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?]


Karen Lange said...

Great reminder! I mix up lay and lie sometimes, and as careful as I am, sometimes quickly type a homophone in by mistake. Spell check doesn't always catch them either.

(The mistake - the omission of

Have a great weekend!

Jean Fischer said...

Hi, Karen.

Your comment made me aware of an error I commonly make, homonym vs. homophone! None of us are exempt.


Becky Lange said...

Very helpful, thank you! I like to think I'm on top of these little errors...until I find myself making them! Thanks for sharing :-)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jean -

I sometimes have problems with lay/lie. Maybe your explanation will help the right way stick in my brain. :)


Jean Fischer said...

Hi, Becky.

Thanks for visiting my blog. I agree that it's easy to sometimes let these little word errors slip by.

Have a great day!

Jean Fischer said...

Hi, Susan.

"Further" and "farther"are the ones that cause me trouble.


quietspirit said...

I have trouble with lay and lie.
I notice people having trouble with the case of pronouns. "Me and Sue went to the store." Mother went to the movie with Sue and I."