Common Errors Starting with A

a vs an

If the word following begins with a vowel sound, the word you want is “an”:“Have an apple, Adam.” If the word following begins with a consonant,but begins with a vowel sound, you still need “an”: “...

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abject

“Abject” is always negative—it means “hopeless,” not “extreme.” You can’t experience “abject joy” unless you’re being deliberately paradoxical.

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able to

People are able to do things, but things are not able to be done: you should not say, “the budget shortfall was able to be solved by selling brownies.”

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about

“This isn’t about you.” What a great rebuke! But conservatives sniff at this sort of abstract use of “about,” as in “I’m all about good taste” or “successful truffle-making is about temperature con...

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absorbtion vs absorption

<p>When "absorb" went to become a noun it dropped it's "b" and picked up a "p" on the way. Nobody knows why it did so. Anyway, long story short, "absorbtion" is a misspelling. Absorption is correct...

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abstruse vs obtuse

Most people first encounter “obtuse” in geometry class, where it labels an angle of more than 90 degrees. Imagine what sort of blunt arrowhead that kind of angle would make and you will understand ...

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academia

Although some academics are undoubtedly nuts, the usual English-language pronunciation of “academia” does not rhyme with “macadamia.” The third syllable is pronounced “deem.” Just say “academe” and...

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acapella vs a capella vs a cappella

In referring to singing unaccompanied by instruments, the traditional spelling is the Italian one, a cappella: two words, two Ps, two Ls. The Latin spelling a capella is learned; but in the realm o...

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accede vs exceed

If you drive too fast, you exceed the speed limit. “Accede” is a much rarer word meaning “give in,” “agree.”

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accent marks

In what follows, “accent mark” will be used in a loose sense to include all diacritical marks that guide pronunciation. Operating systems and programs differ in how they produce accent marks, but i...

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accept vs except

<p>Accept means to receive something especially with consent or approval. It could also mean being admitted to a place, an institution or a firm.</p><pre>"Accept my heartfelt condolences on the dea...

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access vs get access to

“Access” is one of many nouns that’s been turned into a verb in recent years. Conservatives object to phrases like “you can access your account online.” Substitute “use,” “reach,” or “get access to...

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accessory

There’s an “ack” sound at the beginning of this word, though some mispronounce it as if the two “C’s” were to be sounded the same as the two “SS’s.”

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accidently vs accidentally

<p>Accidentally is an adverb that means that something was not intentional or on purpose (by accident). </p><pre>"I accidentally dropped my laptop into the pool at work."</pre><p>Accidently is a co...

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accurate vs precise

&In ordinary usage, “accurate” and “precise” are often used as roughsynonyms, but scientists like to distinguish between them. Someone couldsay that a snake is over a meter long and be accurate (th...

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acronyms and apostrophes

<p>Acronyms are abbreviations formed by the initial letters taken from a word or series of word that is itself pronounced as a word. E.g RAM, NOUN, HTML etc</p><pre>"What is the acronym for Uninter...

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acrossed vs across

<p>Across means that which lies between two points of interest or on opposites sides either at or near the far end of a point.</p><pre>"On my way back from school, I saw Mum's friend across the str...

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actionable vs doable

<p>Actionable is a management term which means capable of being articulated as an action item or a set of action items. It also means affording grounds for legal actions.</p><p>Doable means to be p...

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a.d.

“A.D.” does not mean “after death,” as many people suppose. “B.C.” stands for the English phrase “before Christ,” but “A.D.” stands confusingly for a Latin phrase: anno domini (“in the year of the ...

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adapt vs adopt

You can adopt a child or a custom or a law; in all of these cases you are making the object of the adoption your own, accepting it. If you adapt something, however, you are changing it. ="144" heig...

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addicting vs addictive

Do you find beer nuts addicting or addictive? “Addicting” is a perfectly legitimate word, but much less common than “addictive,”and some people will scowl at you if you use it.

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administer vs minister

You can minister to someone by administering first aid. Note how the “ad” in “administer” resembles “aid” in order to remember the correct form of the latter phrase. “Minister” as a verb always req...

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administrate vs administer

Although it is very popular with administrators and others, many people scorn “administrate” as an unnecessary substitute for the more common verb form “administer.”

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admission vs admittance

“Admission” is a much more common word than “admittance” and is a good choice for almost all contexts. You may gain admission or admittance to a college, but you’ll probably be dealing with its adm...

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ad nauseum vs ad nauseam

Seeing how often ad nauseam is misspelled makes some people want to throw up. English writers also often mistakenly half-translate the phrase as ad nausea.This Latin phrase comes from a term in log...

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adopted vs adoptive

Some people seem to think that “adoptive” is just a more fancy word than “adopted” and write about “the adoptive child.” But the two words have different meanings. Parents who do the adopting are a...

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adultry vs adultery

“Adultery” is often misspelled “adultry,” as if it were something every adult should try. This spelling error is likely to get you snickered at. The term does not refer to all sorts of illicit sex:...

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advance vs advanced

<p>Advance means bring forwards or made to go on by promoting or accelerating the the growth or progress of something or an option.</p><pre>"The top two challengers advance to the next round."</pre...

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adverse vs averse

The word “adverse” turns up most frequently in the phrase “adverse circumstances,” meaning difficult circumstances, circumstances which act as an adversary; but people often confuse this word with ...

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advice vs advise

“Advice” is the noun, “advise” the verb. When a columnist advises people, she gives them advice.

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adviser vs advisor

One needn't worry. Both are correct spellings. If you are the advisor to the government on reining in inflation you should worry. If you are an adviser to the government on how to help students wit...

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advocate for vs advocate

When they are acting as advocates for a cause, people often say they are “advocating for”—say—traffic safety. This is not as widely accepted as “campaigning for” or “working toward.” Saying you are...

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aesthetic vs ascetic

People often encounter these two words first in college, and may confuse one with the other although they have almost opposite connotations. “Aesthetic” (also spelled “esthetic”) has to do with bea...

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affect vs effect

There are five distinct words here. When “affect” is accented on the final syllable (a-FECT), it is usually a verb meaning “have an influence on”: “The million-dollar donation from the industrialis...

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afghan vs afghani

<p>An Afghan can be used to describe someone from Afghanistan or of Afghan descent. It can also mean a blanket that has been crocheted and knitted.</p><pre>"The Security man from work is of Afghan ...

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african american

There have been several polite terms used in the US to refer to persons of African descent: “colored,” “negro,” “Black,” “Afro-American,” and “African American.” “Colored” is definitely dated, thou...

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afterall vs after all

<p>After all there is no such thing as afterall and let's not talk about. We know the meaning of after all, don't we? It means in spite of considering contrary views or expectations.</p><p>The phra...

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afterwards vs afterwords

Like “towards,” “forwards,” and “homewards,” “afterwards” ends with -wards.“Afterwords” are sometimes the explanatory essays at the ends of books or speeches uttered at the end of plays or other wo...

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agnostic vs atheist

Both agnostics and atheists are regularly criticized as illogical by people who don’t understand the meaning of these terms. An agnostic is a person who believes that the existence of a god or gods...

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agreeance vs agreement

<p>Agreement is the understanding between entities to follow a specific course of conduct. A state where several parties adhere to the same values, norms and opinion.</p><pre>"We had an agreement t...

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aide vs aid

In American English, a personal assistant is usually an aide (nurse’s aide, presidential aide) but an inanimate object or process is always an aid (hearing aid, first aid).

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ain’t vs am not, isn’t, aren’t

“Ain’t” has a long and vital history as a substitute for “isn’t,” “aren’t” and so on. It was originally formed from a contraction of “am not” and is still commonly used in that sense. Even though i...

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aisle vs isle

<p>An aisle is a clear path through an otherwise obstructed space or through a row of seatings.</p><p>"The aisle quickly got filled up once they announced they were back for sales."</p><p>Isle is a...

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ala vs à la

If you offer pie à la mode on your menu, be careful not to spell it “ala mode” or—worse—“alamode.” The accent over the first “a” is optional in English, although this is an adaptation of the French...

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all be it vs albeit

“Albeit” is a single word meaning “although”: “Rani’s recipe called for a tablespoon of saffron, which made it very tasty, albeit rather expensive.” It should not be broken up into three separate w...

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all

Put this word where it belongs in the sentence. In negative statements, don’t write “All the pictures didn’t show her dimples” when you mean “The pictures didn’t all show her dimples.”

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all and all vs all in all

“The dog got into the fried chicken, we forgot the sunscreen, and the kids started whining at the end, but all in all the picnic was a success.” “All in all” is a traditional phrase which can mean ...

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alleged, allegedly

Seeking to avoid prejudging the facts in a crime and protect the rights of the accused, reporters sometimes over-use “alleged” and “allegedly.” If it is clear that someone has been robbed at gunpoi...

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all for not vs all for naught

“Naught” means “nothing,” and the phrase “all for naught” means “all for nothing.” This is often misspelled “all for not” and occasionally “all for knot.”

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all goes well vs augurs well

Some folks who don’t understand the word “augur” (to foretell based onomens) try to make sense of the common phrase “augurs well” by manglingit into “all goes well.” “Augurs well” is synonymous wit...

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alliterate vs illiterate

<p>Alliterate is the act of using alliteration which is the repetition of initial consonants in the beginning of two or more words immediately succeeding each other or at short intervals. </p><pre>...

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alls vs all

“Alls I know is . . .” may result from anticipating the “S” in “is,” but the standard expression is “All I know is. . . .”

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all the farther vs as far as

In some American dialects it is not uncommon to hear sentences such as “Abilene is all the farther the rustlers got before the posse caught up with them.” The strangely constructed expression “all ...

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allude vs refer

To allude to something is to refer to it indirectly, by suggestion. If you are being direct and unambiguous, you refer to the subject rather than alluding to it.

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allude vs elude

You can allude (refer) to your daughter’s membership in the honorsociety when boasting about her, but a criminal tries to elude (escape)captivity. There is no such word as “illude.”

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allusion vs illusion

An allusion is a reference, something you allude to: “Her allusion to flowers reminded me that Valentine’s Day was coming.” In that English paper, don’t write “literary illusions” when you mean“all...

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almost

Like “only,” “almost” must come immediately before the word or phrase it modifies: “She almost gave a million dollars to the museum” means something quite different from “She gave almost a million ...

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alot vs a lot

Perhaps this common spelling error began because there does exist in English a word spelled “allot” which is a verb meaning to apportion or grant. The correct form, with “a” and “lot” separated by ...

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aloud vs allowed

If you think Grandma allowed the kids to eat too much ice cream, you’d better not say so aloud, or her feelings will be hurt. “Aloud” means “out loud” and refers to sounds (most often speech) that ...

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all ready vs already

“All ready” is a phrase meaning “completely prepared,” as in “As soon as I put my coat on, I’ll be all ready.” “Already,” however, is an adverb used to describe something that has happened before a...

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alright vs all right

The correct form of this phrase has become so rare in the popular press that many readers have probably never noticed that it is actually two words. But if you want to avoid irritating traditionali...

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altar vs alter

An altar is that platform at the front of a church or in a temple; to alter something is to change it.

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alternate vs alternative

Although UK authorities disapprove, in US usage, “alternate” is frequently an adjective, substituted for the older “alternative”: “an alternate route.” “Alternate” can also be a noun; a substitute ...

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altho vs although

The casual spellings “altho” and “tho” are not acceptable in formal or edited English. Stick with “although” and “though.”

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altogether vs all together

Altogether means completely or entirely. When you want say something in a group then you say all together. For example, 'They got the participants all together at the start line of the race.' Howe...

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alumnus vs alumni

<p>Alumnus is known as the Latin word used for a singular graduate of an institution usually a male. It might be of a school, university or college. </p><pre>"My dad is an alumnus of Cambridge Univ...

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amature vs amateur

<p>Amateur refers to an unprofessional who is unqualified or insufficiently skilled for a task or job.</p><pre>Dave is still an amateur at playing the guitar.</pre><p>Amature is the incorrect spell...

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ambiguous vs ambivalent

Even though the prefix “ambi-” means “both,” “ambiguous” has come to mean “unclear,” “undefined,” while “ambivalent” means “torn between two opposing feelings or views.” If your attitude cannot be ...

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ambivalent vs indifferent

If you feel pulled in two directions about some issue, you’re ambivalentabout it; but if you have no particular feelings about it, you’reindifferent.

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american

Some Canadians and more Latin Americans are understandably irritated whenUS citizens refer to themselves simply as “Americans.” Canadians (andonly Canadians) use the term “North American” to includ...

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amongst vs among

Although in America “amongst” has not dated nearly as badly as “whilst,” it is still less common in standard speech than “among.” The -st forms are still widely used in the UK.

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amoral vs immoral

“Amoral” is a rather technical word meaning “unrelated to morality.”When you mean to denounce someone’s behavior, call it “immoral.”

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ampitheater vs amphitheater

The classy way to pronounce the first syllable of this word is “amf-,” but if you choose the more popular “amp-” remember that you still have to include the H after the P when spelling it. UK-stand...

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am vs pm

<p>In countries that do not use a 24-hour clock, ‘AM’ and ‘PM’ are used to distinguish the time of day. ‘AM’ starts at midnight (12:00 AM) and ends when the clock strikes noon. Noon is 12:00 PM, an...

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analogous

Even though “analogy” is spoken with a soft G, use a hard G in pronouncing “analogous” so that it sounds like the beginning of the word “gust.” Many people mistakenly use a soft G, which sounds lik...

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ancestor vs descendant

When Albus Dumbledore said that Lord Voldemort was “the last remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin,” more than one person noted that he had made a serious verbal bumble; and in later printings of...

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and vs or

The legal phrase “and/or,” indicating that you can either choose between two alternatives or choose both of them, has proved irresistible in other contexts and is now widely acceptable though it ir...

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anecdote vs antidote

A humorist relates “anecdotes.” The doctor prescribes “antidotes” for children who have swallowed poison. Laughter may be the best medicine, but that’s no reason to confuse these two with each other.

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angel vs angle

People who want to write about winged beings from Heaven often miscall them “angles.” A triangle has three angles. The Heavenly Host is made of angels. Just remember the adjectival form: “angelic.”...

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an historic vs a historic

You should use “an” before a word beginning with an “H” only if the “H”is not pronounced: “an honest effort”; it’s properly “a historic event”though many sophisticated speakers somehow prefer the s...

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anteclimax vs anticlimax

When an exciting build-up leads to a disappointing end, the result is an anticlimax—the opposite of a climax. The prefix “anti-” is used to indicate opposition whereas the prefix “ante-” is used to...

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antihero

In literature, theater, and film, an antihero is a central character who is not very admirable: weak, lazy, incompetent, or mean-spirited. However, antiheroes are rarely actually evil, and you shou...

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anxious vs eager

Most people use “anxious”interchangeably with “eager,” but its original meaning had to do with worrying, being full of anxiety. Perfectly correct phrases like, “anxious to please” obscure the nervo...

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anymore vs any more

In the first place, the traditional (though now uncommon) spelling is as two words: “any more” as in “We do not sell bananas any more.” In the second place, it should not be used at the beginning o...

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anyone vs any one

When it means “anybody,” “anyone” is spelled as a single word: “anyone can enter the drawing.”But when it means “any single one,” “any one” is spelled as two words: “any one of the tickets may win.”

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anytime vs any time

Though it is often compressed into a single word by analogy with “anywhere” and similar words, “any time” is traditionally a two-word phrase.

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anyways vs anyway

There is no material difference between anyway and anyways. Both mean anyhow. Any way is a different matter, however. Your friend is a spot of a bother and you say to her, 'Can I help you in any wa...

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any where vs anywhere

<p>Please go anywhere, nowhere or somewhere but do not put a space between "where" and "any"/"no"/"some". Any where is a misspelling. Anywhere is correct.</p><p>Anywhere is a single word that m...

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apart vs a part

Paradoxically, the one-word form implies separation while the two-wordform implies union. Feuding roommates decide to live apart. Their timetogether may be a part of their life they will remember w...

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apiece vs a piece

<p>Apiece is a non comparable adjective that means each by itself, by a single one, to a share of each.</p><pre>"The trader sold the pearls, a dollar apiece."</pre><p>A piece means one part out of ...

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apostrophes vs

First let’s all join in a hearty curse of the grammarians who insertedthe wretched apostrophe into possessives in the first place. It was alla mistake. Our ancestors used to write “Johns hat” meani...

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appauled vs appalled

<p>I will be appalled if you use "appauled" in a sentence. Just replace the "u" in "appauled" by "l" and you will be correct. "Appauled" is a misspelling. "Appalled" is correct.</p><p>Appalled refe...

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appose vs oppose

<p>Oppose means to face something or somebody else in disagreement. It can be used to describe the physical location of items or disagreeing ideas.</p><pre>A. "The table and chair are opposed to on...

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appraise vs apprise

When you estimate the value of something, you appraise it. When you inform people of a situation, you apprise them of it.

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apropos vs appropriate

<p>Apropos means of an appropriate or pertinent nature, not quite by the way or incidental.</p><pre>"Our meeting was apropos, you couldn't have expected a much different reaction."</pre><p>Appropri...

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arab vs arabic vs arabian

Arabs are a people whose place of ethnic origin is the Arabian Peninsula. The language which they speak, and which has spread widely to other areas, is Arabic. “Arabic” is not generally used as an ...

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around vs about

<p>Around means generally, from place to place or from one place to the other.</p><pre>"There are rumours going around about your relationship with Sam."</pre><p>About describes the motion of the c...

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arrant vs errant

In modern English “arrant” is usually used to describe someone notorious, thoroughly shameless: an arrant villain, an arrant thief. It has a rather old-fashioned air to it, and is often used in ant...

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arthuritis vs arthritis

If there were such a word as “arthuritis” it might mean the overwhelming desire to pull swords out of stones; but that ache in your joints is caused by “arthritis.”

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artic vs arctic

Although some brand names have incorporated this popular error, remember that the Arctic Circle is an arc. By the way, Ralph Vaughan Williams called his suite drawn from the score of the film Scott...

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artisanal vs artesian

For the past half-century foodies have referred to foods and drinks made in small batches by hand using traditional methods as artisanal—made by artisans: workers in handicrafts. It has also been e...

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as vs that, who

In some American dialects it is common to say things like “I see lots of folks as hasn’t got the sense to come in out out of the rain.” In standard English, the expression would be “folks that” or ...

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as best as vs as best

You can try to be as good as you can be, but it's not standard to say that you do something “as best as you can.” You need to eliminate the second “as” when “good” changes to “best.” You can try to...

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ascared vs scared

The misspelling “ascared” is probably influenced by the spelling of the synonym “afraid,” but the standard English word is “scared.”

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ascent vs assent

“Assent” is a verb meaning “agreement,” “consent.” “Ascent” is a noun meaning “climb.” When you get people to agree with you, you gain their assent. When you climb a mountain, you make an ascent.

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ascribe vs subscribe

If you agree with a theory or belief, you subscribe to it, just as you subscribe to a magazine.Ascribe is a very different word. If you ascribe a belief to someone, you are attributing the belief t...

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as far as vs as far as *** is concerned

Originally people used to say things like “As far as music is concerned, I especially love Baroque opera.” Recently they have begun to drop the “is concerned” part of the phrase. Perhaps this shift...

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as follow vs as follows

“My birthday requests are as follows.” This standard phrase doesn’tchange number when the items to follow grow from one to many. It’s nevercorrect to say “as follow.”

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asocial vs antisocial

Someone who doesn’t enjoy socializing at parties might be described aseither “asocial” or “antisocial’; but “asocial” is too mild a term todescribe someone who commits an antisocial act like planti...

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as of yet vs yet

“As of yet” is a windy and pretentious substitute for plain old English“yet” or “as yet,” an unjustified extension of the pattern in sentenceslike “as of Friday the 27th of May.”

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aspect vs respect

<p>Aspect refers to the way something appears when viewed from a unique direction. It has several figurative uses applicable to specific sentences.</p><pre>"My Boss says my pitch wasn't quite convi...

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as per vs in accordance with

“Enclosed is the shipment of #2 toggle bolts as per your order of June 14” writes the businessman, unaware that not only is the “as” redundant, he is sounding very old-fashioned and pretentious. Th...

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assess

“Assess” is a transitive verb; it needs an object. You can assess your team’s chances of winning the bowl game; but you cannot assess that they are playing better than last year. “Assess” is not an...

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as such

The expression “as such” has to refer to some status mentioned earlier. “The CEO was a former drill sergeant, and as such expected everyone to obey his orders instantly.” In this case “such” refers...

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assure vs ensure vs insure

To “assure” a person of something is to make him or her confident of it. According to Associated Press style, to “ensure” that something happens is to make certain that it does, and to “insure” is ...

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asterick vs asterisk

Some people not only spell this word without its second S, they say it that way too. It comes from Greek asteriskos: “little star.” Tisk, tisk, remember the “-isk”; “asterick” is icky.In countries ...

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astrology vs astronomy

Modern astronomers consider astrology an outdated superstition. You’ll embarrass yourself if you use the term “astrology” to label the scientific study of the cosmos. In writing about history, howe...

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aswell vs as well

No matter how you use it, the expression “as well” is always two words, despite the fact that many people seem to think it should be spelled “aswell.” Examples: “I don’t like plastic trees as well ...

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at all

Some of us are irritated when a grocery checker asks “Do you want any help out with that at all?” “At all” is traditionally used in negative contexts: “Can’t you give me any help at all?” The curre...

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athiest vs atheist

An atheist is the opposite of a theist. Theos is Greek for “god.” Makesure the “TH” is followed immediately by an “E.”

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athlete

Tired of people stereotyping you as a dummy just because you’re a jock? One way to impress them is to pronounce “athlete” properly, with just two syllables, as “ATH-leet” instead of using the commo...

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atm machine vs atm

“ATM” means “Automated Teller Machine,” so if you say “ATM machine” you are really saying, “Automated Teller Machine machine.”

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attain vs obtain

<p>Attain means to accomplish or finish an activity successfully without any complications.</p><pre>"James already attained legendary status on clash of clans."</pre><p>Obtain means to get possessi...

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attribute vs contribute

When trying to give credit to someone, say that you attribute your success to their help, not contribute. (Of course, a politician may attribute his success to those who contribute to his campaign ...

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auger vs augur

An augur was an ancient Roman prophet, and as a verb the word means“foretell”—“their love augurs well for a successful marriage.” Don’tmix this word up with “auger,” a tool for boring holes. Some p...

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aural vs oral

“Aural” has to do with things you hear, “oral” with things you say, or relatingto your mouth.

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autobiography vs biography

When you write the story of your own life, you write an autobiography; but when you write the story of someone else’s life, it’s just a plain old biography.

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avaidable vs available

Many people mispronounce and misspell “available” as “avaidable,” whose peculiar spelling seems to be influenced by “avoidable,” a word which has opposite connotations. “Avaidable” is avoidable; av...

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avenge vs revenge

When you try to get vengeance for people who’ve been wronged, you want to avenge them. You can also avenge a wrong itself: “He avenged the murder by taking vengeance on the killer.” Substituting “r...

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away vs a way

<p>Away is the preposition you use when you tell someone to “go away!” </p><p>Way by itself is a noun meaning a road or path, or a style or manner of doing something. </p><pre>“I don’t have a way t...

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awe, shucks vs aw, shucks

“Aw, shucks,” is a traditional folksy expression of modesty. An “aw-shucks” kind of person declines to accept compliments. “Aw” is an interjection roughly synonymous with “oh.” “Awe” is a noun whic...

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a while vs awhile

Awhile means for sometime. For example, 'This is a tough job and will take awhile to get over.' On the other hand when while is an object to a prepositional phrase it needs to be separated from 'a'...

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ax vs ask

The dialectical pronunciation of “ask” as “ax” suggests to most people that the speaker has a substandard education. You should avoid it in formal speaking situations.

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axel vs axle

The center of a wheel is its axle. An axel is a tricky jump in figureskating named after Axel Paulsen.

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allusive vs elusive vs illusive

When a lawyer alludes to his client’s poor mother, he is being allusive. When the mole keeps eluding the traps you’ve set in the garden, it’s being elusive. We also speak of matters that are diffic...

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a whole ’nother vs a completely different

It is one thing to use the expression “a whole ’nother” as a consciously slangy phrase suggesting rustic charm and a completely different matter to use it mistakenly. The A at the beginning of the ...

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