Words & Phrases That Are Commonly Misused

affect (verb): influence

The number of callers affects the on-hold time.

effect (verb): bring about, cause

To effect a change, they voted for the other candidate.

effect (noun): result

The special effects were amazing.
The effect of too little water is a withered plant.

infer: surmise, arrive at a conclusion

I inferred there was a fire because of the smoke.

imply: to suggest indirectly

Giving her his phone number implied that Jim wanted Liz to call him.

all: acceptable in all cases except with a personal pronoun

All the cattle enjoyed the sunshine.

all of: use only with a personal pronoun

All of you were included.

already: beforehand

You should have already started that report.

all ready: completely ready

The students were all ready for summer vacation.

among: three or more items considered collectively

It is difficult to choose among the many computers in the store.

between: two or more items considered individually

It is difficult to choose between a Sony, Toshiba, or Dell.

amount: used with collective or mass nouns

Equipping a football team costs a large amount of money.

number: used with countable nouns

They bought a large number of hats for the band.

assure: set a person’s mind at rest

We assured them that the prom would still take place.

ensure: make certain

We tested the Christmas lights to ensure the trees would be seen at night.

insure: protect with insurance

In Massachusetts, the car must be insured before you can get a license plate.

because: show a cause & effect relationship

The project was completed early because of no delays.

since: from then until now

We had no delays since last week.

can: know how to, be able to

The car can go in reverse.

may: have permission to, be possible to

You may begin the test now.

might: be possible to (but less certain than “may”)

She might finish the report on time.

comprise: contain

A baker’s dozen comprises 13 items.

compose: create by joining

A baker’s dozen is composed of 13 items.

constitute: make up, form

Thirteen donuts constitute a baker’s dozen.

discrete: individually distinct, not continuous

This procedure is comprised of seven discrete steps.

discreet: prudent, showing good judgment

Be discreet when you bring the present; it’s a surprise.

farther: physical distance

Do not wander farther than the sound of my voice.

further: in addition, to a greater degree

Tuition is expensive. The price of books is a further expense.

flammable, inflammable: capable of igniting easily

Do not light a match near a flammable liquid.
Gasoline is inflammable.

nonflammable: not easily ignitable

Asbestos is nonflammable.

if: in the event that

Tell me if the test is on Wednesday.

when: at what time (don’t use “if and when”)

Let us know when Alexandra calls you.

whether: with alternatives, used instead of “if”

Ask whether she called Mandy before or after dinner.

either / or: a positive indication of two or more possibilities that can happen

Grace would have to choose either the new dress or the new pair of shoes.

neither / nor: a negative indication that two or more possibilities did not, would not, or will not happen

He was neither tall nor dark nor handsome.

Do not mix them together:

WRONG:  It’s neither this or that.

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