Some of the most common mistakes in writing and editing involve selection of the right word when we have the choice of similar words. And, as we continue to emphasize, getting it right in writing is important because a knowledgeable reader or listener makes judgments about us based on how we present.
From time to time, we will take some time to discuss words like the ones below. Feel free to cut and paste to make your own master list of reminders. Here are some examples:
Affect and Effect – This is one you just memorize. Affect is a word of action, usually a verb, and means to have an impact on something else. The weather affected our travel. Effect means to influence or create. What effect will the weather have on our travel?
Farther and Further – This is really a sticky one as both can relate to distance or additional information depending on sentence construction. The easiest way to get them right is to think of farther as most often related to distance. We came to the crossroads but still had farther to go. Think of further as most often related to more, as in furthermore. I have no further thoughts on the matter.
Insure and Ensure – To insure something is to protect it against loss, as through an insurance policy. We need to insure the car before we drive it. To ensure something is to make certain. Please ensure that you make the bank deposit today.
Compliment and Complement – A compliment is typically a favorable comment we make about someone or something. The nice thing he said about my painting was quite a compliment. To complement generally means to supplement. The addition of green to the painting was a nice complement.
It’s and Its – The easy method of proper usage is to know that the apostrophe represents a contraction that stands for it is. Read your sentence out loud substituting it is and you will hear immediately if it’s wrong. Without an apostrophe the word does not stand for it is, but rather refers to another word in the sentence. The company released its statement today. The its stands in as a pronoun for the company. Try reading the sentence substituting it is and you will hear immediately that it’s wrong or right.