Common Errors Starting with D

dairy vs diary

A common typo that won’t be caught by your spelling checker is swapping “dairy” and “diary.” Butter and cream are dairy products; your journal is your diary.

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damped vs dampened

When the vibration of a wheel is reduced it is damped, but when youdrive through a puddle your tire is dampened. “Dampened” always has todo with wetting, if only metaphorically: “The announcement t...

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dangling and misplaced modifiers

Dangling and misplaced modifiers are discussed at length in usage guides partly because they are very common and partly because there are many different kinds of them. But it is not necessary to un...

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daring-do vs derring-do

The expression logically should be “feats of daring-do” because that’s just what it means: deeds of extreme daring. But through a chain of misunderstandings explained in the Oxford English Dictiona...

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data vs datum

There are several words with Latin or Greek roots whose plural forms ending in A are constantly mistaken for singular ones. See, for instance, and . “Datum” is so rare now in English that people ma...

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dateline vs deadline

<p>Dateline is a register word for newspaper publishing. It refers to a section of a newspaper where the location and place of publishing is printed and typed in italics.</p><p>Deadline means the t...

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deal

Popular expressions like “not that big a deal” and “what’s the deal?” in which “deal” stands vaguely for something like “situation” are fine in casual spoken English, but inappropriate in formal wr...

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dealed vs dealt

<p>Dealt is the correct past tense of deal which means to have something to do with something or someone. It could mean an offensive action &nbsp;towards someone.</p><pre>"We had a deal that you wo...

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death nail vs death knell, nail in the coffin

“Death nail” is a result of confusing two expressions with similar meanings. The first is “death knell.” When a large bell (like a church bell) rings—or tolls—it knells. When a bell is rung slowly ...

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debrief

“Debrief” has leaked out of the military and national security realms into the business world, where people seem pretty confused about it. When you send people out on missions, you brief them—give ...

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deceptively

If you say of a soldier that he is “deceptively brave” you might be understood to mean that although he appears cowardly he is actually brave, or that although he appears brave he is actually cowar...

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decimate vs annihilate, slaughter, etc.

This comes under the heading of the truly picky. Despite the fact that most dictionaries have caved in, some of us still remember that when the Romans killed one out of every ten (decem) soldiers i...

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deep-seeded vs deep-seated

Those who pine for the oral cultures of Ye Olden Dayes can rejoice as we enter an era where many people are unfamiliar with common expressions in print and know them only by hearsay.* The result is...

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defence vs defense

If you are writing for a British publication, use “defence,” but the American “defense” has the advantages of greater antiquity, similarity to the words from which it was derived, and consistency w...

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definate vs definite

Any vowel in an unstressed position can sometimes have the sound linguists call a “schwa:” “uh.” The result is that many people tend to guess when they hear this sound, but “definite” is definitely...

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defamation vs deformation

Someone who defames you, seeking to destroy your reputation (making you ill-famed), is engaging in defamation of character. Only if someone succeeded in actually making you a worse person could you...

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defuse vs diffuse

You defuse a dangerous situation by treating it like a bomb and removing its fuse; to diffuse, in contrast, is to spread something out: “Bob’s cheap cologne diffused throughout the room, wrecking t...

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degrade vs denigrate vs downgrade

Many people use “downgrade” instead of “denigrate” to mean “defame, slander.” “Downgrade” is entirely different in meaning. When something is downgraded, it is lowered in grade (usually made worse)...

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degree titles

”When you are writing phrases like “bachelor’s degree,” “master of artsdegree” and “doctor of philosophy degree” use all lower-case spelling.Less formally, these are often abbreviated to “bachelor’...

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deja vu

In French déjà vu means literally “already seen” and usually refers to something excessively familiar. However the phrase, sans accent marks, was introduced into English mainly as a psychological t...

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democrat vs democratic

Certain Republican members of Congress have played the childish game inrecent years of referring to the opposition as the “Democrat Party,”hoping to imply that Democrats are not truly democratic. T...

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demure vs demur

A quiet, reserved person is demure. Its second syllable begins with a kittenish “mew”: “de-MYURE.”The verb demur has several meanings, but is now used in a sense derived from law to describe the ac...

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denied of vs denied

If you are deprived of your rights you are denied them; but that’s no reason to confuse these two expressions with each other. You can’t be “denied of” anything.

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depends vs depends on

In casual speech, we say “it depends who plays the best defense”; but inwriting follow “depends” with “on.”

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depravation vs deprivation

There is a rare word spelled “depravation” which has to do with something being depraved, corrupted, perverted.But the spelling you’re more likely to need is “deprivation,” which has to do with bei...

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depreciate vs deprecate

To depreciate something is to actually make it worse, whereas todeprecate something is simply to speak or think of it in a manner thatdemonstrates your low opinion of it. People who make unflatteri...

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de rigueur

The French phrase de rigueur means “required,” “mandatory” (usually according to custom, etiquette, or fashhion). It’s one of those tricky words like “liqueur” with a U before the E and another one...

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derisory vs derisive

Although “derisory” and “derisive” can both mean “laughable,” there are sometimes subtle distinctions made between them. “Derisory” is most often used to mean “worthy of being laughed at,” especial...

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desert vs dessert

Perhaps these two words are confused partly because “dessert” is one ofthe few words in English with a double “S” pronounced like “Z"("brassiere” is another). That impoverished stretch of sand call...

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desirable vs desirous

<p>Desirable can be described as something that people really want, it is suitable and is worthy to be desired.</p><pre>"Mary's new hairstyle makes her even more desirable."</pre><p>Desirous means ...

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deviant vs deviate

The technical term used by professionals to label someone whose behavior deviates from the norm is “deviate,” but if you want to tease a perv friend you may as well call him a “deviant”—that’s what...

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device vs devise

“Device” is a noun. A can-opener is a device. “Devise” is a verb. Youcan devise a plan for opening a can with a sharp rock instead. Only inlaw is “devise” properly used as a noun, meaning something...

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dialogue vs discuss

“Dialogue” as a verb in sentences like “the Math Department willdialogue with the Dean about funding” is commonly used jargon inbusiness and education settings, but abhorred by traditionalists. Say...

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differ vs vary

“Vary” can mean “differ,” but saying “our opinions vary” makes itsound as if they were changing all the time when what you really meanis “our opinions differ.” Pay attention to context when choosin...

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different than vs different from vs to

Americans say “Scuba-diving is different from snorkeling,” the Britishoften say “different to” (though most UK style guides disapprove), and those who don’t know any better say“different than.” How...

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dike vs dyke

In the US the barrier preventing a flood is called a “dike.” “Dyke” is a term for a type of lesbian, generally considered insulting but adopted as a label for themselves by some lesbians.

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dilemma vs difficulty

A dilemma is a difficult choice, not just any difficulty or problem.Whether to invite your son’s mother to his high school graduation whenyour current wife hates her is a dilemma. Cleaning up after...

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dire straights vs dire straits

When you are threading your way through troubles as if you weretraversing a dangerously narrow passage you are in “dire straits.” Theexpression and the band by that name are often transformed by th...

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directions

Compass points like “north,” “east,” “south,” and “west” are not capitalized when they are mere directions: the geese fly south for the winter and the sun sets in the west.Capitalize these words on...

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disasterous vs disastrous

“Disastrous” has only three syllables, and is pronounced diz-ASS-truss. Because of its relationship to the word “disaster” many people insert an extra second syllable when speaking the word aloud, ...

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disburse vs disperse

You disburse money by taking it out of your purse (French “bourse”) anddistributing it. If you refuse to hand out any money, the eager mob ofbeggars before you may disperse (scatter).

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disc vs disk

“Compact disc” is spelled with a “C” because that’s how its inventorsdecided it should be rendered; but a computer hard disk is spelled witha “K” In modern technologicalcontexts, “disks” usually re...

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disconcerning vs concerning, discerning

<p>Concerning means that which affects one's happiness or welfare. It is an expression of solicitude, anxiety and compassion towards a thing or person.</p><pre>"I've been wanting to speak to you co...

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discreet vs discrete

An individually distinct entity is a discrete entity while when you show good judgment you are are being discreet. The minister cavalcade followed the queen's motorcade at a discreet distance and t...

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discretion is the better part of valor

In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I when Prince Hal finds the cowardly Falstaff pretending to be dead on the battlefield, the prince assumes he has been killed. After the prince leaves the stage, Fal...

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discussed vs disgust

“Discussed” is the past tense of the verb “discuss.” Don’t substitute for it the noun “disgust” in such sentences as “The couple’s wedding plans were thoroughly discussed.”

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disease names

The medical profession has urged since the 1970s the dropping of the possessive S at the end of disease names which were originally named after their discoverers (“eponymous disease names”). The po...

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disgression vs discretion

<p>Discretion means the freedom to make wise decisions and choices. It entails being discreet completely.</p><pre>"Viewers discretion is advised."</pre><p>Disgression is a non existent word that of...

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dispose vs dispose of

If you want to get rid of your stuff you may dispose of it on Freecyle or Craigslist. A great many people mistakenly dispose of the “of” in this phrase, writing sentences like “Dispose your unwante...

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disremember vs forget

“Disremember” is an old synonym for “forget,” but it is often considered dialectical today, not standard English.

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disrespect

The hip-hop subculture has revived the use of “disrespect” as a verb. In the meaning to have or show disrespect, this usage has been long established, if unusual. However, the new street meaning of...

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dissemble vs disassemble

People who dissemble are being dishonest, trying to hide what they are really up to. This is an uncommon word, often misused when “disassemble” is meant. People who disassemble something take it ap...

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dew vs do vs doo vs due

<p>Dew is known as the moisture in the air that settles on plants at dawn resulting in drops.</p><pre>"The morning dew feels cold on my skin."</pre><p>Do means to execute or perform an action as a ...

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doctorial vs doctoral

<p>Doctoral is having close relationship with the highest degree awarded by a university faculty.</p><pre>"My Dad has started attending his doctoral classes."</pre><p>Doctorial is an archaic form o...

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dolly vs handcart

A dolly is a flat platform with wheels on it, often used to make heavyobjects mobile, or by an auto mechanic lying on one under a car body.Many people mistakenly use this word to designate the vert...

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dominate vs dominant

The verb is “dominate” the adjective is “dominant.” The dominant chimpanzee tends to dominate the others.

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done vs did

The past participle of “do” is “done,” so it’s not “they have did whatthey promised not to do” but “they have done. . . .” But without ahelping verb, the word is “did.” Nonstandard: “I done good on...

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do respect vs due respect

When you preface your critical comments by telling people “with all due respect” you are claiming to give them the respect they are due—that which is owed them. Many folks misunderstand this phrase...

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do’s and don’ts vs dos and don’ts

One unusual use of apostrophes is to mark plurals of words when they are being treated as words, as in “pro’s and con’s,” although plain old “pros and cons” without apostrophes is fine. But “don’t”...

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double negatives

It is not true, as some assert, that double negatives are always wrong; but the pattern in formal speech and writing is that two negatives equal a mild positive: “he is a not untalented guitarist” ...

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double possessive

In “that dog of Bob’s is ugly,“ there are two indicators of possession: “of” and “Bob’s.” Although this sort of expression is common in casual speech, in formal writing it’s better to stick with ju...

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doubt that vs doubt whether vs doubt if

If you really doubt that something is true (suspect that it’s false), use “doubt that”: “I doubtthat Fred has really lost 25 pounds.” If you want to express uncertainty, use “whether”: “I doubt whe...

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douse vs dowse

You douse a fire with water; you dowse for water with a dowsing rod. Unless you are discussing the latter practice, the word you want is “douse.”

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dove vs dived

Although “dove” is a common form of the past tense of “dive,” a fewauthorities consider “dived” preferable in formal writing.

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downfall vs drawback

A downfall is something that causes a person’s destruction, either literal or figurative: “expensive cars were Fred’s downfall: he spent his entire inheritance on them and went bankrupt.” A drawbac...

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download vs upload

Most people do far more downloading (transferring files to their computers) than uploading (transferring files from their computers), so it’s not surprising that they often use the first word for t...

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dozen of vs dozen

Why isn’t it “a dozen of eggs” when it’s standard to say “a couple of eggs”? The answer is that “dozen” is a precise number word, like “two” or “hundred”; we say “two eggs,” “a hundred eggs,” and “...

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drank vs drunk

<p>Drank is the simple past tense of the word drink, which means to consume a liquid through the mouth. It is also a slang word for an alcoholic drink.</p><pre>"Thomas drank the coffee before headi...

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drastic vs dramatic

<p>Drastic means an extremely severe yet violent action or decision that is bound to have negative effects and attendant consequences.</p><pre>"I took drastic measures in protecting the package."</...

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dribble vs drivel

<p>Dribble means to let saliva run down from the mouth, as in drool, except for in sports where it means to handle the ball beautifully against an opponent.</p><pre>"Dennis dribbled while he slept ...

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drier vs dryer

<p>Dryer is an appliance that dries water or humidity from clothing or hair by accelerating evaporation through heat.<br></p><p>"I need to buy a new hair dryer, the old got broken."</p><p>Drier is ...

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drips and drabs vs dribs and drabs

Something doled out in miserly amounts is provided in “dribs and drabs.” A drib is a smaller relative of a dribble. Nobody seems to be sure what a drab is in this sense, except that it's a tiny bit...

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drive vs disk

A hard drive and a hard disk are much the same thing; but when it comes to removable computer media, the drive is the machinery that turns and reads the disk. Be sure not to ask for a drive when al...

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dredge vs drudge vs trudge

You use machinery to scoop stuff up from underwater—called a dredge—to dredge up gunk or debris from the bottom of a river or lake. Metaphorically, you also dredge up old memories, the past, or obj...

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drug vs dragged

<p>Dragged is the past tense of the verb drag which means to pull someone or something forcibly.</p><pre>"The teacher dragged the arrogant boy out of the classroom."</pre><p>Drug as a noun is a sub...

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dual vs duel

“Dual” is an adjective describing the two-ness of something—dual carburetors, for instance. A “duel” is a formal battle intended to settle a dispute.

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duck tape vs duct tape

A commercial firm has named its product “Duck Tape,” harking back to the original name for this adhesive tape (which was green), developed by Johnson & Johnson during World War II to waterproof amm...

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due to the fact that vs because

Although “due to” is now a generally acceptable synonym for “because,""due to the fact that” is a clumsy and wordy substitute that should beavoided in formal writing. “Due to” is often misspelled “...

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duly vs dully

To do something “dully” is to do it in a dull manner. Too often people use this word when they mean “duly,” which means “properly.” Something duly done is done properly; something done dully is jus...

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dyeing vs dying

If you are using dye to change your favorite t-shirt from white to blueyou are dyeing it; but if you don’t breathe for so long that your faceturns blue, you may be dying.

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damp squid vs damp squib

Squid are indeed usually damp in their natural environment; but the popular British expression describing a less than spectacular explosion is a “damp squib” (soggy firecracker).

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