Certain word pairs that look or sound alike cause a lot of confusion. I’m not talking about the ones you hear about all the time, like there and their, it’s and its and to and too. Or even the more recently problematic (and inexplicable to me) lose and loose.
That’s all remedial stuff. Here’s an advanced course in confusing word pairs. Master these and you’re sure to dazzle your friends and co-workers.
1. Everyday/every day
Contrary to what you see practically every day, these are actually two different concepts. Everyday means ordinary or commonly occurring while every day means each and every single day. Sly Stone assures us that in spite of his fame and lifestyle, he is simply “everyday people.” Elvis Costello, unfortunately, gets it wrong when he sings, “Everyday I write the book.” Clearly he means “every day.” Who knows how many record sales this cost him?
Tack is a nautical term meaning to adjust course on a sailboat. So you take a different tack, not tact (which I suppose people believe is a shortened form of tactic). Sadly, the redoubtable Maureen Dowd got this one wrong in a column last year. (See the paragraph that begins, “The master of his own narrative …”)
There must be something about the sea that causes confusion. So while your figures may not jibe with hers, jive is a whole other thing entirely. As in “Don’t give me that jive,” “Oh, stewardess, I speak jive,” and “Back off, you jive turkey.” Have Mr. T and Jimmy “JJ” Walker taught us nothing?
You hone an idea, while you home in on a solution. Hone means to sharpen. Home, in this case, refers to following a signal.
Lend is a verb, loan is a noun. You never, ever, ever loan anyone something. You lend it to them. Just as you don’t apply for a lend.
Hardly anyone gets this right. “The book is comprised of 25 chapters” is wrong. Say “composed of.” (Or better yet, just say the book has 25 chapters.) Here is a proper use of comprise: “The neighborhood comprises 500 houses.” I suspect this issue has to do with the desire to sound smarter, in the same way people often use “I” when “me” is correct.
Regards are what you offer people in good cheer or fondness (“Give my regards to …”) Regards is NOT a synonym for “regarding.” Simply say, “In regard to.” No “s.” Ever. (A certain major presidential candidate gets this wrong almost every single day. Will it cost him the election? Stay tuned!)
I estimate three out of four Facebook users do not know how to spell the word synonymous with “yippee.” They’ll express joy over someone’s engagement or pregnancy or new job with a hearty “Yeah!” But yeah is slacker for yes. The word they are usually seeking is spelled y-e-a. For ultimate clarity, do what I do. Spell it the informal, yet still acceptable, way: yay.
A leaders leads. When he’s done leading he led. Yup, totally inconsistent with the past tense of “read.” Welcome to the English language.
This is the equivalent of the audio Daily Double. People don’t tend to mistake the two in writing, but they almost always do so when speaking. Most people know that those small tokens and keepsakes are spelled “memento.” Yet they pronounce it “mOmento,” which is Spanish for minute. [Update: an alert Facebooker points out that momento is actually Spanish for moment, not minute. I stand corrected, though the original point also stands.]
Okay, I lied in the introduction. Mastering this knowledge will not dazzle anyone. Partly because only a precious few (and they are precious) know what’s correct. But mostly because there are few rewards in this world for grammar purists.
[This post was reprinted in PR Daily, May 14, 2012.]