More Usage Mistakes Writers Make
There sure are a lot of word lovers out there. After last week's post, I was happy to hear from so many writers who still care about language. A lot. And my alphabetical list only made it from A through F! So, picking up where we left off, here are some more mistakes that are easy to make but important to avoid:
14. Historic, Historical (Thanks Judith & Pamela!) — Historic means significant. Historical refers to something that took place in the past.
15. Important, Importantly — Important is an adjective meaning significantly valuable or consequential. Importantly is an adverb that means in an important way.
16. Intents and Purposes — The phrase means in every practical way or in every important respect. It is often miswritten as "for all intensive purposes," which is incorrect.
17. Its and It's (Thanks Erika & George!) — Its means relating to or belonging to something. It's is a contraction that means it is or it has. Emily Brewster has a helpful comment on this.
18. Prescribe, Proscribe — What a difference a vowel makes. Prescribe means to recommend or set as a rule or guide: "The doctor prescribes rest and aspirin." Proscribe means to condemn or forbid.
19. Principal, Principle — Principal means first or most important. Principle refers to tenet, belief or basic truth.
20. Prophecy, Prophesy — Prophecy is a noun. Prophesy is a verb.
21. Rein, Reign — Rein means to check or stop something, as in to rein in one's emotions. Reign means to rule.
22. Restful, Restive — Restful refers to being relaxed, at ease or comfortable. Restive, on the other hand, means impatient, uneasy or restless.
23. Saccharin, Saccharine — Saccharin is the artificial sweetener. Saccharine means overly sugary or sweet and usually refers to something mawkish, false or overly sentimental, e.g., "She gave him a saccharine smile."
24. Stationary, Stationery — Stationary means still or motionless. Stationery refers to writing paper and envelopes.
25. That, Which — That is used in restrictive clauses that provide necessary information. Which is used in unrestrictive clauses, which, as a matter of enlightenment rather than necessity, add information that is not required in a sentence.
26. Their, There, They're — Their means belonging to more than one other person. There means in that location, and the contraction they're means those people are going to do something.
27. Unique means to be one of a kind, without like or equal. Something cannot be more or less unique than something else. It's redundant to say something is totally unique.
28. Whether (or not) — Whether means "if" and always implies the phrase "or not," so there's usually no reason to use those last two words.
29. Who, Whom — Whom is used when it is the object of a preposition or verb, e.g., "To whom it may concern," ("whom" is the object of the preposition 'to"). Who is used everywhere else.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.