Say what? Mixed words


I told you last time that I would give you a list of words to look for when you are editing your manuscript. This is by no means a complete list – it’s just ones that I come across the most often. When you go to look for them, if you are using a Word type document, do a “find” and check the sentence out. If you want to get really fancy, you can do more by doing a find/replace and put the plain word in the first level, then the same word, but formatted with highlighting in the second line, then “replace all”. This will highlight all instances of the word. Just a note of warning, though—if you are looking for a word like “till”, which is included in the word “still”, the computer will also highlight all those words so be sure to click on the “find whole words only” box so you find only the word you want. There may still be glitches, but this will fix most of them. Please note that the following usages are ones that conform to the publishers I work for and may be different for different houses.

Affect vs. effect – affect is a verb that means to bring about a change; effect is a noun that means the result. Thus, A affects B; but A has an effect on B. Clear as mud, I know.

Aggravate – means to make worse. Do not use as a synonym for annoy or bother.

Alright vs. all right – the second (two words) is preferable

Among/between – among means more than two people; between involves only two people.

Awhile vs. a while – awhile is two words (a while) when preceded by a preposition (for a while)

Compliment vs. complement – compliment (with the i) means an express of esteem: He complimented her on her gown. Complement (with the e) means to enhance: The scarlet scarf and gloves complemented her pale coloring.

Each other vs. one another – use each other in statements involving only two people: the man and woman comforted each other. Use one another in places with three or more people: The teammates consoled one another after their loss.

Farther vs. further – farther (far) is actual, physical distance: we walked farther into the forest. Further is virtual distance: this argument can go no further.

Gray vs. grey – Gray with the ‘a’ is American. Grey with the ‘e’ is British (English).

Lead vs. led – Lead (rhymes with red) is a type of heavy metal. (The xray room is lined with lead.) Lead (rhymes with seed) means to go in front of and direct others. (He will lead us through the building.) Led (rhymes with red) is the past tense of directing someone (He led us through the building.)

Lightening vs. lightning – the first is a brightening of light (he turned on the lamps, brightening the room); the second is a flash of light accompanying a storm (Lightning flashed across the sky followed by deafening thunder).

Like vs. as if – Like is not a conjunction and should not be used as such. If you can substitute “as if” in the sentence, do so: It sounds like (as if) he meant to do that.

Ly-  (as in mildly-funny) – no hyphen. Do not hyphenate compound adjectives that include adverbs (ly).

Made to vs. forced to – if the meaning is ‘forced’, then than is what needs to be used: He was forced to (not made to) kneel.

Of – as in off of/inside of/outside of – no ‘of’ when possible. If you can read the sentence and it makes sense without the ‘of’ then delete the ‘of’.

Then vs. than – then is an indicator of time: Caesar came, then he conquered. Than is a choice: I’d rather have an apple to eat than a lemon.

Till vs ‘til – till is a place to keep money; ‘til is the abbreviation for until and should be used as such: We waited ‘til he showed up.

Try and vs. try to – in almost all cases, this should be “try to”: We should try to meet up this afternoon.

You and I vs. you and me – should be “you and I”. If you can delete the ‘you’ and read the sentence with I or me, which one works better?  You and I can go shopping tomorrow. (I can go shopping tomorrow.)

Wards (backwards, frontwards, forwards, towards, downwards, upwards, etc.) – no ‘s’ for American spelling

Wrack vs. rack – wrack is to wreck something. Rack is to torture or cause pain. The ship was wracked upon the rocks. I racked my brain to come up with a good excuse.

There are a lot more – and I encourage you to add to this list! But this is enough to get you started. J

Vicky Burkholder






10 responses »

  1. I needed that wrack vs rack one! I’m always trying to figure out which spelling is right. Didn’t know they both were. LOL

    I hate the word farther. Further is also correct for physical distance. I keep sending the reference to my editor, but house style keeps overruling me. LOL

    • I’d tend to agree with you on the further/farther – but all the houses I’ve worked for require the difference. 🙂

  2. Great post! I’m like Natalie on the further, farther and the wrack one (that’s an automatic lookup for me). I don’t agree about till and ’til, and then there are ones I’d never heard at all, like forced to and made to –thank you!

    • I can’t disagree with you, Liz, but the houses I work with require these usages. I guess the trick is to do your best, then go with whatever the house you’re with requires. 🙂

  3. Great reminders, VIcky. ‘Gray’ versus ‘grey’… I never knew before how to choose. And ‘further’ and
    farther’ are real bugaboos … I don’t think I’ll ever be able to keep those two straight without looking them up! Thanks!

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