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Misused Words and Phrases

accept vs. except — Accept means to receive. Except means to exclude.

adverse vs. averse — Adverse means unfavorable. Averse means reluctant, opposed.

affect vs. effect — Affect as a verb means to influence. Effect as a noun means result. These are the most commonly used forms, but effect as a verb means to accomplish, and affect as a noun means an emotion or impression.

allude vs. refer — To allude to something is to speak of it without specifically mentioning it. To refer is to mention it directly.

altogether vs. all together — The adverb altogether means wholly or completely. The phrase all together means in a group.

among vs. between — Between is generally used with two people or things. Among is generally used for more than two people or things. However, between is the correct word when expressing the relationships of three or more items considered one pair at a time. (Note: As with all prepositions, any pronouns that follow these words must be in the objective case, i.e. “between you and me.”)

  • The event organizing committee must choose between coffee and donuts, bagels and orange juice and soft drinks and fruit for the complimentary breakfast.

any one vs. anyone — Any one means any single person or thing in a group. Anyone means anybody.

anxious vs. eager — Anxious connotes an element of fear (think anxiety), so it should not be used as a synonym for eager, which implies an element of excitement.

bring vs. take — Bring means motion toward the speaker. Take means motion away from the speaker.

could have — Use could have instead of could of. It is also incorrect to say: might of, must of, would of. When speaking in person, if you hear someone say, “could of,” they are likely contracting could have into “could’ve.”

different from — Do not use different than.

fewer vs. less — In general, use fewer for number and less for bulk or quantity. (Hint: If you can count it, use fewer.)

hardly, barely, scarcely — Hardly, barely and scarcely should not be used with a negative.

  • He was hardly (barely, scarcely) able to lift the boxes of copy paper. Not: He wasn’t hardly able to lift the boxes.

I vs. me — I is a subject pronoun, and me is an object pronoun. If I or me follows a preposition, such as between, remember the rule that pronouns following prepositions are always in the objective case, as in me. So, the correct prepositional phrase is between you and me. (Hint: Take out the other subject in the sentence to determine if it makes sense standing alone.)

  • She gave a gift to my co-worker and me. My co-workers and I went to the meeting. She gave a gift to me, not She gave a gift to I. I went to the meeting, not Me went to the meeting.

i.e. vs. e.g. — i.e. and e.g. are both abbreviations for Latin terms. I.e. stands for id est and means roughly that is or in other words. Do not italicize or use a comma after the abbreviation. (This has recently changed, so several styles still call for the comma.)

  • The capital of Oklahoma, i.e. Oklahoma City, has become a tourist destination.

imply vs. infer — The writer or speaker implies a subtle meaning without explicitly stating it. The reader or listener infers that meaning.

infamous and notorious — Both terms can carry negative connotations of a bad reputation.

it’s vs. its — It’s is a contraction for it is or it has. Its is the possessive form of the neutral pronoun.

  • OCU wants its employees to communicate effectively. It’s important to us.

kind, sort, type — Kind, sort and type are singular.

lay vs. lie — The action word is lay. It takes a direct object. Laid is the form for its past tense and its past participle. Its present participle is laying. Lie indicates a state of reclining along a horizontal plane. It does not take a direct object. Its past tense is lay.

  • She will lay the papers on the desk. She is laying the papers on the desk. He is going to lie down. He lay on the bed yesterday.

ought — Do not use had with ought.

than vs. then — Than is a conjunction used to introduce the second element or clause of an unequal comparison. Then is an adverb that denotes time.

  • I would rather have cookies than cauliflower. After I eat my cauliflower, then I can have a cookie.

that vs. who — That refers to groups or things. Use that and which for inanimate objects and animals without a name. Who refers to people and animals with names.

their vs. there — Their is a possessive pronoun. There is an adverb indicating direction.

those vs. them — Use those not them to modify a noun. Them is a noun and can only be used as such.

to, too — To is a preposition. Too is an adverb that means more than enough or also and is generally set off with commas.

which vs. that — Which is preferred in introducing non-essential clauses; that is preferred in introducing essential clauses. (Tip: You’ll always use a comma before which but not before that. See Punctuation Help section for comma usage.)

  • Focus magazine, which is printed each semester, includes stories about interesting alumni. The part of the magazine that highlights alumni is always a favorite among readers.

who vs. whom — Who is used as a subject. Whom is the object of a verb or preposition.

who’s vs. whose — Who’s is the contraction for who is, whose is the possessive for whom.

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