No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.



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sorting out words often confused 

Would you prohibit dying in washers? Will that red door compliment your blue house? If it doesn't, will you feel badly? If you've got it, should you flout it? Or would you be loathe to do that? Before you do any of the above, better check on the spellings and definitions below.


no dying in washers

If you have any doubt about a word you are about to use, look it up. Otherwise, you risk being seen as careless, ignorant or both.

Years ago, while washing clothes at a coin laundry in the small town where I was teaching, I noticed a sign above the washing machines: No dying in washers. What a way to go! The sign maker missed the correct word by only one letter (e), but the meanings are worlds apart. The correct word, of course, would be dyeing.

Principal parts of the two verbs are:

Infinitive: to dye (add or change colour)

Present: dye

Past: dyed

Past participle: dyed

Present participle: dyeing (note that the e is retained to distinguish this form from dying, the present participle of die)

Infinitive: to die (stop living)

Present: die

Past: died

Past participle: died

Present participle: dying

(Much more on verbs, including principal parts, in making verbs work for you.)

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affect or effect?

A lot of people have trouble deciding whether to choose affect or effect in a particular sentence. Each word can be either a noun or a verb, and the various applications have some disparate definitions as well.

The most common uses are these two:

How will the weather affect (verb: act upon, influence) the crowd size?

What will be the effect (noun: outcome, result) of the new committee system?

This use is less common that the above two, but not uncommon:

The council decided to effect (verb: carry out, accomplish) a wide-ranging recycling program.

Finally, these uses are somewhat more esoteric:

Hal Holbrook affected (verb: imitate, assume) Mark Twain’s mannerisms.

He is more likely to be governed by affect (noun: emotion) than rational thought processes. (Note: This one you’re not likely to run into often, unless you’re reading psychology journals.)

How to remember which is which? Well, the first letter of affect is the same as the first letter of act: to affect something is to act upon it. As well, affect and act are both verbs. This should help you through the most common use of affect. However, you should study all affect/effect uses so you can approach any and all applications with confidence. (One way you can do this is through your subscription to UpWORDly Mobile Express, which contains regular quizzes to keep you on your toes.)

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stationary or stationery?
complementary or complimentary?
infer or imply?
literally or figuratively?

The italicized words in the following four sentences are perplexing to many people. Which of them is used correctly and which is not?

(a) I exercise daily on my stationery bike.

(b) We were given complimentary tickets to a movie.

(c) When you referred to Jack as capable of better things, were you inferring that he was not trying hard enough?

(d) After volunteering at the carnival all day, Angela was literally dead on her feet.

(a) Stationery means writing materials. The word needed here is stationary, which means not moving or intended to move. Remember, stationery (writing materials) has an e, as in letters.

(b) Complimentary is correct. In this case, think of the tickets being bestowed with the compliments of the giver. Complementary means combining several things to emphasize each other’s qualities, as in complementary paint colours. Think about how adding a particular colour completes the desired look.

(c) Infer means to read something into what someone else has said, to read between the lines. The better word here is imply, which means to indicate the existence of something by suggestion rather than the actual words used. In other words, imply relates to what the speaker may intend, and infer relates to what the listener claims is the real message.

(d) If we accept the literal meaning of dead, Angela ceased to live after the carnival. Literal means taking words in their usual or most basic sense without exaggeration, as opposed to figurative, which means departing from a literal use of words. The basic sense of dead is, well, not living. So you could say that Angela was figuratively dead on her feet, but that sounds awkard. Better, in this case at least, to just delete literally, and the expression dead on her feet becomes a metaphor understood by all.

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Following are several lists of commonly confused words:

Words that look alike but have different meanings

Other words often confused

Words that aren’t really words

Definitions given will be the most common ones, although in many cases other definitions exist as well. In many, but not all, instances, words will be illustrated in sentences.

Words that look alike but have different meanings

accede or exceed? To accede (verb) is to agree to a request or demand. To exceed (verb) is to be greater in size or number than something else.

accept or except? To accept (verb) is to say yes to an offer or proposal. To except (verb) is to exclude something from a category or group. The most common use of except is as a preposition meaning not including (I gave him all the toys except the battery-operated ones).

adverse or averse? Adverse (adj.) means unfavourable or harmful, as in adverse weather conditions causing postponement of an event. Averse (adj.) means to be opposed to or having a strong dislike of something, as in a parent being averse to spanking a child.

advice or advise? Advice (noun), which ends in an s sound, means guidance or recommendations. Ådvise (verb), which ends in a z sound, means to offer suggestions (could you advise me on these investments). So they are quite similar, except that advice is a noun and advise is a verb.

affect or effect? See beginning of this Words often confused section.

allusion or illusion? An allusion (noun) is a passing reference to something without mentioning it specifically, as in a politician making an allusion to the record of his predecessor. An illusion (noun) is a false idea or a deceptive appearance.

bazaar or bizarre? A bazaar (noun) could be a market in a Middle East country or a fund-raising sale of goods. Bizarre (adj.) means strange or unusual.

capital or capitol? Capitol is used only for buildings housing legislative assemblies. The U.S. legislative building is the Capitol. Tip: think house for the building that houses the capitol. Uses of capital include: Regina is the capital (seat of government) of Saskatchewan. We tried to raise capital (wealth, assets) to start a home renovation business. Singer k.d. lang doesn’t use capital (uppercase) letters in her name. That’s a capital (excellent) idea. Murder is a capital (liable to the death penalty) crime in those states. The building’s capitals (heads of pillars or columns) were more ornate than any others I’ve seen.

censor or censure? To censor (verb) is to examine books, newspapers or films, for example, and suppress unacceptable parts. To censure (verb) is to express severe disapproval, likely through some official capacity.

cloth or clothe? Cloth (noun) is fabric. Clothe (verb) is to put garments on oneself or someone else. It is pronounced with a long o and a harder ending, as in loathe or bathe.

comprise or compose? Comprise means includes or consists of: Tank Force Kandahar comprised nearly 6,000 Canadian and American soldiers. Compose means constitutes or makes up: Concrete is composed of coarse granular material embedded in a hard matrix of material (the cement or binder) that fills the space among the aggregate particles and glues them together. NOTE: Because of widespread use of comprise in place of compose, some dictionaries now offer make up/compose as an acceptable definition of comprise. Careful writers are not likely to use comprise in this way.

continual or continuous? Continual (adj.) refers to the frequent repetitions of an action or event, as in a continual parade of telemarketing phone calls to our house. Continuous (adj.) means without interruption, as in the continuous dripping of the bathroom faucet caused by a faulty part.

council or counsel? A council (noun)is an administrative or advisory body. To counsel (verb) is to advise.

disinterested or uninterested? Disinterested (adj.) is impartial. Uninterested (adj.) is not interested.

elicit or illicit? Elicit (verb) means to evoke or draw out a reaction or answer from someone: The dog-food manufacturer used coupons to elicit product comments from purchasers. Illicit (adj.) refers to items or acts forbidden by law or custom: Our quiet neighbours, we discovered, had been involved in illicit drug dealing.

envelop or envelope? Envelop (verb), pronounced en VEL op, is to completely surround or engulf. Envelope (noun), pronounced EN vel ope, is a flat paper container for a letter.

farther or further? Farther (adj.) is used to express distance: The village, which we finally reached on foot, was farther away than I had expected. Further (adv.) is used to express to a greater extent: He is taking his resistance further than ever before. Three more uses for further: (1) in addition (adv.): I don’t like him, and, further, neither does William; (2) additional (adj.): without further ado; (3) promote (verb): he’s looking to further his own interests.
Reality check: Increasingly, both farther and further are being used to express distance, and dictionaries are giving this legitimacy.

flair or flare? A flair is a special aptitude or talent. A flare is a dazzling flame or light.

flaunt or flout? Flaunt means to display ostentatiously, such as the newly rich flaunting their wealth with super-sized homes. Flout means to openly disregard a rule or convention: People put out box after box for recycling, flouting the new approved-container-only policy.

forward or foreword? A foreword is an introductory section to a book.

founder or flounder? Founder (verb) means to fill with water and sink: The ship’s bow turned straight up, then the ship foundered, disappearing from view. It can also refer to the breakdown or failure of as undertaking as a result of a particular problem: The plan foundered when it failed to attract a champion. Flounder (verb) means to struggle clumsily, often in water or mud, but also mentally: He floundered as he sought to explain his actions.

hanged or hung? Hanged is the past tense of the verb to hang, meaning to execute: He was found guilty of the two murders and hanged. Hung is the past tense of the verb to hang, meaning to attach to a hook or suspend from above: He hung up his coat and came in.

historic or historical? Historic means famous or important in history: Roe v. Wade is a historic decision of the United States Supreme Court. Historical means concerning history or past events, belonging to the past: Historical evidence indicates our family is just the third owner of our house in 96 years.

immigrate or emigrate? To immigrate (verb) is to come to live permanently in a foreign country: The Basrabi family immigrated to Canada in 1992. To emigrate (verb) is to leave one’s country to settle in another: The Basrabi family emigrated from India to Canada in 1992.

lead or led? Lead (a noun, pron. led) is a metallic element. Lead (a verb, pron. leed) means to guide or show the way. The past tense of the verb lead is led, pronounced the same as the metallic element. Lead (pron. led but spelled lead, like the metal) is erroneously substituted for led.

loath or loathe? Loath (adj.) means reluctant or unwilling: Hilton was loath to give up his place in line in order to eat lunch. To loathe (verb) something is to feel an intense dislike or disgust for it: Anwar had come to loathe the very sight of German shepherd dogs after one had attacked him. Note that the end sounds of loath and loathe are like those of bath and bathe.

lose or loose? Lose (verb), which ends in a z sound, means to be deprived of or cease to have something: Li kept his Wii hidden so he would not lose it when on the subway. Loose (adj.), which ends in an s sound, means detached or able to be detached: The light fixture was knocked loose and dangled from its metal box on the wall.

perpetrate or perpetuate? Perpetrate (verb) means to commit an illegal or harmful action: Through their embezzling activities, the dishonest employees perpetrated crimes that affected other employees as well as customers. Perpetuate (verb) means to make something continue indefinitely, such as a monument to perpetuate the memory of service personnel killed in Afghanistan.

pour or pore? To pour is to flow or cause to flow. To pore is to be absorbed in studying something.

prostrate or prostate? Prostrate (adj.) describes the act of lying stretched out on the ground with one’s face downward. The prostate (noun) is a gland found in male mammal, often associated with a particular kind of cancer.

rein or reign? To rein in something is to check or manage with reins, such as a horse. To reign is to hold royal office or to prevail.

then or than? The most common confusion here is the use of then in place of than: Incorrect: He was much taller then I had imagined. Correct: He was much taller than I had imagined.
Than, not then, is always used for comparisons.

there, their or they’re? Here are examples of correct uses for each:
►Mr. Singh will be seated over there. There is an adverb, indicating where Mr. Singh will be seated.
There are lots of reasons for his reluctance to participate. There is again an adverb, but this time it’s also used as an introductory word, pointing out the “existence” of lots of reasons. Lots is the plural subject and are is the plural verb.
There’s too much mustard on this hot dog. There is still an adverb, but this time it hooks up with is to form the contraction there’s (there is). Mustard is the singular subject and is (in there’s) is the singular verb.
►The Saarinens took their dog  to the clinic. Their is a possessive pronoun modifying dog.
Theirs is the only brick house on the block. Theirs is also a possessive pronoun (as above), but in this case it stands alone as subject of the verb is, rather than modifying a noun (as in their dog).
►The von Klipperdens? They’re always the last to arrive. They’re is a contraction of they are, just as it’s is a contraction of it is.

torturous or tortuous? Torturous (adj.) refers to something causing or involving pain or suffering, such as a torturous trip across a desert. Tortuous (adj.) refers to something full of twists and turns, such as a roadway or an argument.

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Other words often confused

bad or badly? Is it correct to say “I feel badly about leaving early, but I wasn’t feeling well”? No, it’s not. Badly is an adverb; bad is an adjective. Here are some examples of correct usage for each:
►I performed badly in yesterday’s math test. Badly describes the verb performed; it tells how I performed.
►Marcia tried to repair the badly damaged piano bench. Badly modifies the adjective damaged (which describes the noun bench).
►Marcel felt bad about the error he had made on the billing. Bad is an adjective describing Marcel. Felt is a linking verb, linking the subject Marcel with the subject complement bad, which describes (modifies) it.

Here are some more examples of linking verbs:
The sauce smells terrific. Terrific modifies sauce.
Our team seems listless. Listless modifies team.
The room grew quiet. Quiet modifies room.

between or among? Between (prep.) is used when referring to two things: We had to choose between broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Among (prep.) is used when referring to three or more things: Frequent arguments broke out among the six committee members.

e.g. or i.e.? E.g. (from Latin exempli gratia) means for example: The orchestra director called for extra sessions for the reeds, e.g., clarinets, saxophones, oboes and bassoons. I.e. (from Latin id est) means that is to say or in other words: You will have to consult with the head of the household, i.e., my mother.

et. al. or et al. or et al? Et al. means and othersEt is Latin for and and al. is an abbreviation for alii/aliae/alia (gender distinctions). So there’s no period after et, which is not an abbreviation, but there is a period after al., which is an abbreviation.

fewer or less? It’s fewer (adj.) for quantities that can or could be counted (sometimes it’s not practical to do so): The incumbent received fewer votes than her challenger. There seemed to be fewer days this summer when we were able to really relax. It’s less (adj.) for collective-type quantities you can’t count: There’s less discussion at our meetings when Garry and Diana are not in attendance. This type of plant requires less water. NOTE: Most errors are committed by inserting less when fewer is called for: Incorrect: I’ve read less books this summer than last. Correct: I’ve read fewer books this summer than last.

ironic? Ironic is often used to describe situations that are coincidental but not ironic. Example: It was ironic she appeared just as I was saying her name.

Another example is this quote, in a newspaper story, from a high school teacher who used a practice defibrillator (for a first aid class) to revive a student whose heart had stopped: "The timing was ironic, because I had just been telling my students how important it is to know CPR … ." Again, a coincidence, but not ironic.

Irony is a discrepancy between the expected and the actual state of affairs. Here's an example of irony applied appropriately: A music historian wrote about how composer Robert Schumann had to abandon his concert career, "a sad and ironic result of permanently injuring his right middle finger with a sling contraption he had developed in order to strengthen it." In this instance, the result of using the device was the opposite of what had been expected.

Here's another example of irony applied appropriately, from a newspaper story: "The architect of Rob Ford’s 'gravy train' campaign and his first chief of staff at city hall is helping Toronto firefighters battle the mayor’s proposed cuts. The irony that Kouvalis is now fighting the gravy train is not lost on opposition councillors."

majority or plurality? A majority is usually considered to be one more than half of the votes cast. A plurality would describe the candidate or issue that received the most votes but fewer than half the total votes cast.

nonplussed? Often misused in place of unaffected or undisturbed, nonplussed means so surprised and confused that one is unsure how to respond.

ultimate or penultimate? Ultimate (adj.) could describe the final step or achievement at the end of a process: Our ultimate goal is to see at least three-fourths of our graduates go on to post-graduate education. Ultimate could also describe the best or most extreme example of its kind: I think skydiving would provide the ultimate “rush.” Penultimate means the next-to-final step in a process or second-last chapter in a book. It does not mean “the ultimate ultimate.”

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Words that aren’t really words

alright (wrong) instead of all right (correct);

hairbrained (wrong) instead of harebrained (correct);

playwrite (wrong) instead of playwright (correct);

irregardless (wrong) instead of regardless (correct);

renumeration (wrong) instead of remuneration (correct)

unthaw (wrong) instead of thaw (correct)

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