Common Errors Starting with S

sentence fragments

There are actually many fine uses for sentence fragments. Here’s a brief scene from an imaginary Greek tragedy composed entirely of fragments:Menelaus: Aha! Helen!Helen (startled): Beloved husband!...

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sacred vs scared

This is one of those silly typos which your spelling checker won’tcatch: gods are sacred, the damned in Hell are scared.

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sacreligious vs sacrilegious

Doing something sacrilegious involves committing sacrilege. Don’t letthe related word “religious” trick you into misspelling the word as“sacreligious.”

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safety deposit box vs safe deposit box

Those who prefer “safe deposit box” feel that the box in question is a container for the safe deposit of goods; it is not a box in which to deposit your safety. But manufacturers and dealers in thi...

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sail vs sale vs sell

<p>Sail is a piece of fabric attached to a ship and positioned such that it causes the wind to move the boat along briskly on water.</p><pre>"The sail of is an important piece of the ship.</pre><p>...

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salsa sauce vs salsa

“Salsa” is Spanish for “sauce,” so “salsa sauce” is redundant. Here in the US, where people now spend more on salsa than on ketchup (or catsup, if you prefer), few people are unaware that it’s a sa...

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same difference

This is a jokey, deliberately illogical slang expression that doesn’tbelong in formal writing.

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samwich vs sandwich

In some dialects, “sandwich” is pronounced “samwich.” In standard English the first syllable is pronounced exactly the way it’s spelled, like the word for sand at a beach.

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sang vs sung

<p>Sang is the past tense of the word sing which means to produce harmonious or musical sounds with one's voice. It can be referred to as a singing that happened in the past.</p><p>"I sang for some...

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sarcastic vs ironic

Not all ironic comments are sarcastic. Sarcasm is meant to mock orwound. Irony can be amusing without being maliciously aimed at hurtinganyone.

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satellite

Originally a satellite was a follower. Astronomers applied the term to smaller bodies orbiting about planets, like our moon. Then we began launching artificial satellites. Since few people were fam...

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say vs tell

You say “Hello, Mr. Chips” to the teacher, and then tell him about whatyou did last summer. You can’t “tell that” except in expressions like"go tell that to your old girlfriend."

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scarcely

“Scarcely” is a negative adverb and shouldn’t have another negative word used with it. “She couldn’t scarcely afford the bus fare” should be “She could scarcely afford the bus fare.”

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sceptic vs skeptic

Believe it or not, the British spellings are “sceptic” and “scepticism”; the American spellings are “skeptic” and “skepticism.”

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sci-fi vs science fiction, sf

“Sci-fi,” the widely used abbreviation for “science fiction,” is objectionable to most professional science fiction writers, scholars, and many fans. Some of them scornfully designate alien monster...

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schizophrenic

In popular usage, “schizophrenic” (and the more slangy and now dated “schizoid”) indicates “split between two attitudes.” This drives people with training in psychiatry crazy. “Schizo-” does indeed...

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scone vs sconce

If you fling a jam-covered biscuit at the wall and it sticks, the result may be a “wall scone”; but if you are describing a wall-mounted light fixture, the word you want is sconce.

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scotch vs scots

Scottish people generally refer to themselves as “Scots” or “Scottish” rather than “Scotch.” “Scotch” is whisky (or in the US, “whiskey.”)

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scotch free vs scot free

Getting away with something “scot free” has nothing to do with the Scots (or Scotch). The scot was a medieval tax; if you evaded paying it you got off scot free. Some people wrongly suppose this ph...

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scrapegoat vs scapegoat

Leviticus 16: 5-10 describes an ancient ritual in which a goat was symbolically laden with the sins of the people and driven out into the desert to the demon Azazel. In early English translations c...

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sea change

In Shakespeare’s Tempest, Ariel deceitfully sings to Ferdinand:Full fathom five thy father lies;Of his bones are coral made;Those are pearls that were his eyes:Nothing of him that doth fadeBut doth...

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seam vs seem

<p>A seam is a place where two things are joined together. </p><pre>“The seam in my pants is ripping.” </pre><p>‘Seem’ is a verb with many practical uses in English. It can give an impression or fe...

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second of all vs second

“First of all” makes sense when you want to emphasize the primacy of the first item in a series, but it should not be followed by “second of all,” where the expression serves no such function. And ...

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saw vs seen

In standard English, it’s “I” ve seen” not “I” ve saw.” The helping verb"have” (abbreviated here to “” ve”) requires “seen.” In the simple past(no helping verb), the expression is “I saw,” not “I s...

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segway vs segue

When you shift to a new topic or activity, you segue. Many people unfamiliar with the unusual Italian spelling of the word misspell it as “segway.” This error is being encouraged by the deliberatel...

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select vs selected

<p>Select means to choose one or more elements of a unique set, could be of items, ideas or options out of privilege.</p><p>"I was asked to select the best out of the candidates."</p><p>Selected is...

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self-worth vs self-esteem

To say that a person has a low sense of self-worth makes sense, though it’s inelegant; but people commonly truncate the phrase, saying instead, “He has low self-worth.” This would literally mean th...

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self-steam vs self esteem

If you bask in the sauna, you may self-steam. But the expression labeling people’s opinions of their own worth is “self-esteem.”“Self-esteem” is also sometimes misspelled “self of steam.”

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sense vs since

<p>Sense means one of the methods for a living being to gather relatable information about the world; sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. It can also be said to mean a general conscious awarene...

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sense of false hope vs false sense of hope

If you’re trying to lull someone into hopefulness you don’t want to give them a sense of false hope. Rather, you want to make them feel really hopeful, although such hope is unjustified. So what yo...

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sensual vs sensuous

“Sensual” usually relates to physical desires and experiences, and oftenmeans “sexy.” But “sensuous” is more often used for esthetic pleasures,like “sensuous music.” The two words do overlap a good...

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service vs serve

<p>Service is an event in which an individual takes the responsibility that something desirable happens on behalf of someone else. It is also a state of being subordinated to an individual or a gro...

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set vs sit

In some dialects people say “come on in and set a spell,” but instandard English the word is “sit.” You set down an object or a childyou happen to be carrying; but those seating themselves sit. If ...

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setup vs set up

Technical writers sometimes confuse “setup” as a noun (“check thesetup” ) with the phrase “set up” (“set up the experiment”).

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shall vs will

Will” has almost entirely replaced “shall” in American English exceptin legal documents and in questions like “Shall we have red wine withthe duck?

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shan’t vs shall not

The use of the contraction “shan’t” for “shall not” is more common in the UK than in the US, where it may strike readers as a bit old-fashioned. Americans are are more likely to say “will not” in t...

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shear vs sheer

You can cut through cloth with a pair of shears, but if the cloth is translucent it’s sheer. People who write about a “shear blouse” do so out of sheer ignorance.

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sheath vs sheaf

If you take your knife out of its sheath (case) you can use it to cut a sheaf (bundle) of wheat to serve as a centerpiece.

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sherbert vs sherbet

The name for these icy desserts is derived from Turkish/Persian sorbet, but the R in the first syllable seems to seduce many speakers into adding one in the second, where it doesn’t belong. A Calif...

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shimmy vs shinny

<p>Shimmy is an abnormal vibration especially in the wheels of a vehicle which could be caused by a broken wheel. It also means to climb something (like a pole) gradually using alternately one's ar...

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shined vs shone

The transitive form of the verb “shine” is ”shined.” If the context describes something shining on something else, use “shined”: “He shined his flashlight on the skunk eating from the dog dish.” Yo...

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shoe-in vs shoo-in

A race horse so fast that you can merely shoo it across the finish line rather than having to urge it on with stronger measures is a “shoo-in”: an easy winner. It is particularly unfortunate when t...

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shone vs shown

<p>Shone is the past tense of shine which is to emit, reflect and radiate light with much brightness in a glow (of the past).</p><pre>"The pearl shone in the dark."</pre><p>Shown is the past partic...

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shook vs shaken

<p>Shook is the past tense of the original word, shake which means to move something from side to side. It also means to cause something to move rapidly in opposite directions.</p><pre>"Mama said s...

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should vs would

Where a British person might say “I should like an apple” an American would be more likely to say “I would like an apple.” In the US, “should” is largely confined to the meaning “ought to.”

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shoulder on vs soldier on

Soldiers are expected to do their duty despite all obstacles, and that’s why we say that a person who perseveres soldiers on. But because “soldier” is rarely used as a verb in modern English, many ...

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shrunk vs shrank

<p>Shrink, shrank, shrunk are three forms of the same verb. To shrink means to become smaller. Shrank is the past tense, and shrunk is the past participle.</p><pre>"I’m so sad because I washed my f...

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sick vs sic

The command given to a dog, “sic ’em,” derives from the word “seek.” The 1992 punk rock album titled “Sick ’Em” has helped popularize the common misspelling of this phrase. Unless you want to tell ...

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sierra nevada mountains vs sierra nevadas

Sierra is Spanish for “sawtooth mountain range,” so knowledgeable Westernersusually avoid a redundancy by simply referring to “the Sierra Nevadas”or simply “the Sierras.” Transplanted weather forec...

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signaled out vs singled out

When a single individual is separated out from a larger group, usually by being especially noticed or treated differently, that individual is being “singled out.” This expression has nothing to do ...

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silicon vs silicone

<p>Silicon is a nonmetallic element (symbol Si) with an atomic number of 14 and atomic weight of 28.0855.</p><pre>"An example of a nonmetallic element is Silicon."</pre><p>Silicone is a chemical te...

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simplistic

“Simplistic” means “overly simple,” and is always used negatively. Don’t substitute it when you just mean to say “simple” or even “very simple.”

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single quotes

In standard American writing, the only use for single quotation marks is to designate a quotation within a quotation. Students are exposed by Penguin Books and other publishers to the British pract...

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sir vs dame

The English titles “Sir” and “Dame” should never be used with a last name only. It’s “Sir Paul McCartney” or “Sir Paul,” but never “Sir McCartney.” Similarly, it’s “Dame Helen Mirren” or “Dame Hele...

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sister-in-laws vs sisters-in-law

Your spouse’s female siblings are not your sister-in-laws, but your sisters-in-law. The same pattern applies to brothers-in-law, fathers-in-law, and mothers-in-law.

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slight of hand vs sleight of hand

“Sleight” is an old word meaning “cleverness, skill,” and the properexpression is “sleight of hand.” It’s easy to understand why it’sconfused with “slight’since the two words are pronounced in exac...

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slog it out vs slug it out

Slogging is a slow, messy business, typically tramping through sticky mud or metaphorically struggling with other difficult tasks. You might slog through a pile of receipts to do your taxes. If you...

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slow gin vs sloe gin

A small European plum named a “sloe” is used to flavor the liqueur called “sloe gin.” You should probably sip it slowly, but that has nothing to do with its name.

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snuck vs sneaked

In American English “snuck” has become increasingly common as the past tense of “sneak.” This is one of many cases in whichpeople’s humorously self-conscious use of dialect has influencedothers to ...

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so vs very

Originally people said things like, “I was so delighted with the wrapping that I couldn’t bring myself to open the package.” But then they began to lazily say “You made me so happy,” no longer expl...

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soar vs sore

<p>Soar is an upward flight that allows something or someone to hover into the air with little effort. </p><pre>"Joe once said that he wanted to soar high into the clouds."</pre><p>Sore is an injur...

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social vs societal

“Societal” as an adjective has been in existence for a couple of centuries, but has become widely used only in the recent past. People who imagine that “social” has too many frivolous connotations ...

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so fun vs so much fun

<p>So fun is used to express excitement at something, an action, occurrence or event.</p><pre>"It was so fun to hang with those guys today."</pre><p>So much fun is also used to express fun at somet...

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sojourn vs journey

Although the spelling of this word confuses many people into thinking it means “journey,” a sojourn is actually a temporary stay in one place. If you’re constantly on the move, you’re not engaged i...

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sole vs soul

<p>Sole could mean the only one or it can be described as a wooden band put around the neck of an ox in the stall.</p><pre>"Your sole responsibility is taking care of that child."</pre><p>Soul is t...

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somebody vs someone

“Somebody” and “someone” can be treated as either plural or singular, depending on the context. When no one individual person is identified, these words are usually treated as plural: “When somebod...

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summersault vs somersault

<p>Summersault is an archaic spelling of the word, somersault. It is no longer acceptable in the current age and time. It should be avoided in official writings and documentations.</p><p>Somersault...

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sometime vs some time

Sometime is not a specific timeframe in the future. For example, say that your friend has done a favor to you and you want to thank her. You say to her, 'Thanks for your help. I hope I am able to r...

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sometimes not always vs sometimes vs not always

Expressions like “not always,” “don’t always,” and “aren’t always” overlap in meaning with “sometimes,” but don’t belong in the same phrase with this word—they’re redundant. “Sometimes I don’t alwa...

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someways vs somehow

“Someways” Mark managed to catch his beard in his jacket zipper.” “Someways” in this sense is slangy. “Somehow” is standard.

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somewheres vs somewhere

You may hear someone say things like “the yeast is somewheres in the baking aisle.” The spelling “somewheres” is not standard; use “somewhere” instead.

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song vs work or composition

When you’re writing that cultural event report based on last night’s symphony concert, don’t call the music performed “songs.’songs are strictly pieces of music which are sung—by singers. Instrumen...

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sooner vs rather

“I’d sooner starve than eat what they serve in the cafeteria” is lessformal than “I’d rather starve.”

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sort after vs sought after

Something popular which many people are searching for is “sought after”. If you are sorting a thing, you’ve presumably already found it. When this phrase precedes a noun or noun phrase which it mod...

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sort of vs rather, somewhat

“Sort of” is not only slangy, it is often vague. “Dinner was sort ofexpensive” does not convey nearly as much as “the bill for dinner cameto more than he earned in a week.” The same applies to the ...

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soundbyte vs sound bite

A “sound bite” is a brief snippet of recorded speech, usually used in the context of news reporting. The term originated around 1980, long before the recording of such snippets on personal computer...

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soup du jour of the day vs soup of the day

Soupe du jour (note the E on the end of soupe) means “soup of the day.” If you’re going to use French to be pretentious on a menu, it’s important to learn the meaning of the words you’re using. Oft...

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sour grapes

In a famous fable by Aesop, a fox declared that he didn’t care that hecould not reach an attractive bunch of grapes because he imagined theywere probably sour anyway. You express sour grapes when y...

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souse chef vs sous chef

What’s a “souse chef”? Is it the fellow who adds a dash of brandy to your dessert?No, it’s just a misspelling of sous chef, a French phrase meaning “assistant chef.” The first word is pronunced jus...

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sowcow vs salchow

There’s a fancy turning jump in ice skating named after Swedish figure skater Ulrich Salchow, but every Winter Olympics millions of people think they hear the commentators saying “sowcow” and that’...

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spaces after a period

In the old days of typewriters using only monospaced fonts in which a period occupied as much horizontal space as any other letter, it was standard to double-space after each one to clearly separat...

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spaded vs spayed

If you’ve had your dog surgically sterilized, you’ve spayed it; save the spading untilit dies.

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span vs spun

Don’t say ”the demon span her head around.” The past tense of “spin” in this sense is spun.

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spare of the moment vs spur of the moment

You don’t see people wearing spurs much any more, which may explain why some are vague about the significance of metaphorical spurs. Anything that prompts you to do something can be a spur to actio...

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specially vs especially

In most contexts “specially” is more common than “especially,” but when you mean “particularly” “especially” works better: “I am not especially excited about inheriting my grandmother’s neurotic Si...

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specie vs species

In both the original Latin and in English “species” is the spelling of both the singular and plural forms. Amphiprion ocellaris is one species of clownfish. Many species of fish are endangered by o...

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spicket vs spigot

<p>Spigot is a faucet. It is known as a regulator for controlling the release, pressure, temperature of liquid (water) from a reservoir. </p><pre>"Water is dispensed from the machine, through the s...

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spiritualism

The most common meaning of “spiritualism” is belief in the possibilityof communication with the spirits of the dead.A better term for other religious beliefs and activities is“spirituality,” as in ...

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spoke vs said

<p>Spoke is a piece that fits between the axle and the round outside or rim of a wheel. It is also described as the simple past tense of speak which means to communicate with one's voice by saying ...

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sprain vs strain

So did you sprain your leg or strain it? It will take someone with medical training to say for sure. Technically, a sprain is a ligament injury and a strain is tendon or muscle injury. But don’t fr...

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spree

It used to be that a spree was mainly understood as a wild drinking carouse, with the emphasis on spontaneity and abandon. Then it was used metaphorically, as in a “shopping spree.” American journa...

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squash vs quash

You can squash a spider or a tomato; but when the meaning you intend is “to suppress,” as in rebellions or (especially) legal motions, the more sophisticated term is “quash.”

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squoze vs squeezed

<p>To squeeze is to grip or hold something tightly. We talk about squeezing the juice out of an orange or lemon, or squeezing a plastic tube of toothpaste. </p><p>Squeezed is the correct past tense...

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staid vs stayed

“Staid” is an adjective often used to label somebody who is rather stodgy and dull, a stick-in-the mud. But in modern English the past tense of the verb “stay” is “stayed”: “I stayed at the office ...

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stalactites vs stalagmites

There’s an old joke that will help you keep these straight. Remember“ants in the pants”; the mites go up and the tights come down.

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stand vs stance

<p>Stand means to be upright by supporting oneself on the feet in an erect position.</p><pre>"Stand Right!!"</pre><p>Stance is the manner, posture and pose at which someone stands. It could also me...

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standalone vs stand-alone

<p>Standalone is spelt either closed or hyphenated (stand-alone) which roughly translates to the state of being independent. It is used to describe a machine that doesn't rely on other peripherals ...

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states vs countries

Citizens of the United States, where states are smaller subdivisions ofthe country, are sometimes surprised to see “states” referring instead toforeign countries. Note that the US Department of Sta...

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stationary vs stationery

When something is standing still, it’s stationary. That piece of paper you write a letter on is stationery. Let the “E” in “stationery” remind you of “envelope.”

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stint vs stent

When the time to work comes, you’ve got to do your stint; but the medical device installed to keep an artery open is a “stent.” Even people in the medical profession who should know better often us...

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step foot vs set foot

When you want to say that you refuse to enter some location, the traditional expression is not “step foot,” but “set foot”: “I refuse to set foot in my brother-in-law’s house while he lets his vici...

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stereo

“Stereo” refers properly to a means of reproducing sound in two or more discrete channels to create a solid, apparently three-dimensional sound. Because in the early days only fanciers of high fide...

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stock and trade vs stock in trade

In this context, “trade” means “business.” The items a business trades in are its stock in trade. Metaphorically, the stuff needed by people to carry on their activities can also be called their st...

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stomp vs stamp

<p>Stomp means to step heavily on something or someone with the intention of dealing damage. An intentional downward strike with the soles of the foot.</p><pre>"It would be savage to stomp down on ...

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stood vs stayed

In standard English, “stayed” is the past tense of “stay,” and “stood” is the past tense of “stand.” If you speak a dialect which uses “stood” for the past tense of “stayed” and want to switch to s...

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straightjacket vs straitjacket

The old word “strait” (“narrow, tight”) has survived only as a noun in geography referring to a narrow body of water (“the Bering Strait”) and in a few adjectival uses such as “straitjacket” (a nar...

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straight vs strait

If something is not crooked or curved it’s straight.If it is a narrow passageway beween two bodies of water, it’s a strait. Place names like “Bering Strait” are almost always spelled “strait.”

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strength

It is nonstandard to pronounce “strength” as if it were spelled “strenth.” The same goes for “length.” Make sure to sound the “eng” in the middle of these words.

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stress on vs feel stress

“Stress on” is commonly misused to mean “to experience stress” as in “I’m stressing on the term paper I have to do.” Still informal, but better, is “I'm stressed about. . . .” In a more formal cont...

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stricken vs struck

<p>Stricken means being direly affected by an unpleasant and an unpalatable feeling or condition or trouble. It could mean appearance of showing great distress.</p><pre>"Upon hearing about the deat...

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strong suite vs strong suit

“Strong suit” is an expression derived from card-playing, in which hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades are the suits. When you put your best foot forward you play your strong suit.

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subject to vs subjected to

“I was told I could board the airplane subject to a security scan.”“At the airport I was subjected to a humiliating search.”Does it help you to distinguish between these expressions to know that “s...

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submittal vs submission

<p>Submission can be described as an action of yielding and surrendering to a superior force or power. Although traditionally, it simply means to hand over a script, project, assignment for evaluat...

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substance-free

An administrator at our university once announced that his goal was a “substance-free” campus, which I suppose fit in with the fad of the period for “virtual education.” What he really meant was, o...

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substitute with vs substitute for

You can substitute pecans for the walnuts in a brownie recipe, but manypeople mistakenly say “substitute with” instead, perhaps influenced bythe related expression “replace with.” It’s always “subs...

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succeed vs secede

If you advocate withdrawing formally from a nation or other organization, you want to secede.If you’re successful at this or anything else, you succeed.

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suffer with vs suffer from

Although technical medical usage sometimes differs, in normal speech wesay that a person suffers from a disease rather than suffering with it.

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sufficeth

“Sufficeth” is just an old spelling of “suffices,” commonly used in the King James translation of the Bible and other Renaissance religious texts. People often use it in a joking manner to give the...

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suit vs suite

<p>Suit means to accept something or an action as proper, suitable and adaptable enough to fit in. In another context, it means a set of clothes worn at the same time consisting of a matching jacke...

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sulking vs skulking

That guy sneaking furtively around the neighborhood is skulking around; that teenager brooding in his bedroom because he got grounded is sulking. “Sulking around” is not a traditional phrase.

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summary vs summery

<p>Summary is a short or encapsulated description of a longer paragraph. It usually contains the basic points of a paragraph.</p><pre>"I had to deliver a summary of my whole speech later at the gal...

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supercede vs supersede

<p>Supersede means to substitute something or surpass someone on the basis of importance.</p><pre>"As the manager of the bank, John's authority supersedes that of the cashiers and other staffs."</p...

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suppose to vs supposed to

Because the D and the T are blended into a single consonant when this phrase is pronounced, many writers are unaware that the D is even present and omit it in writing. You’re supposed to get this o...

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surfing the internet

“Channel-surfing” developed as an ironic term to denote the very unathletic activity of randomly changing channels on a television set with a remote control. Its only similarity to surfboarding on ...

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suspect vs suspicious

<p>Suspect is a person suspected of something in particular of committing a crime. It is to have distrust or have doubts about someone or something that makes one believe them to be guilty.</p><pre...

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suspicion vs suspect

When you have a suspicion about someone or something, you suspect them. It is not standard to say you “suspicion” them. “Suspicion” is only a noun, never a verb.

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swam vs swum

<p>Swam is the simple present tense of the word, swim which simply means to traverse or move through the water without reaching the bottom. It requires staying afloat or propelling through the wate...

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systematic vs systemic

By far the most common word and the one you should use if you are in doubt is “systematic.” It refers to things that are arranged or dealt with according to some system or organized method. “Gerry ...

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