Troublesome words

Troublesome words


affect, effect: As a verb, affect means to influence (“Smoking may affect your health”) or to adopt a pose or manner.

Effect as a verb means to accomplish

(“The prisoners effected an escape”).

As a noun, the word needed is almost always effect

(as in “The damaging effects of war”).

Affect as a noun has a narrow psychological meaning to do with emotional states.

– as to whether: Whether alone is sufficient.

a while, awhile: To write “for awhile” is wrong because the idea of “for” is implicit in awhile.

Write either “I will stay here for a while” or “I will stay here awhile”.

– bereft: “Many children leave school altogether bereft of mathematical skills”

(The Times, cited by Kingsley Amis in The State Of The Language).

To be bereft of something is not to lack it but to be dispossessed of it. A spinster is not bereft of a husband, but a widow is.

– Big Ben: Strictly speaking, is not the famous clock on the Houses Of Parliament, but just the great hour bell. The formal name of the clock, for what it is worth, is the clock on St Stephen’s Tower on the Palace Of Westminster.

compel, impel:

While both words imply the application of force leading to some form of action, they are not quite synonymous.

Compel is the stronger of the two and, like its cousin compulsion, suggests action undertaken as a result of coercion or irresistible pressure: “The man’s bullying tactics compelled me to step forward”. Impel is closer to “encourage”.

comprise: Comprised of is a common expression, but it is always wrong. Comprise means to contain.

discreet, discrete:

The first means circumspect, careful, showing good judgement

(“He promised to be discreet in his inquiries”).

The second menas unattached or unrelated

(“The compound was composed of discrete particles”).

dos and don’ts: Not do’s.

each and every: Bryson says this is a trite way of providing emphasis, redundant. He also advises to avoid using each individual.

embarrass, embarrassment: Both are quite often misspelled.

first and foremost: Choose one, says Bryson.

forbear, forebear:

The first is a verb meaning to avoid or refrain from.

The second is a noun and means ancestor.

forever, for ever:

In American usage forever is always one word.

 In Britain traditionally it has been two words (Fowler insisted on it),

but more and more dictionaries give forever as an alternative or even first choice. The OED makes a useful distinction between for ever (meaning for all time) and forever (meaning continually).

George Town, Georgetown:

The first is capital of the Cayman Islands and the principal city of the island and state of Penang in Malaysia (my emphasis).

The second is capital of Guyana and a district and university in Washington, DC.





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