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In this week’s article, we want to discuss about some commonly misused words when it comes to writing. The purpose of today’s article is not to list down all the misused or misunderstood words, but rather to ensure that we understand the correct use of words as they were meant to be. Obviously, there are many words we sometimes use unknowingly because it sounds correct, or simply because everyone else is doing it (so therefore it must be correct?).

Writing at Work

Employers expect and value effective written communication from their employees. Starting from the job application, the interview, and to the first month on the job, employers pay attention to your vocabulary. Remember that you do not necessarily need an enormous vocabulary to write effectively, but you do need to be able to express yourself clearly and avoid common errors.

When you give an important presentation on inflation and its relation to profit margins, you must know the difference between effect and affect and ensure you choose the correct word. When writing an e-mail to confirm deliveries, you must know if the shipment will arrive in to days, too days, or two days. Confusion will arise if you choose the wrong word. However, when you consciously and consistently use correct words, this will form into a new habit, and result in an improvement in the way you write. This will indeed make a positive impression on your boss, colleagues and customers.

Recognising commonly confused words

Using the wrong word in an official e-mail, report, proposal, or letter can be embarrassing, as misusing words can damage your credibility and even be costly at times.

Having a solid everyday vocabulary will help you while writing, but avoiding common word errors will surely make an impression on your readers – that you are aware of common writing errors. Experienced writers know that careful word selection and usage can lead to clarity, one that gives the reader a good reading experience.

Here are a few common misused words in business writing:

Alphabet vs Letter

Alphabet (noun) is a group of letters that forms languages. Alphabet is needed to read and write a language, and it comprises both the vowels as well as the consonants.

Letter (noun) In English, there are 26 letters from A to Z (not 26 alphabets).

Assure vs Ensure

Assure (verb) To state with confidence, pledge or promise. Example: I assure you the cheque is in the mail.

Ensure (verb) To make certain. Example: Following the instructions ensures you won’t get hurt.

Borrow vs Lend

Lend (verb) means ‘to give something to someone for a short time, expecting to get it back’. Example: I never lend my books to anyone, or, Can you lend me your book?

Borrow (verb) means ‘to get something from someone, with the intention of returning it after a short time’. Example: Could I borrow your pen for while?

Compliment vs Complement

Compliment (verb) To give praise. Example: I complimented Steve on his speech.

Complement (verb) To complete something or match it well. Example: Her skills complement the needs of our department.

Disinterested vs Uninterested

Disinterested (adjective) a person who is not influenced by considerations of personal advantage. A person who is unbiased, unprejudiced, impartial, neutral. Example: A banker is under an obligation to give disinterested advice.

Uninterested (adjective) a person not interested in or concerned about something or someone. Example: The girl was totally uninterested in the boy sitting next to her.

Fewer vs Less

Fewer (adjective) of a small number, only used with countable items. Example: He made fewer mistakes than last time.

Less (adjective or adverb) to a smaller extent, amount or degree – used with quantities that cannot be individually counted. Example: If they made less noise, we could concentrate.

Its vs It’s

Its (pronoun) possessive form if “it”. Example: The machine has lost its ability to scan documents.

It’s – a contraction of “it is.” Example: It’s not a question of right or wrong.

Lose vs Loose

Lose (verb) fail to win, misplace. Example: Did you lose your file?

Loose (adjective) free from anything that restraints. Example: Since losing weight, his clothes seem loose.

Than vs Then

Than (preposition) in contrast to. Example: I’d rather speak face-to-face than communicate by e-mail.

Then (adverb) Next. Example: We met for dinner, then went to a movie.

Their, There, They’re

Their (pronoun) Belonging to them. Example: Where is their car?

There (adverb) In a place. Example: The book is there.

They’re – Contraction of “they are.” Example: They’re very proud.

Who’s vs Whose

Who’s (contraction). Joins the words who and either is or has.
Example: Who’s the new student? Who’s met him?

Whose (pronoun). A form of who that shows possession. Example: Whose keys are these?

Strategies to avoid commonly confused words

When writing, you need to choose the correct word according to its spelling and meaning in the context. Selecting the correct word improves your vocabulary and your writing, and it makes a good impression on your readers. It also helps reduce confusion and improve clarity. The following strategies can help you avoid misusing confusing words.

#1. Use a dictionary.

Keep a dictionary at your desk while you write. Look up words when you are uncertain of their meanings or spellings. There are many dictionaries available online, which you can now easily access through your computers or mobile phones. For the latter, you can also download dictionary apps.

#2. Keep a list of words you commonly confuse.

Be aware of the words that often confuse you. When you notice a pattern of confusing words, keep a list nearby, and consult the list as you write. Check the list again before you submit an assignment to your instructor.

#3. Study the list of commonly confused words.

You may not yet know which words confuse you, so before you write, study the words on the list. Prepare yourself for working with these words by reviewing the commonly confused words.

Test yourself

Fill in the blanks with the correct word from the word bank. Use the context of the sentence to determine which word should be used.

[ Word bank: hear, here, know, no, principal, principle, threw, through, your, you’re ]

  1. Bill ___________ the ball to Chris.
  2. When ___________ ready, we’ll leave.
  3. The ___________ called the loud students to her office.
  4. He is ___________ to study for the science test.
  5. Do you ___________ what time it is?
  6. They walked ___________ the garage into the office.
  7. They believed in the ___________ of self-determination.
  8. Do you ___________ the train whistle in the distance?

So, remember that to write accurately, it is important for you to be conscious of the commonly confused words. Keep adding new words to your vocabulary. The more confused words you are aware of, the less mistakes you are likely to make.

I hope this article was helpful. Next week, we will talk about ‘Colloquialisms and Slang’.

Drop me a note or comment on today’s post. Let us know if you have come across other words that are commonly confused? I would love to hear all about it. Email us if you have a burning question to ask or if you need any advice on writing, we are here to answer them.

Competition time

Stand a chance to win a copy of my book – “8 Vital Skills to Succeed at the Workplace” – by re-writing the passage below so that it is concise and concrete:

“This sounds like an amazing initiative during these indeterminate times considering the current global pandemic. People do have a preference to have access to information at their own suitability. I would like to share a few thoughts with you which I hope can help bring your projects to fruition. Please look into your diary and revert with your soonest availability to pencil in a discussion”.

Send your proposed answers to Neue’s Digital Editor, Lance Thoo, via WhatsApp (+6738124126) or drop a DM to Neue’s Instagram @whatsneue.

Register for virtual training

*Editor’s note: This is part of a ‘mini-series’ where Neue’s good friend, Davidson, will share tips on how to improve your writing. From all of us here at Neue, we hope these articles will help improve your business writing skills and help you to succeed in your workplace.

The author of “8 Vital Skills To Succeed In The Workplace” @davidson.trainer will be conducting a virtual training on “Mastering Professional Business Writing” from June 1, 2020.

The course will be divided into 6 sessions over the course of 2 weeks.

Each session will run for one-and-a-half hours.

Coaching after class for up to 6 months will also be included.

The promotional rate for this course for Neue readers is 299.50 Brunei dollars.

Drop an e-mail to [email protected] to register. You may also WhatsApp (+6738124126) or drop a DM to Neue’s Instagram @whatsneue.

Closing date for registration via Neue is May 27, 2020.