9 Commonly Misused Words and How to Use Them Correctly
One Sunday afternoon, I blissfully planted myself in my favorite reading chair and cracked open Mary Higgins Clark’s As Time Goes By, which she graciously signed for me the day before.
Sadly, my bliss didn’t last long, because a commonly misused word ripped me from the story. A character used the word insure to convey the meaning of “make certain.” Ensure was the right word.
As an editor, I’ve seen writers make this mistake many times. But the two words have distinct and different meanings.
Ensure, Insure, and Assure
Ensure implies providing a level of confidence in an outcome: Did you ensure there’s enough money in the account to cover the check?
Insure is something you purchase to protect against financial loss: I insure my house with State Farm.
Assure is to confirm or create confidence in something: I assure you that your cat is perfectly healthy.
Perhaps for many people its misuse of no real importance. But as a writer and editor, I feel it’s my job to ensure I’ve used the right words to convey my meaning. Otherwise, savvy readers might not forgive me nor return to read other work.
Here are some other frequently misused words and phrases and examples to help you choose the right one for your meaning.
Over and More Than
Over describes something in a place or position comparable to something else: The helicopter hovered over our neighborhood for hours.
The phrase more than is used when dealing with numerical values: This quarter’s earnings were 5% more than last quarter’s.
Affect and Effect
When used as a noun, affect means some emotional manifestation: My affection for my cat, Frank, runs deep. As a verb, it means to influence someone or something: The rainy day affected my mood.
Effect as a noun implies a realized result or consequence from some action: The effect of the bottle ban was a cleaner beach. As a verb, effect means to cause something to change or happen: The bottle ban went in to effect on January 1.
Irony, Sarcasm, and Coincidence
The meaning of irony ranges from implying the opposite of a literal meaning – I literally died laughing on the floor (evidently not since you’re here to tell us about it) – to an event or outcome that is the opposite of expectations – I forgot my wedding anniversary and my husband remembered.
Sarcasm uses irony to mock someone or something to amuse and deride at the same time: Your parking is perfect. Half of the car is on the sidewalk.
Coincidence is something that happens by pure chance, such as driving over a nail and puncturing a brand new tire as you leave the repair shop.
Imply and Infer
Imply indicates or suggests a meaning without explicitly stating it: Decreasing employees’ hours implies a decline in sales.
Infer means to reason or conclude based on some evidence: Employees inferred layoffs would happen because we cut their hours.
Allude and Elude
Similar to imply, allude means to make an indirect reference or drop a hint to something: His comments alluded to the boss being responsible for the sales decline.
Elude is to avoid or escape capture by a person or group, or to not grasp an understanding, perception or appreciation of something: The fascination with home brewing beer eludes me.
Rein and Reign
Reins are straps used to control and direct horses and the term is often used to convey other types of control: Let’s pull in the reins on our costs this month.
Reign is the ruling of a sovereign power for a period: His reign as the neighborhood bully ended today.
Principle and Principal
Principles are beliefs or fundamental truths that influence our conduct: Many vegans don’t eat meat on the principle animals are sentient beings like humans.
Principal has several meanings, including rank or importance; initial money invested in an asset; and the head of an activity or institution: The principal cause of coronary artery disease is plaque buildup in your arteries.
Adverse and Averse
Adverse refers to an unfavorable or negative effect: I had an adverse reaction to Vicodin and broke out in hives.
Averse refers to strong opposition to something: Although I don’t care for cold weather, I’m not averse to visiting Iceland.
Lorraine Cregar is a novelist, poet, journalist and corporate communicator. She is finishing her first novel, Jackson Street Books, and her first poetry chapbook about Corporate America.
As a journalist, she wrote for Best’s Review, Nursing Spectrum and Philadelphia Style magazines.
She has a Master of Arts in Communication from Fairleigh Dickinson University, Florham Park, N.J.
Lorraine lives with her husband, Mark, and their seven cats in Chester, N.J., and volunteers with a cat rescue.
“A word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood