Top Misused Words Part II

Don’t Lose Your Credibility by Misusing These Words, Too!

We’re back again with your next installment of the most commonly misused words in the English language. Our last edition certainly struck a chord with many authors as we listed some of your biggest pet peeves or offered points of grammatical clarification.

Let’s take a moment to discuss what happens when an error does see the light of day. It’s always a humbling moment when, as an Expert Author, someone points out grammatical errors or inconsistencies in your published articles or on your site. Use these errors as moments of discovery by adding them to your proofreading lineup to strengthen your writing skills and maintain your credibility as an Expert Author.

Without further ado, keep a vigilant eye on your articles for this next batch of abused, ill-used, and misused words:

affect vs. effect

affect – To have an effect on; make a difference to; an emotion or desire.

Incorrect: Chocolate effects my behavior.
Correct: Chocolate affects my behavior.

effect – To bring about; to cause something to happen; a change that is a result of an action or cause.

Incorrect: Chocolate has an incredible affect on behavior.
Correct: Chocolate has an incredible effect on behavior.

allot vs. a lot

allot – To give or to apportion something to someone as a share or a task.

Incorrect: I will a lot 3 prizes to the winners.
Correct: I will allot 3 prizes to the winners.

a lot – (never alot) A large amount, very many; also, very much.

Incorrect: I like monkeys allot. There are alot of them at the zoo.
Correct: I like monkeys a lot. There are a lot of them at the zoo.

Please note the context of a piece of land or lot, as in “a lot”, is also acceptable; however, it’s not a common usage error.

then vs. than

then – At that time; at the time in question; after that, next, afterward.

Incorrect: I went to the zoo and than to the park.
Correct: I went to the zoo and then to the park.

than – Used in expressions when introducing an exception or contrast.

Incorrect: Bob is shorter then Ralph.
Correct: Bob is shorter than Ralph.

lie vs. lay

lie – To be in or assume a horizontal or resting position; the way, direction, or position in which something lies.

Please note we will not be discussing “lie”, i.e. to tell a falsehood or to fib, because it’s not a common usage error.

Incorrect: I am going to lay down for a nap.
Correct: I am going to lie down for a nap.

lay – To put down (generally carefully or gently); the general appearance of an area.

Incorrect: I am going to lie the baby down for a nap.
Correct: I am going to lay the baby down for a nap.

desert vs. dessert

desert – To abandon; a dry, barren area of land; barren.

Incorrect: The nomads desserted the dessert in search of water.
Correct: The nomads deserted the desert in search of water.

dessert – The sweet course at the end of the meal.

Incorrect: Did you see this low-fat and delicious desert recipe?
Correct: Did you see this low-fat and delicious dessert recipe?

We will have another installment of the most common misused words over the next few weeks, so stop by the Blog again for new grammar and spelling tips to ensure your articles are error free. Not only will these tips help you maintain your credibility, but they can be applied across multiple platforms and help you drive more traffic to your blog or website!

Did you miss our last edition of Top Misused Words? Check it out here!

41 Comments »


1
J Chase writes:

I always struggle with effect and affect. So I try not to use them and arrange my writing around them.

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 9:53 AM

[Reply]

2
Nick Wright writes:

There’s an easy way to keep effect and affect apart. Only use affect when you can substitute ‘influence’.

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 10:16 AM

[Reply]

Craig Hawkins writes:

That’s a great tip. How strange is the English language. Getting effect and affect mixed up, can be deeply affecting …and could effect your day.

[Reply]

tcbernardo writes:

@Craig Hawkins – Shouldn’t “…and could effect your day” be “…and could AFFECT your day”?

[Reply]

3
J Chase writes:

Thank you! That will work!

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 10:21 AM

[Reply]

4
Sharon writes:

Except that influence also works in the correct ‘effect’ sentence so not foolproof.

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 11:14 AM

[Reply]

5
Max Austin writes:

Another that is misused quite a bit is ‘bring’ and ‘take’, probably more conversationally than written but often misused nonetheless.

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 11:32 AM

[Reply]

6
Natasha writes:

Thank you so much for this! This just happened THE words I mess up most!

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 12:11 PM

[Reply]

7
Ben writes:

Useful series. Did you do one for the word ‘usage’ yet? I hear it used all the time and I know its wrong – but its so confusing trying to use it correctly!

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 2:41 PM

[Reply]

Ben –

We haven’t highlighted “usage” yet. We’ll keep it in mind for one of our upcoming installments of this series.

– Marc

[Reply]

tcbernardo writes:

Ben, please take note: it should be “it’s” in both instances where you used “its.”

[Reply]

8
John Williams writes:

Great Post this. Helps having these corrections right there just in case.

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 3:25 PM

[Reply]

9
Jen writes:

FYI: “lay” is also the past tense of lie. As in “Jane was tired after work yesterday so she lay down for 20 minutes.”

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 3:26 PM

[Reply]

10
Jacquelyn Lynn writes:

Have never been able to figure out why people want to make “a lot” one word …

This may not be new to most of you, but to remember the difference between desert and dessert … you always want seconds of dessert (well, depending on what it is)

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 5:02 PM

[Reply]

GJC writes:

I think people want to follow the logic of “cannot” (but, of course, “cannot” is legal!).

[Reply]

11
Marilyn Gordon writes:

One error I see all over the web is in the words “set up” and “setup.” (There are other words like this as well.)
“I’ll set up the parts now.” (verb)
“That was no crime; it was a setup.” (noun)
Not:
“You’ll need to setup the parts.”
I’m amazed at all the intelligent people who mix these up.

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 8:26 PM

[Reply]

12
Abdullah Maricar writes:

Hello

I like your emails on misused words.

Could you enlighten us on the correct usage for ‘hang’ and ‘hung’

Example:

The convicted murderer was hanged at dawn.

The maid hung the laundry in the restroom.

Have the two words been used correctly in the sentences?

Regards

Comment provided March 23, 2012 at 11:23 PM

[Reply]

Abdullah –

The basic grammatical principle is one should use “hung” except when capital punishment is being imposed or someone commits suicide. In the case of the latter, one uses “hanged”.

Here are some sentences that can trip you up:

Hung
He is hung up on his ex. (Hung – emotionally confused).
The jury was hung. (Hung – unable to agree on a verdict.)
The maid hung the laundry in the restroom. (Hung – past tense to hang or suspend.)

Hang

The maid hangs the laundry in the restroom. (hang = to suspend)
We should hang those pictures on the wall. (hang = to attach)

Hanged

The convicted murder was hanged at dawn. (hanged – capital punishment method)
She hanged herself in her cell. (hanged – suicide method)

– Marc

[Reply]

13
tcbernardo writes:

One of the most common errors is “deserts” in “just deserts”; it’s often misspelled as “just desserts.” (By the way, where should the period (.) be at the end of the preceding sentence — before, or after, the quotation marks? Thanks.

Comment provided March 24, 2012 at 1:44 AM

[Reply]

GJC writes:

Periods and commas go before the quotation mark (in American writing). Moreover, colons and semicolons go after the quotation marks. Exclamation and question marks vary: If the question or exclamation applies only to what is inside quotes, then the mark goes before the closing quotation mark. Conversely, if the question or exclamation applies to the whole sentence, then the mark belongs after, at the end of the sentence. Sorry for getting verbose here: I guess you “got me started”!

[Reply]

Bernardo –

You are correct, “just deserts” is the proper spelling.

In the case of the proper placement of quotation marks, you would want to put them before the punctuation (period) in this case since the punctuation is not part of the enclosed phrase.

– Marc

[Reply]

GJC writes:

Marc, if your advice for period/quotation placement is geared toward an international audience, then perhaps you are correct, but I’ve always been told to keep commas and periods inside the quotation marks, regardless of logic, in American writing.

Consider the following sources:

AP Style book:
Periods always go inside quotation marks. –p 361

Chicago Manual of Style:
Periods and commas precede closing quotation marks, whether double or single. This is a traditional style, in use well before the first edition of this manual (1906) –Section 6:8

The CMS goes on to describe exceptions for textual studies and British usage, but for practical purposes, writers of American English can go with the “ALWAYS put a period INSIDE the quotes” mantra.

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/period-goes-inside-quotation-marks/

[Reply]

GJC –

My advice was not geared to an international audience … it was simply wrong. I didn’t do the in-depth research I should have and my response was based on misinformation I had gathered along the way. Thankfully, people like you are willing to set me straight. In this case, it is very much appreciated. I constantly strive to provide good, and accurate advice on the EzineArticles blog. Unfortunately, in this case, I failed in that duty.

My sincere thanks to you and my apologies to those whom I have misinformed.

– Marc

[Reply]

Bernardo –

The advice I gave you regarding the use of punctuation within quotes was incorrect. Please see my response to GJC above and his correction of my error. The fact is that the punctuation belongs inside the quotes no matter what.

My apologies for the confusion.

Marc

[Reply]

14
Kerri Williams writes:

I hate the ‘then’ and ‘than’ it pops up red on me quite a lot. Noticed I used the right term of ‘ a lot.’ lol.
Thanks you
Kez

Comment provided March 24, 2012 at 2:52 AM

[Reply]

15
babu patil writes:

One of the most common errors is “flesh” and “flush”. To flesh out is to add flesh to a skeleton, or metaphorically to add substance to an incomplete rendering. To flush out is to cause game fowl to take to flight, or to frighten any quarry from a place of concealment.

Comment provided March 24, 2012 at 2:31 PM

[Reply]

16
Sergio Felix writes:

Hey Marc,

I’m happy to know I have been using (then vs. than) correctly without knowing the difference (English is my 2nd language).

I really appreciate these updates and look forward to learn more, have a great weekend my friend!

Sergio

Comment provided March 25, 2012 at 3:22 PM

[Reply]

17

Those are some of the common mistakes even the great Shakespeare also made.

Comment provided March 26, 2012 at 6:25 AM

[Reply]

18
Sharon writes:

Please explain how ‘just deserts’ makes sense.
Always thought it was ‘Just desserts’ as in a well deserved reward, not ‘just deserts’ as in left with no warning.

Comment provided March 26, 2012 at 10:44 AM

[Reply]

Sharon –

Getting your “just desserts” would be too delicious! If someone is getting their “just desserts”, it would be a reward, wouldn’t it? ;-)

Seriously, “just deserts” refers to the consequences that are deserved. A person’s worthiness or entitlement to reward or punishment: “the penal system fails to punish offenders in accordance with their deserts.” “Desert” also means: A person’s worthiness or entitlement to reward or punishment. However, “desserts” refer to a part of a meal.

– Marc

[Reply]

19
HGH writes:

Conversely, if the question or exclamation applies to the whole sentence, then the mark belongs after, at the end of the sentence.

Comment provided March 26, 2012 at 11:36 AM

[Reply]

20
Sharon writes:

Still seems wrong to me. Desert is a dry and arid land or to abandon someone.
Dessert is something sweet or a reward for eating your vegetables.

Comment provided March 26, 2012 at 12:28 PM

[Reply]

Sharon –

Nonetheless, it’s correct. Here is one of many links I found online: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/just-deserts.html

– Marc

[Reply]

21
GJC writes:

Regarding the “just des(s)erts” question, I don’t really know which is correct. My only comment here is that I usually hear the expression pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable, rightly or wrongly, like that last course of dinner. I always thought the expression incorporated a generous helping of sardonic humor!

Comment provided March 26, 2012 at 2:16 PM

[Reply]

22
Marilyn Gordon writes:

A good point to remember: “dessert” (what you have after a meal) can have two helpings – “s” times 2!

Comment provided March 26, 2012 at 3:05 PM

[Reply]

23
GJC writes:

Marc is right regarding “just deserts”: It’s amazing what you can learn by simply looking it up!

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/desert

The 2nd listing of “desert” says, “Something that is deserved or merited, especially a punishment.” Also notable is that the emphasis does belong on the 2nd syllable when used this way, which probably causes many (including myself) to confuse the word with “dessert.”

Comment provided March 26, 2012 at 3:17 PM

[Reply]

24
sathianathan writes:

Please explain how ‘just deserts’ makes sense.
Always thought it was ‘Just desserts’ as in a well deserved reward, not ‘just deserts’ as in left with no warning.

Comment provided April 3, 2012 at 7:25 AM

[Reply]

Sathia –

Quoted from Phrases.org.uk:

Deserts, in the sense of ‘things deserved’ has been used in English since at least the 13th century. A citation in which it is linked with ‘just’ comes from 1599, in Warning Faire Women:

“Upon a pillory – that al the world may see, A just desert for such impiety.”

With this phrase it isn’t the origin that is interesting though, but the spelling. I am often contacted by people pointing out that ‘just deserts’ is misspelled. They go to great lengths to explain why it should be ‘just desserts’. They are wrong, but perhaps understandably so.

desert- Deserts is now almost always used in reference to desolate and arid regions of land. Its use to mean ‘that which is deserved’ is now largely limited to this single phrase.

– Desserts – the last or sweet course of a meal – is widely used and is pronounced the same way as the deserts in ‘just deserts’.

dessertSo, when hearing the phrase with the pronunciation like ‘desserts’, people think it must be spelled that way too. The spelling might be more intuitive if we thought of the phrase as ‘what you justly deserve’.

Most of the correspondence pointing out the ‘error’ comes from Australia. That may be coincidence, although it could be that, living in a hot, English-speaking country, Australians have more exposure to hearing the word deserts with the stress on ‘des’ than the rest of us.

– Marc

[Reply]

25
Durgam R SRINIVASAN writes:

Sorry before I finished this disappeared.

Thanks for the article and it was very educative and interesting too.

Durgam

Comment provided October 31, 2012 at 4:03 PM

[Reply]

26
Durgam R SRINIVASAN writes:

I was surprised to these blunders and that too in the article and how these escaped the spell check and article proof reading. I always check and double check and check with the dictionary before I put in the article. Normally I am very good in words spelling, but the mistakes occur due to my poor typing.
I think if one checks few times and check with the dictionary also, we will have less chances of making these blunders.

But reading this articles keeps you aware of these mistakes and make you to be cautious not to commit the same once again.

Durgam

Comment provided October 31, 2012 at 4:35 PM

[Reply]

27
Randall Magwood writes:

“To” and “Too” always gets me. I’m accustomed to using “alot” instead of “a lot” in my article writing. Same is true with “desert” and “dessert”.

Comment provided November 11, 2012 at 2:21 PM

[Reply]

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Please read our comment policy before commenting.