Easily Confused Words for Your List

It’s great to have a list to deal with words that we often confuse  –  a quick reference for those uses you’re not sure of.


If you are confident, you feel sure of something.

A confidant is a someone you trust with a secret. If that person is female, you would refer to her as your confidante.



A council is a group of people whose job may be to advise or to make decisions on behalf of a larger group. A member of the council is called a councillor.

Counsel means advice and can also be used as a verb meaning to advise. (Note the two uses of “advice” and “advise” as well.)  A person who gives advice, especially in an official capacity (like a lawyer would do), is called a counsellor because they counsel (advise) you.


A troop is a group of people, sometimes a portion of an army. Troop can also be used as a verb that means to move together in a group.

Troupe refers to a group of actors or performers.


More Fun for your List of Confusing Words


English is not an easy language to learn, even for native speakers of the language. Here are some more words that are often troublesome. If you have a list on the go, you may want to add these to it.


To make indirect reference to something is to allude to it.

Without actually accusing her of anything, he alluded to her checkered past.


To avoid something is to elude it – usually used in reference to evading a pursuer.

She had hoped to elude the police after she stole the chocolate bar.



To draw information out of someone means to elicit it.

The conniving woman tried to elicit information from her acquaintance by chatting her up like an old friend.


Something illegal or not approved of by law can be called illicit.

The young man had a stash of illicit drugs in his bedroom.



If you correct or improve something, especially something written, you amend it.

I amended the phrasing in the guidelines to make them more easily understandable.


When you remove or change irregularities in text (often in historical writings), you emend the text.

He emended a translation error in the ancient history source.



If I assure you, I am informing you positively. It is also used to make someone feel more confident and safe. (He assured me and inspired confidence in me that I would be safe now.)

I can assure you that you have passed the test (because I marked it myself).


Ensure means to make something certain.

This should ensure that you will be accepted for the job.


Insure is what you do when you pay money to a company so they will cover any accidental losses.

I had to pay an extra high rate to insure my house in case of an earthquake.



Some words seem to be manufactured from other words by using very stretchy imaginations. The more frequently they are used, the more other writers think it is okay to use them.

Enthuse is an example of this. The noun is enthusiasm; the adjective is enthusiastic; the adverb, enthusiastically. But to use enthuse as an active verb, to my way of thinking, is really stretching the boundaries of good word usage.

Yes, I was enthused (okay) by the prospect of a picnic, but I did not enthuse (not okay) about it all day.

Alright (not okay) is another one. I see it used a lot, but that doesn’t make me cringe less. It is one of those words that is being accepted more and more as being all right (okay) to use, but the correct form is still all right.

Point in time (not okay) is another of those expressions that really irks me. Which point, exactly, would that be? There is no point in time.

What a wonderful blessing it must be to be able to foresee the future. That person could legitimately use a term like the foreseeable future” (not okay).  But if you are not blessed (or cursed) with that ability, please avoid saying, “in the foreseeable future.

Have you ever heard someone try to show their indifference by saying, “I could care less (not okay)? So, under which circumstances would they care less?

What they really mean to say is that they care so little that it is hard to imagine caring any less than they do. They want to say, “I couldn’t care less(okay).


If you tend to use any of these expressions incorrectly, have a second look at them the next time you find yourself writing them and ponder whether you really want to make your readers cringe.

More Trouble Words

Troublesome words are everywhere.

Two words that give me a big headache are discreet and discrete.

Discreet is used for people not liable to gossip. You rely on someone to be discreet (careful about what they say or do).

Discrete means more something closer to distinct, or separate. (The plan will progress in a number of discrete stages.)

I think  this is one of those sets of words that I have to put on my trouble list until I can think of a gimmick for remembering which is which.


Here is an easier one.


An electric current has an “e” in it. The current news and the current in the river, all have “e” in them.

The currant that looks like a small raisin is something an ant might eat. This currant has an ant in it.

Isn’t it fun?

Samples from Julia’s Violinist


Anneli Purchase

“Julia’s Violinist” is the story of a love triangle set in Europe and Canada and spanning the decades from about  1912 to 1973.

Here are some samples from the book.

The character description is of Karl’s mother, Alana:

At last she stepped up onto the tram. Oh, it was good to be out of the wind. Alana unbuttoned her jacket and let it hang loosely. She sat and, with practiced detachment, ran her hand down the length of her leg, enjoying the feel of her chic, new silk stockings. The appreciative gazes of the male passengers pleased her. She smiled smugly at the women, inviting their disparaging glares.

The setting is of a classroom in a German boys’ school in the 1920s:

Herr Solberg took Karl by the scruff of the neck and hauled him into the school, lifting him so that the tips of his toes were all that touched the ground as he walked. Karl tingled with excitement. At the end of the break, the class had to witness his punishment. Karl stood at the front of the classroom looking at the faces of his classmates. Some covered their mouths to hide their expressions of horror at the pain they knew was coming, while others beamed openly in gleeful anticipation.

The scene ending is of Karl being freed from POW camp in 1946:

The Russian guard tossed a tatty bundle of letters to him and read the next name. Karl was stunned. Not a single letter for over a year and now, on the last day, a bundle of … thirty-one, he counted. All from Julia.

He was frantic with wanting to open them, but nothing, not even these special letters, could make him lag behind in the POW camp. Out! Out! Just get out first, and then I can look at them.

As soon as he was out of sight of the prison camp, he sank down on the ground beside the road. His hands trembled as he opened the first letter. Through tears he saw her lovely handwriting, so perfect and neat; words that spoke of loneliness and longing. Each letter contained a small anecdote of Julia’s home life and ended with the hope that they would see each other again. Around the edges of the pages his name was written over and over in a border design, “KarlKarlKarlKarl. I miss you, Karl.”

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there. Other recently released POWs walked by. No one stopped. They had seen it all and there was nothing unusual about a man sitting in the dirt crying his eyes out as he read his mail.


Front Cover Only


Still on sale for about 99 cents through January.

Julia’s Violinist is available in paperback and all e-book formats at Smashwords.com

and at all amazon sites, particularly





Find out more at my website: http://www.anneli-purchase.com 

Problem Words

Here are a few more things to add to your list of words to be careful of. 

(Oops! I just ended a sentence with a preposition. Churchill was once criticized for occasionally ending a sentence with a preposition. He answered,  “This is the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put.”)

Words that are commonly misused


A disinterested person is impartial. He doesn’t care which way you vote on an issue.

To be uninterested in something means you don’t even want to hear about it. You are not interested.



This should be regardless. The “less” already makes the word a negative. We don’t need “ir” as well, to make it so.



Less is used for quantity. Fewer refers to numbers.

We had less rain this week, so we saw fewer people with umbrellas.



Amount is for masses of things that are not individually counted. Number is used if the items are countable.

The amount of work I have is huge. The number of jobs I have can be counted.



Lend is the verb. Loan is the noun.

I will lend you some money. The money I lend you is a loan. I want you to pay it back someday.


A Missed Opportunity

I read a book the other day that had me feeling disappointed, frustrated, angry, and quite sad all the way through. It was romantic suspense and, as such, slightly predictable, but the storyline was interesting enough that it kept me reading. However, several other factors made me want to delete this book so as not to contaminate the rest of my TBR list.

Still, I wanted to see how the story would end, so I hung in there.

Let me tell you about my sufferings.

  1. Almost immediately I noticed that the verb tense jumped around wildly. I assume that the author was trying to write in first person, present.

Past and present tenses in the same sentence are not unusual when used correctly. You might say, “Every day I see the ruins from the day the building collapsed.” But to say, “I see the ruins. I took a picture of them, and move on to investigate further,” simply does not work.

Do you see the problem there? If she wanted to stay in first person present POV, she could have said, “I see the ruins. I take a picture of them, and move on to investigate further.”

This mixing up of verb tenses went on throughout the whole book. At least she was consistent.

2. The quotation marks and punctuation were haphazard and meaningless. I had to admire the many ways the author  explored every possible way to present dialogue incorrectly.

3. Add to that, the scarcity of periods and capital letters. So much easier to string two thoughts together with a  comma. (Shudders).

4. Several times I noticed that paragraphs started with an “ing” word and phrase. (Turning towards the door, she picked up the telephone. Wiping the counter, she began to make dinner. Placing the cutlery on the table, she added a pair of candles. Opening the wine, she poured herself half a glass.)  You can see how quickly that would get tiring. But then I had to laugh and groan out loud. She had fallen into the usual trap: “Walking down the hall to the bathroom, the fragrance of lemons grew stronger.” WHAT? Did the fragrance walk down the hall?


I began to read with a different attitude. I told myself, “Okay, just ignore the lack of punctuation in the right places. Just ignore the fact that there was a switch of speakers in the middle of a conversation with no indication to let us know who is  speaking. Think of it as a puzzle; a challenge.”

Now I was humming right along, tuning out verb tenses, guessing who was speaking, and ignoring strings of non-sentences. Could anything else happen to make it worse?

Of course it could.

5. Throughout the book, always and frequently, lay/lie was misused (my pet peeve). I don’t think she ever got one right. I probably would have remembered.

So WHY did I finish this book? To be honest, I wanted to discard it on the first page, where the trouble started, but I was feeling generous that day. Then as I got into it, I thought, “What an interesting storyline.” But reading this book was torture.

This author has three books available on amazon, the first of which I have now read. I will never, ever read another of her books, no matter how good the storyline is.

On finishing the book, I felt that I had just read the first scribblings of an idea — whatever comes before a first draft — maybe something written quickly in order to get the words down, but completely unedited as yet.

This book would have benefited from more input from critiquing groups to sort out some character development issues, and then some intensive editing (if not basic grammar lessons for the author).

What is my point in griping about this unnamed novel?

The point is, I could have liked this book a lot, but I was so jarred by the many errors and poor writing in places (repeating the character’s name in back to back sentences) and overusing “ing” words (beginning many sentences with them),  that it ruined the book for me.

If this author, with her good ideas for moving the story along, had only hired a copy-editor, she could have spared herself complete ruin  as an author. Just because I am a copy-editor does not mean that I’m the only reader who will ever be horrified by this poor writing. But the sad thing is that the author could have  made that novel something special with some advice from professionals who offer help in writing. A copy-editor, especially, could have covered all of the factors that dragged her book down.

Authors should not expect to publish a book after one draft of writing. I don’t know how many times this author rewrote her work, but my guess would be zero. The manuscript that hovered on hopeless, could have been something worth reading, if it had been reworked and fine-tuned.  Sadly, a missed opportunity on the part of the author of a series I will now never finish reading.




A Couple OF Things

Just because you hear people saying “I should have went,” or, “I seen,” or “I’m gonna,” doesn’t make this kind of grammar correct. Yes, sometimes people do talk like that, but this is the reason these expressions should only be used in direct dialogue. If we accept these phrases as correct, our language will devolve into a disgusting mess. Some say it’s progress to let the language change to reflect the times. I’m not saying we have to stick with old-fashioned terms – I don’t want to be trying to speak or write Chaucer’s English – but we should be making an effort not to let the language go to the hot place in a handbasket either.

So today I’m going to pick on one more error that I see with alarming frequency, and that is the use of the term “a couple of.” Many would like to see the “of” dropped. To me it just looks wrong, and it is wrong if you are one of those who don’t want the language eroded.

Often, I see the “of” being dropped so that instead of “picking a couple of apples” I see “picking a couple apples.”

A couple means two, as in a pair. It doesn’t mean one or three or five (although I’ve seen it used to refer to three). Technically, it means two.

So just as you would say a pair of, you could say a couple of whatevers.

The word “couple” is usually preceded by “a” and followed by “of.”

I would like a couple of cookies please.

(It should not be I would like a couple  cookies please,”  or even “I would like couple of cookies please.”)

There is a case where you would leave out the “of.” An example would be if you add the word “more.”

I would like a couple more cookies, please.

After all this dry stuff, I think I’d like a couple of cups of coffee with my couple of cookies. (Ah, there you see that “a couple” can be replaced by “my couple.”)

And no, these are not a couple of fat caterpillars; they are Yule Logs (cookies made with dates and coconut and pecans).

Happy Holidays!

Sentence Order – Save the Best for Last

When I was in Baja, I wanted to learn Spanish. I listened as hard as I could when someone spoke Spanish to me, and tried to make out the words, but mainly I remembered the first and last words they said.

When someone is giving me directions, I can best remember the first and last things they said; mainly the last.

In reading, it is often the same. We remember the last thing we heard more easily than what we heard in the middle of a story or sentence.

In writing, if you want to emphasize something or have the reader think about your main point, save it for the end of the sentence. You can put it at the beginning for emphasis too, but the end is usually more effective. Definitely do not place the important words in the middle.

Consider these two sentences. Which one makes more of an impression?

The house was engulfed in flames ten minutes before the fire department arrived.

Ten minutes before the fire department arrived, the house was already engulfed in flames.

The last word demands more of our attention.

Here is another example.

She burned the stew when she was making lunch.

When she was making lunch, she burned the stew.

And another.

When the front tire blew out, she was talking on the phone.

She was talking on the phone when the front tire blew out .

And one more.

While the people were out, Emma brought six of their shoes onto her dog bed because she was lonely.

Emma the spaniel was so lonely while the people were out that she brought six of their shoes onto her dog bed.

Sometimes it’s a subtle difference, but consider what the important part is, and, as you would with a punch line, save the best for last.

Ever Had that Sinking Feeling?

I can’t stand it any longer. I have to talk about lay and lie, and then about sink, sank, sunk.

I was reading a novel the other day and, as usual, I was prepared to ignore the mistakes involving the misuse of lay and lie, but I was so bombarded by mistakes I  just felt sickened by the poor writing.

These hens are laying. Hens lay (eggs). They don’t lie (tell untruths). They lay. 

Today they lay (the eggs).

Right now they are laying (the eggs).

Yesterday, they laid (the eggs).

Tomorrow they will lay (the eggs) again.

When someone (or some animal like a chicken) places something, they lay it down. It is an action that needs an object that will be placed, like an egg.


People can lay things down too. Maybe you will lay the bill on the table and hope someone pays it. You place something in a spot.

If you are not placing something down, perhaps the word you want is “lie.”

Today I lie on the bed. (Not lay on it. That is the chicken’s job.)

Sometime in the future, I will lie on the bed.

I am lying on the bed. (Not laying eggs.)

Yesterday I lay on the bed. [Not laid (eggs) on the bed.]

So you can imagine my horror when I read that “On the sidewalk laid a pile of flowers.” I wondered what those flowers laid.

On the next page, “She would lay against his shoulder as they watched TV.” I can just imagine what a mess that was. Scrambled eggs all over the place.

But wait! Her partner then “laid on the bed.” A much better place to lay your eggs, I suppose.

Can you hear me screaming and groaning in pain as I read this book?

Ha ha! But the torture is not over yet. This same author could not be bothered to look up sink, sank, sunk.

After the flowers laid on the sidewalk, the character in the story came closer, and her heart sunk.

All of this happened within two pages. I was almost leaping up to find some pain medication.

So, the verb “to sink”:

Imagine a ship.

In the upcoming trip, we hope it will not sink.

Today it is not sinking.

Another ship just like it sank last week

I don’t know if it had sunk because it was old and rotten or if it was sunk by a torpedo.

Either way, it SANK!

So there you have it, everything but the kitchen sunk. No, the kitchen sank (it might in a bad flood). The kitchen sink!

Just ask the survivors of this ship if it sink, sank, or sunk. Actually, it didn’t sink very far … but the reputation of the author whose book I just read certainly has sunk in my estimation. Luckily, I couldn’t be bothered to remember his or her name.