Even the best writers get tripped up by certain words. When does “its” include an apostrophe? When should you use “farther” and when is “further” correct? Is it “less” people or “fewer” people? Did you “lose” your keys or “loose” them?
Sometimes even when my brain knows that correct word, my fingers are confused. I have often keyed “there” when I meant “their,” for example. We get in the flow of writing or keying, and enter the wrong word without realizing it. That is why proofreading is so important.
Even if you think you know the correct usage, here are some of the words you need to watch out for in your writing, along with some tips to help you remember which words to use in various contexts.
Accept or Except
Accept means to receive or agree to: “I accept your invitation.”
Except means all but: “I like every vegetable except okra.”
A tip to remember the difference is to think of the “x” in except as excluding.
Bring or Take
Bring is used when something is coming toward: “Please bring your spouse with you.”
Brought is the past tense: “I brought my spouse tonight.”
Take means it is going away: “Please take the dishes to the sink.”
Took is the past tense: “I took a book on the plane.”
Can or May
Can refers to ability: “I can pat my head and rub my tummy at the same time.”
May is about permission: “You may have a piece of cake.”
Farther or Further
Farther indicates distance: “Our new house is six miles farther from my office than the old house.”
Further is for other usage, including time or continuation: “I have decided not to take the lawsuit any further.”
Its or It’s
It’s is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” The apostrophe stands in for the missing letters.
All other uses are its. Where this gets confusing to many people is the possessive form. Usually, possessives include an apostrophe: “Sharon’s car is red.” However, this is not the case with the possessive of it: “Its sunroof is open.”
Less or Fewer
Fewer is used to refer to items that can be counted.
Less refers to things measured in other ways.
An example would be: “I used less gasoline because I drove fewer miles.” However, if you referred to gallons of gasoline and driving in general, you would say: “I used fewer gallons of gasoline because I drove less.” That is because gallons of gasoline can be counted. Although miles can be counted, “driving” can not.
Lose or Loose
Lose means to misplace or otherwise be deprived of, such as to lose a game.
Loose means not fastened securely.
Example: “I was concerned I would lose the button because it was loose.”
Than or Then
Than is used when making a comparison: “July is warmer than February.”
Then indicates a time sequence: “Close the door, then set the alarm.”
There or Their or They’re
They’re is a contraction of “they are. ”
Their is the possessive form of they: “They took their car to the beach.”
All other usage is there.
These are some of the most commonly confused and misused words. What words trip you up?