Commonly Misused Words

adverse/averse: “Adverse” means unfavorable. “Averse” means reluctant.
adviser/advisor “Adviser” is preferred although both are correct.
affect/effect “To affect” means (1) to influence, change or produce an effect; (2) to like to do, wear or use; or (3) to pretend. “To effect” means to accomplish, complete, cause, make possible or carry out. If you’re looking for a noun, you’re probably looking for “effect.” If you’re using a verb, you’re safest with “affect.”
afterward not afterwards
all right not alright
allude/refer “To allude” means to speak of without mentioning. “To refer” means to speak of directly.
allusion/illusion An “allusion” is an indirect reference. An “illusion” is a false impression or image.
alumna/ae An alumna is one woman. Alumnae are women.
alumni/us Alumni are men or men and women. An alumnus is one man.
around/about “Around” should refer to a physical proximity or surrounding (I’ll look for you around the front of Walter Webb Hall). “About” indicates an approximation (Let’s have lunch about 11:30 a.m.).
beside/besides Use “beside” to mean (1) at the side of (sit beside me); (2) to compare with (beside other studies); or (3) apart from (that’s beside the point). Use “besides” to mean (1) furthermore (besides, I said so); (2) in addition to (and elm and maple trees besides); or (3) otherwise (there’s no one here besides Bill and me).
between/among Use “between” to show a relationship between two objects only. Use “among” when it’s more than two.“Between” takes an objective pronoun — me, her, him. “Between you and me” is OK. “Between you and I” is not.
biannual/biennial “Biannual” is twice a year. “Biennial” is every two years.
complement/compliment “Complement” is something that supplements. “Compliment” is praise or the expression of courtesy.
compose/comprise/constitute “Compose” is to create or put together. “Comprise” is to contain, to include all or embrace. “Constitute” is to make up, to be the elements of.Examples:The whole comprises the parts. The parts constitute the whole. The whole is composed of parts.


The department comprises 12 people. Twelve people constitute the department. The department is composed of 12 people.

continual/continuous “Continual” is a steady repetition. “Continuous” is uninterrupted.
criteria plural (more than one criterion, which is a quality, a value or a standard of judgment)
curricula plural (more than one curriculum, which is a program of academic courses or learning activities—the College of Natural Sciences curricula)
curricular adjective (College of Natural Sciences’ curricular philosophy)
curriculum singular (the Chemistry curriculum)
data plural noun, usually takes a plural verb; if used as a collective noun, when the group or quantity is regarded as a noun, it takes a singular verb (the data is sound).
daylight-saving time not daylight-savings time
different from not different than
disinterested/uninterested “Disinterested” means impartial. “Uninterested” means someone lacks interest.
dissociate not disassociate
entitled/titled “Entitled” means having the right to something (she is entitled to the inheritance). Use “titled” to introduce the name of a publication, speech, musical piece (the piece is titled “Love and Illusion”).
farther/further “Farther” refers to physical distance. “Further” refers to an extension of time or degree.
fewer/less In general, use “fewer” for individual items that can be counted. Use “less” for bulk or quantity that is measured (not counted). “Fewer” usually takes a plural noun; “less” usually takes a singular noun.
half-mast/half-staff To use “half-mast,” you must be referring to a flag on a ship or at a naval station. A flag anywhere else is at “half-staff.”
historic/historical “Historic” means important. “Historical” refers to any event in the past.
hopefully Try to avoid this one unless you’re describing the way someone spoke, appeared or acted. Traditionally it means “in a hopeful manner,” although in modern colloquial use it can mean “it is hoped” or “we hope.” The Associated Press has recently allowed this use of “hopefully,” although we still find it grating. It’s better to rephrase.

Right: I hope we can go.
Wrong: Hopefully, we can go.
Wrong: Hopefully, the report will address that issue.
Right: It is hoped the report will address that issue.
Right: She eyed the interview list hopefully.
important/importantly “Importantly” is incorrect unless it is an adverb.

Right: He strutted importantly through the castle.
Right: More important, he said, the quality of the program must not suffer.
imply/infer “Imply” means to suggest or indicate indirectly. To “infer” is to conclude or decide from something known or assumed.In general, if you imply something, you’re sending out a message. If you infer something, you’re interpreting a message.
in regard to not in regards to“As regards” or “regarding” may also be used.
insure/ensure “Insure” means to establish a contract for insurance of some type. “Ensure” means to guarantee.General rule? Use “ensure.”
irregardless The word is “regardless.” “Irregardless”? No such word.
-ize Do not coin verbs with this suffix, and do not use already coined words such as “finalize” (use “end” or “conclude”) or “utilize” (use “use”).
lay/lie “Lay” means to place or deposit, and requires a direct object (forms: lay, laid, laid, laying). “Lie” means to be in a reclining position or to be situated. It does not take an object (forms: lie, lay, lain, lying).
lectern/podium You stand on a podium and behind a lectern.
let/leave To “let alone” means to leave something undisturbed. To “leave alone” means to depart from or cause to be in solitude.
like/as Use “like” to compare nouns and pronouns. Use “as” to introduce clauses and phrases.
literally/figuratively “Literally” means in an exact sense. “Figuratively” means in a comparative sense. The AP Stylebook recently changed its rules to allow “literally” as a synomym for “figuratively,” but we still avoid it.

Right: The furnace literally exploded.
Wrong: He was so furious he literally exploded.
located In most cases, you’ll find you don’t really need this word. Instead of “The store is located in the Texas Union,” you can simply write “The store is in the Texas Union.” Instead of “Where are you located at?” (which is the worst construction of all), write “Where are you?”
many/much In general, use “many” for individual items that can be counted. Use “much” for bulk or quantity that is measured.
midnight/noon Use instead of 12 a.m. or 12 p.m. Do not put a “12” in front of either one.
me/myself Avoid using “myself.” In most constructions, it’s the objective pronoun you really want.

Right: It’s between you and me.
Wrong: You can tell your supervisor or myself.
more than/over Use “more than” when you mean in excess of; use “over” when referring to physical placement of an object, an ending or extent of authority. 

This is an exception to a March 2014 AP Stylebook rule change allowing the use of “over” to mean “more than.”

Right: More than 25 professors participated.
Wrong: The university has over 50 buildings.
nor Use this word anytime you use “neither.”
oral/verbal “Oral” refers to spoken words. “Verbal” can refer to either spoken or written words, but most often connotes the process of reducing ideas to writing.
partially/partly These two are not interchangeable. “Partially” is used to mean to a certain degree when speaking of a condition or state. “Partly” implies the idea of a part, usually of a physical object, as distinct from the whole.

Right: I’m partially convinced.
Wrong: The building is partially completed.
Right: The building is in a state of partial completion.
Right: The building is partly completed.
past experience What other kind of experience is there? Just use “experience” alone.
peddle/pedal To “peddle” is to sell. To “pedal” is to use pedals, as on a bicycle.
people/persons Use “person” when speaking of an individual. The word “people,” rather than “persons,” is preferred for plural uses.
pom-pom/pompon “Pom-pom” is a rapidly firing weapon. A cheerleader’s prop is correctly called a “pompon.”
premier/premiere “Premier” is first in status or importance, chief, or a prime minister or chief executive. “Premiere” is a first performance.
presently/currently Many writers use these terms as if they were synonymous. But “presently” means in a little while, soon. “Currently” means now. In most cases you can do just fine without using “currently.” For example, “we are currently revising the plan” works better when simply stated, “we are revising the plan.”
pretense/pretext “Pretense” is a false show or unsupported claim to some distinction or accomplishment. “Pretext” is a false reason or motive put forth to hide the real one, an excuse or a cover-up.
principal/principle “Principal” as a noun is a chief person or thing; as an adjective, it means first in importance. “Principle” is a noun meaning a fundamental truth, doctrine or law; a guiding rule or code of conduct; a method of operation.
rebut/refute To “rebut” is to argue to the contrary. To “refute” is to win the argument.
regardless “Regardless” is a word. “Irregardless” is not a word.
shall/will “Shall” is used for the first-person future tense and expresses the speaker’s belief regarding his or her future action or state.If “will” is used for first-person future, it expresses his or her determination or consent. At other times, “will” is used for the second- and third-person future tense.
student body Use “student” or “students” instead.
that/which See That/Which
theater/theatre The preferred word in the United States is “theater,” unless the British spelling is part of a proper name, as in “B. Iden Payne Theatre” or “Lab Theatre.”
toward/towards “Toward” is correct. “Towards” is not.
unique Commonly overused, this word literally means one of a kind, without equal. “Unique” should never be modified by “truly,” “rather” or “very.” Something is either unique or it’s not.
use/utilize Use “use.” “Utilize” is the awkward verb form of the obsolete adjective “utile.” Why bother?
who/whom We rarely see the word “whom” in writing. But if your sentence has an objective clause referring to a person or animal with a proper name, you’re being ungrammatical if you don’t use whom.The word “who” substitutes for the subjective pronouns he, she or they; “whom” must be used in the sense of him, her or them. If you don’t want to use “whom,” restructure your sentence. Don’t just stick in “who” when it is incorrect.
-wise Do not use this suffix to coin words like “weatherwise.”
Xerox/photocopy A trademark for a brand of photocopy machine should never be used as a noun or verb.