Words that need to be used with care

words that need careful use

Here is a list of words that need to be used with care – they don’t always mean what you first think:

  • affect means to influence someone and effect means to bring about a result
  • alibi means being in another place at the same time, not an excuse
  • alternative can only be between two. If the number is larger than two, use choice
  • bail out, bale out: companies and boats are bailed out, parachutists bale out
  • biannual is twice  a year, biennial is every other year
  • chronic means long lasting, not severe or serious
  • You pay someone a compliment. (I really like your new hair style). Complement means to complete or go well with something. For example: The pepper sauce complements the meat really well. My uncle has a full complement of first edition James Bond books. A common mistake is to say ‘Our new takeaway meals compliment our restaurant service’. It should be ‘complement‘ of course.
  • comprise (never ‘comprises of’) means ‘consists of’. eg: The board comprises seven people.
  • continuous means without a break. eg: It rained continuously all day.
  • continual means recurring. eg: He suffered continually from headaches.
  • a dependant (noun) is dependent upon someone.
  • when it means ‘not so many’, fewer should be used. (Not ‘less.’) eg: There were fewer people at the match than I expected (not: there were less people).
  • when it means ‘not so much’, less should be used: We took fewer orders last week, so now we have less money in the bank.
  • licence is the noun and license the verb (in UK English). To confuse matters, in the US both are ‘licence’.)
  • practice is the noun and practise the verb (in UK English) Again, in the US both are ‘practice’.)
  • principle is a noun which means a rule or truth. Principal is an adjective which means ‘main’. As a noun it means the head of a college etc.