A quick guide to commonly misused words

Some words are very similar to others, and I often see them misused. I try not to be too pedantic about usage (see below), as I’m firmly in the camp that believes the English language is a living, ever-changing thing. At the same time, some uses are not generally accepted and so it’s best to avoid them.

If you want your writing to sound trustworthy and knowledgeable, it’s best to stick to the accepted usage. Here’s a quick guide to commonly misused words.

woman looking confused and holding up both her hands at her sides

Affect means to act on , while effect is the result of an action.

This will affect what we do in the office. The effect of the change is to make the office friendlier.

Baited means prepared with bait, but bated means restrained.

When you go fishing, the hook is baited, and you wait with bated breath to see if the fish has taken the bait.

Complement means to complete, while compliment means to praise or give a gift.

He complements the presentation with a personal anecdote and compliments the audience on being so attentive. The chocolates you get to take back to your desk are complimentary.

Disinterested means to be unbiased, while uninterested means to take no interest in something.

She could mediate between the two parties successfully as a disinterested board member. I’m uninterested in mathematical equations.

Enormity means hugely bad or outrageous, while enormousness means really, really big.

The enormity of a murder can never be ignored. The enormousness of an elephant is evident when you get up close to one.

Historic means about an important event in history, or likely to be remembered. Historical means belonging to the past or mentioned in history.

Nelson Mandela’s release was a historic event for the world. There was a historical belief that women were less intelligent than men.

Poured is the past tense of pour – they poured themselves a cup of tea.

Pored is to read or examine with close attention – they pored over the newspaper cuttings to find the first mention of lorikeets in WA.

To reign means rule. To rein, as in to rein in, means to curb or to restrict.

He reigned over the kingdom. She reined in her tendency to be critical of others’ shoes.

A tenant is one who occupies rented premises. A tenet is a principle or creed that is believed to be true.

I’m the tenant in this office complex. It is a tenet of ethics that killing people is wrong.

Use means to use something, while usage means a customary way of doing something.

The use of a dictionary to check on language usage in Australian English is a good practice.

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