In Easy Steps Articles

February 6, 2022

Troublesome words in business writing

Are you aware of these troublesome words – words that can cause confusion or misunderstanding if they are used incorrectly?

  • Affect (verb) is to influence. Effect (verb) is to bring about. Affect (noun) is an emotion. Effect (noun) is the outcome.
  • Alternate (adjective) means every other. Alternative means there is a choice.
  • Beside – next to. Besides – as well as.
  • Compliment – something nice you say to someone. Complement – to complete or make up a set.
  • Comprehensive – exhaustive. Comprehensible – intelligible.
  • Continual means repeated. Continuous means uninterrupted.
  • Definite means free of uncertainty. Definitive means authoritative.
  • Discreet means tactful. Discrete means separate.
  • Disinterested means impartial. Uninterested means not interested.
  • Ensure – to make sure. Insure – to take out insurance. Assure – to convince someone.
  • Flaunt – to show off. Flout – to ignore conspicuously.
  • Fortuitous – accidental. Fortunate – lucky.
  • Hone means to polish. Home in on means to focus on.`
  • Imply – suggest. Infer – deduce.
  • It’s is short for it is or it has.
  • Its shows that something belongs to it: it’s a fine apartment with its own yard.
  • Lay/lie: Hens lay. You can lay a table or lay down the law. Using the present participle, we say the hens are laying; and using the past participle the hens have laid. On the other hand, people and animals lie down, one town may lie ten miles from another, and the choice may lie between two alternatives. To add to the confusion, the past tense of lie is lay.
  • Less/fewer: Less is about quantity (less coffee), while fewer is about number (fewer coffee beans).
  • May/might/can: These words are often confused. Can I? means literally am I able to? while may I? means am I allowed to? The difference between may and might is that may is about possibility (It may rain), while might is about either retrospective conjecture (He might have won) or remote possibility (It might rain). Just to add to the confusion, the past tense of may is might.

Get more tips to help you with business writing in Effective Business Writing in easy steps


180 pages
By Tony Rossiter
ISBN: 9781840785715


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By In Easy Steps Team