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Each issue of "Acu-Write" includes discussion of a confusing word pair, such as those below. The second part of each issue addresses another question of word use, punctuation, capitalization, or sentence structure.

affect / effect

This pair of words has all of the components for confusion: the words look alike, they sound alike, and they have similar meanings. In their most common meanings they have to do with change. "Affect" is usually a verb, meaning "to act on; to influence or change":
How does sunlight affect the growth of plants?
Do dreary days affect your mood?

Effect, usually a noun, means "result":
The effect of the plant's exposure to sunlight was rapid growth.
Dreary days have no effect on me.

Each of these words has several meanings. The other one that is likely to cause confusion is "effect" used as a verb meaning "to bring about":
The candidate promised to effect major changes when he took office.
If the antibiotic is begun in time, it is able to effect a cure.

a lot / allot

Are you wondering where "alot" is? That is one of those spellings you should never use.

Even as two words, "a lot" is considered "informal." To find it in the dictionary, you might need to look under "lot." "A lot" means "a great many" or "a great deal":
Informal: A lot of people misspell this word.
Standard: Many people misspell this word.

"Allot" is a verb meaning "to divide, apportion, or parcel out":
The pie graph showed how the tax revenue was allotted.

already / all ready

"Already" means "previously" or "so soon":
I have already read that book.
Is it time to get up already?

"All ready" means "completely prepared":
The cast was all ready for opening night.

altogether / all together

"Altogether" is an adverb meaning "wholly, completely, entirely; with everything included":
After listening to both sides of the argument, I was altogether confused.
Altogether the bill came to $47.52.
Altogether, the job fair would have to be considered a success.

"All together" is a phrase meaning "in a group":
While you are all together, I want to tell you something.
Keep your notes and handouts all together so that you will have them to study for the test.

antidote / anecdote

There is little similarity of meaning between these nouns. Employing the "anti-" prefix, which means "against," "antidote" means "a medicine or other remedy that counteracts a poison, disease, or something else with ill effects":
After a person has been bitten by a poisonous snake, a limited time is available to secure an antidote.
Highly contagious deadly diseases with no known antidote pose a serious threat.
Solid preparation is the best antidote to test anxiety.

An anecdote is a short, often amusing, story about a particular incident:
My uncle tells entertaining anecdotes about his travels.
Alumni at the class reunion recounted many anecdotes about their school days.
Reader's Digest may pay hundreds of dollars for an amusing anecdote that it accepts for publication.

Sometimes you might see the adjective form, "anecdotal":
Although there is much anecdotal evidence that the herb helps arthritis sufferers, no scientific study has been conducted.

Are those of you who have not studied Latin wondering about the common meaning that shows up in these two words as "dote"? It is from the Latin "didonai," meaning "to give":
An amusing anecdote might be a temporary antidote to sadness or boredom.

The common error with these words is to substitute "antidote" for "anecdote," probably because it is easier to pronounce and perhaps because it is more familiar.

appraise / apprise

"Appraise" is a verb meaning "to estimate the value of":
We had our house appraised before we put it on the market.

"Apprise" means "to inform or advise":
Please keep me apprised of your progress on the project.

awhile / a while

"Awhile" is an adverb meaning "for a short time":
Please stay awhile.
I like to linger awhile over my morning coffee.

"A while," on the other hand, is a phrase comprising an article and a noun. It is usually used after the preposition "for":
Please stay for a while.
I like to linger for a while over my morning coffee.

The most common error involving these words is to use "for awhile." There are two things wrong with this: First, the preposition "for" has no object (it is followed by an adverb); second, since "for" is included in the meaning of "awhile," you are actually saying "for for a while."

between / among

Generally, "between" (from "by twain") is used when two people or things are involved; "among" is used when more than two are involved:
It will be a secret just between you and me.
The players discussed their strategy among themselves.
We divided the pizza between the two of us.
We divided the pizza among the four of us.

"Between" should be followed by a plural noun or pronoun, or by nouns and/or pronouns joined by "and":
Nonstandard: The Super Bowl features a spectacular half-time show between the game. ("between" followed by a singular noun)
Standard: The Super Bowl features a spectacular show between the two halves of the game. ("between" followed by plural "halves")
Standard: The Super Bowl features a spectacular show between the first half and the second half. ("between" followed by compound object joined by "and")
Nonstandard: I couldn't decide between the shrimp or the steak.
Standard: I couldn't decide between the shrimp and the steak.

Lest this rule be too easy for us to apply, the "grammar gurus" add a confusing stipulation: When more than two things are involved but each is individually related to the others, "between" is preferred to "among":
The agreement between the NATO nations provides that an attack upon one nation will be viewed as an attack upon all of them.
Such occurrences are rare and should not be used as an excuse to disregard the general rule stated at the beginning of this discussion.

bring / take

Correct use of "bring" and "take," like that of "come" and "go," depends upon the direction of the action in relation to the speaker. "Bring" or "come" indicates movement toward the speaker. You would say, "Come here," not "Come there." A parent might say, "Be sure to bring your gym clothes home so we can wash them." A teacher might say, "Be sure to bring your signed permission slip back to school tomorrow." Both the parent and the teacher want things brought toward them.

"Take" and "go," on the other hand, indicate movement away from the speaker. A teacher -- or student -- might say, "Take those smelly gym clothes home and get them washed!" A parent might say, "Remember to take your signed permission slip to school tomorrow." In both cases things are being taken away from the speaker.

capital / capitol

"Capital" has many meanings, among them "a city that is the seat of government," and "wealth used to fund a business." The word is used in expressions such as "capital letter," "capital punishment," "capital crime."

"Capitol," on the other hand, has only one principal meaning: "the building where a law-making body meets." It is capitalized when it refers to the Capitol in Washington, DC, where Congress meets. It is sometimes capitalized when it refers to buildings where state legislatures meet as well. The expression "Capitol Hill" also has this spelling since it is named for the hill where the Capitol building sits, not merely for a hill in the capital city.

Notice these correct examples:
Washington, DC, is the capital of the United States.
The President addressed members of Congress in the Capitol.
We visited the nation's capital on our tour.
(The last sentence would indicate visiting the city, not the building.)

compliment / complement

Both "compliment" and "complement" can be either nouns or verbs. Each can also attach the "-ary" adjective suffix.

"Compliment," the more common word, has to do with saying something good about someone:
Did you receive many compliments on your performance? (noun)
Jane complimented Hannah on her performance. (verb)
The review of the play was not very complimentary.

In addition to "expressing a compliment," "complimentary" can mean "given free as a courtesy":
Members of the band gave us complimentary tickets to their concert.

"Complement" has to do with adding a part that is needed to make a whole:
Direct objects and predicate nouns are often called complements; they complete their verbs. (noun)
Peanut butter and jelly complement each other in a sandwich. (v.)
People in a successful partnership complement each other; each contributes different skills. (v.)
Complementary colors, such as orange and blue, are across from each other on the color wheel.
Complementary angles add to ninety degrees.

Another meaning of "complement" is "full quantity needed to make something complete":
That company has a full complement of employees; it is not accepting applications.

One way to remember which meaning goes with which spelling is to associate "complement" with its synonym, "complete." Both words have an "e" as the critical sixth letter.

every day / everyday

These words seem to be misused in public writing more often than they are used correctly.

"Every day" is two words meaning "each day":
This store is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

"Everyday" is an adjective meaning "ordinary; not special." It could describe such things as clothes, dishes, or events:
Except on special occasions, we use our everyday dishes.

Since the most common error involves substituting "everyday" for "every day," check your usage by trying "each day" in your sentence. If this substitution works, you need to be sure to use "every day" rather than "everyday."

everyone / every one

"Everyone" is an indefinite pronoun meaning "every person":
Everyone enjoyed the concert.
There were plenty of refreshments for everyone.

"Every one" simply means "each one"; the "one" may or may not refer to a person. If the "one" is a person, using "every one" places the emphasis on individual members rather than on the group. Before a prepositional phrase beginning with "of," you should use "every one," not "everyone":
Every one of the windows in the house was broken during the storm.
At the end of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Tiny Tim says, "God bless us every one."
Every one of the town's citizens voted in the election.

If you are using the expression "each and every one," be sure to use "every one" as two words. "Each" needs a word to modify, and here that word is "one":
I thank each and every one of you for contributing to this newsletter's success.

It is worth noting that "everyone" is a singular pronoun. At first this may seem to defy logic since you would use the word "everyone" to refer to more than one person. Notice the second word in the compound though: "one" -- clearly singular. "Everybody," "anyone," "anybody," "someone," "somebody," "no one," "nobody" -- all are singular. This seldom creates a problem with subject-verb agreement; few of us would be tempted to say "Everyone are . . . ." The problem occurs when another pronoun is used to refer to "everyone":
Everyone is expected to buy ______ own lunch on the trip.
It is tempting to complete the sentence with "their" -- not only because we are obviously talking about more than one person, but also because English lacks a third person singular pronoun that includes both genders. The word in the blank should be singular to agree in number with "everyone," however. Although "his" used to be acceptable to refer to both sexes, many people now find that offensive. "His or her" would be correct, but it is cumbersome. In awkward situations such as this, the best solution is often to recast the sentence using plural:
All students are expected to buy their own lunch on the trip.
(Many experts in English say that we are moving toward the day when "their" will be considered appropriate in the blank above.)

farther / further

"Farther" and "further," which can be used as either adverbs or adjectives, are comparative forms of "far" (used to compare two things). The superlative forms (used to compare more than two things) are "farthest" and "furthest."

The distinction that used to be drawn -- and still is among staunch grammarians -- is that "farther" is used to denote physical distance and "further" is used more abstractly or metaphorically. Notice these examples:
We decided to drive forty miles farther before stopping.
The detectives planned to pursue the lead no further.

The difference between these words is, in fact, disappearing; some dictionaries would show "farther" and "further" to be interchangeable in the preceding sentences.

A couple of substitutions of "farther" for "further" would be considered nonstandard, however. If the meaning is "in addition" or "moreover," "further" should be used:
He gave his word. Further, he signed the agreement.

"Further" should also be used if the word is used as an adjective meaning "additional; more":
The jury realized that further deliberation would be useless.

fewer / less

"Fewer" and "less" are adjectives (they describe nouns). Like most other adjectives, they have various forms to indicate degree. Most adjectives make their comparative and superlative forms by adding the "-er" and "-est" suffixes or by using the words "more" and "most":
Carol is tall. Sue is taller than Carol. Ann is tallest of the three girls.
That rose is beautiful. This one is even more beautiful. That bud looks as if it will be the most beautiful of all.

A few adjectives, however, are compared irregularly (just as some verbs have irregular forms). That's where problems are likely to arise -- and do with this pair of words. "Few" is a regularly compared adjective: few, fewer, fewest. "Less" is the comparative form of "little" (meaning "small amount"): little, less (or lesser), least.

The trick to using these words correctly is to determine whether the noun being described is singular or plural. Usually we don't have to consider this when selecting an adjective. In this case, though, forms of "few" would be used to describe countable things; forms of "little," to describe amounts of one thing. Notice these correct examples:
I have less money in my bank account than I did last month.
I have fewer dollars in my bank account than I did last month.
Jeff has less uncertainty about his job since getting a promotion.
Jeff has fewer doubts about his job since getting a promotion.

The common error here is to use "less" with a plural noun:
Incorrect: She has less reasons to go on the trip than I do.
Correct: She has fewer reasons to go on the trip than I do.

founder / flounder

Of course, we know that a flounder is a fish and a founder is a person who establishes an organization or a company. As nouns, these words do not create a problem. As verbs, however, they are often misused. Perhaps the confusion occurs because both foundering and floundering can occur in water -- or because floundering often precedes foundering.

The basic meaning of "founder" is "to sink." A ship can founder; a house on a sinkhole can founder; a project can founder -- if its backers run out of money or ideas. ("Founder" has some other meanings peculiar to veterinary medicine.)

"Flounder" means "to move clumsily; to stumble or thrash about." A non-swimmer might flounder in the water -- and then founder. Floundering needn't be a physical struggle; for example, a person could flounder in any new situation, such as a visit to a country where he or she does not speak the language. Here is a final example:
The candidate floundered during the early weeks of the campaign and then foundered in the primary election.

imply / infer

Both "imply" and "infer" are verbs that have to do with meaning that is suggested rather than stated. A speaker or writer might imply or "hint at" something; a listener or reader would infer or "draw a conclusion." Notice the following correct uses:
Mom's look implied that she did not approve of my actions.
I inferred from Mom's look that she disapproved of my actions.

it's / its

"It's" is a contraction for "it is." "Its" is a possessive pronoun showing that something belongs to an object or animal:
It's time to get an oil change.
The horse reared suddenly, throwing its rider to the ground.

Remember: If you're trying to decide whether one of these words should have an apostrophe, try substituting "it is." If they work in your sentence, the contraction is correct. If they don't work, though, you probably need to use the possessive pronoun.

lie / lay

"Lie / lay" is arguably the most confusing of verb pairs -- and with good reason: The past of "lie" is "lay," even though "lay" is a verb in its own right with its own past tense.

Few of us can trust our instinct to use these words correctly; analysis of each situation is required.

The first step is to determine which meaning you need. "Lie" means "to recline or rest." You lie on the sofa; a city lies on the coast; clothes lie on the floor; snow lies on the ground.

"Lay" means "to put or place." It usually takes a direct object.
You lay your coat on a chair. (Direct object: coat)
You lay carpet in your house. (Direct object: carpet)
Workmen lay cable underground. (Direct object: cable)

"Lay" means "to cause to lie." Once you lay something, it lies there. We will see more about how this works after we examine the principal parts of each verb.

After you have determined which meaning your situation requires, the next step in your analysis is to decide which *form* of the word you need for the proper tense. Here are the principal parts from which tenses are built:



Past Participle

Present Participle



have lain




have laid


(Also note the correct spelling of forms of "lay." "Layed" is never correct.)

The following correct sentences show various forms of both words:
"Lie down," he commanded his dog.
When I am tired, I lie down.
I lay down because I was tired. [This is probably the biggest source of confusion between "lie" and "lay." Not only are you using the word "lay," you are following it with a word beginning with "d," which makes it sound like "laid." Analysis here reveals, though, that in order to be consistent with the past tense "was," the past of "lie" ("lay") is needed.]
She has lain in the sun too long; her skin is burned.

Sylvia always lays the mail on her desk.
He laid a drop cloth on the floor before he painted the room.
He has laid his clothes on the floor every night for thirty years.
(Notice that the verb "put" could be substituted for "lay" in these sentences.)

Once he lays his clothes on the floor, they lie there. (present)
After he laid his clothes on the floor, they lay there. (past)

Remember: First determine the meaning you want. If you can substitute "put," use a form of "lay." Then determine which form you need for the appropriate tense.

nauseous / nauseated

People often use "nauseous" when they mean "nauseated." The substitution is not acceptable in standard English.

"Nauseous" means "causing nausea; sickening; disgusting, loathsome, revolting, abhorrent, despicable, offensive." Think twice before you say, "I'm nauseous." Things that could accurately be described as nauseous include fumes, odors, spoiled food, a repulsive-looking creature, a display of power or wealth, etc.

"Nauseated" means "affected with nausea; sickened; disgusted."

Notice the following correct uses:
The smell of sulfur was nauseous.
The smell of sulfur nauseated me.
His arrogance was nauseous.
I was nauseated by his arrogance.

overdue / overdo

To distinguish between these words, look at their roots. After all, that is where they differ. "Due" is most commonly used as an adjective meaning "owed; scheduled for payment":
Payment is due by the end of the month.
The library book is due on Friday.

The less common meanings are more likely to create a question about spelling. Here are some correct uses of "due":
The plane is due at 10:42 a.m.
The delay was due to bad weather.
She painted the woodwork with due care.
The murderer will one day get his due.
You will receive your reward in due time.
The ship sailed due east.

The dictionary fills nearly a column with meanings for "do," many of them idioms. "Do" is most commonly used as a verb meaning "to perform, as an act or duty":
Will you please do a favor for me?

Here are some other correct uses for "do":
That photograph does not do you justice.
I did not have the hook I wanted, but I made do with some wire.
These examples will do for now.

Now back to our target words for this week: The "over-" prefix means "to excess; past the limit." If something is overdue, then, it is past its scheduled or expected time; it is late:
My library book is overdue.
The plane is now an hour overdue.
Repairs to her house are long overdue.
Notice that the prefix "over-" would not be added to "due" with some of its meanings.

"Overdo" means "to do to excess; to go beyond proper limits":
Do not overdo in preparing for the holidays.
I hope you don't overdo the pie again this year.

Since "overdo" is a verb, it can have various tenses, and its participle can be used as an adjective:
Eddie Haskell, a character on *Leave It to Beaver*, overdid his politeness to adults.
Meat that is overdone is often tough.

Although "due" and "do" can function as several parts of speech, "overdue" is always an adjective, and "overdo" is always a verb.

prostrate / prostate

What a difference a single letter can make! These words have no similarity of meaning. Nevertheless, that "r" often shows up in the wrong word.

"Prostrate," not a frequently used word, can be a verb or an adjective. Most of its meanings relate to "lying face down on the ground in an attitude of submission or honor":
The servant prostrated himself before the king. (verb)
The servant lay prostrate before the king. (adjective)
A familiar hymn includes the line "let angels prostrate fall."

Other meanings of "prostrate" can be seen as carrying this first meaning to a figurative level. These meanings have to do with "overthrowing or reducing to helplessness; reducing to physical, mental, or emotional weakness or exhaustion":
The coalition forces and the Northern Alliance hope to prostrate the Taliban.
She was prostrate after running the marathon.

The familiar term "heat prostration" indicates being overcome by the heat, "knocked flat" in a sense.

"Prostate," on the other hand, is "a muscular, glandular organ that surrounds the base of the urethra of males." The prostate produces some of the seminal fluid. As men age, the prostate can become enlarged, causing difficulty with urination. The prostate is also the most common site of cancer in American men. You are likely, therefore, to hear the terms "enlarged prostate" or "prostate cancer."

How to keep the "r" out of words where it doesn't belong (and prevent the behind-the-hand snickers that are likely when an error is made)? One trick is to associate "prostrate" with other words that include an "r": "prone," a synonym of "prostrate," and "front," also related in meaning. Knowing the origin of "prostate" can also help: It comes from "pro" + "stat," meaning "standing before." "Standing" certainly is not "lying flat." Another word with a related root (though from Latin rather than Greek) is "statue." A statue (without an "r") is often of a man, and a man has a prostate (also without an "r" in the "stat" syllable).

who's / whose

"Who's" is a contraction for "who is." "Whose" is a possessive pronoun showing that something belongs to someone, often someone of unknown identity:
Who's going to the ball game?
Whose ticket is this?

Remember: If you're trying to decide whether one of these words should have an apostrophe, try substituting "who is." If they work in your sentence, the contraction is correct. If they don't work, though, you probably need to use the possessive pronoun.

you're / your

"You're" is a contraction for "you are." "Your" is a possessive pronoun showing that something belongs to a person who is addressed:
You're making great progress toward your goal.

Remember: If you're trying to decide whether one of these words should have an apostrophe, try substituting "you are." If they work in your sentence, the contraction is correct. If they don't work, though, you probably need to use the possessive pronoun.

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