her education.

Use said for quoted and indirect speech. He said, "Hello, I am your waiter tonight." He said that he was our waiter.
Use told for indirect speech. He told us that he was our waiter.

Are you still confused? Then head over to Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She has five pages of word choice tips.


Rely on your spell checker, and your own eyes, to see if you’ve inadvertently made up words. Sarah Palin was criticized for using a made-up word “refudiate” to mean either “refute” or “repudiate.” Other similar examples are “conversate,” “misunderestimate,” and the often used “irregardless.”

It always helps to step away from your work for a while. Then come back and proofread carefully to see if have missed any words.

[Did you catch the mistake?]