Troublesome Expressions

As a copy editor, I come across many expressions that writers use incorrectly. The list of troublesome words and expressions could fill many pages, so I have chosen a few that many writers struggle with. I have not dealt with lay and lie, which are particularly problematic. These verbs have been dealt with in an article all to themselves under the title Lie, Lady, Lie.

Advice/advise

Advice is the noun. I give advice. Advise is the verb. I advise you to take my advice.

Affect, effect

Affect is the verb. Effect is the noun, but it can be used as a verb as well.

How does this change affect you?

What effect does it have on you?

By working together we can effect (bring about) some changes.

Aggravate

This word means to make worse, not to annoy or to anger.

Alright

The proper term is all right. I see alright used frequently, especially by American writers, but that spelling is best avoided.

Amount, number

Amount is for a mass. Number is for countable items.

Anyways, anywheres, everywheres, nowheres, somewheres

These are non-standard forms. Drop the “s.”

Awhile, abit, alot

Two words — a while, a bit, and a lot.

Between, among

Between is used with two people (This is between John and me). Among is used for three or more (We’ll divide the food among the townspeople).

Breath, breathe

Breath is the noun and breathe is the verb.

Someday, I will breathe my last breath.

Continual, continuous

Continual means again and again, while continuous means ongoing.

I could care less.

Usually the writer means the opposite of what this sentence says. Most likely, what is meant is I couldn’t care less.

Envelop, envelope

Envelop means to wrap around. Envelope is the folder you put a letter in.

I will envelop you in my arms when you give me the envelope with the money in it.

Less, fewer

Just as with amount and number, less is used for a mass (an amount) and fewer is used for something countable.

Loath, loathe

Loath is the adjective. Loathe is the verb.

I was loath to do the dishes because I loathe that job.

Of

Not necessary after the prepositions inside, off, and outside.

Incorrect as a substitute for have, as in would have, could have, and should have.

Reason why

Usually there is no need for the why.

True facts

Facts are always true, so true facts has no real meaning. Just use the word facts by itself.

Very

In most cases, very is easily omitted and not missed.

With regards to

What the writer usually means is with regard to. This expression is often not necessary, only adding wordiness to the writing, but when written as with regards to, it sounds as if the writer is adding a greeting to someone.

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10 thoughts on “Troublesome Expressions

  1. I am saving this page! As my memory wanes it seems the rules of English have abandoned me. I’ll take all the help I can get. Even though I’m not a professional writer. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My theory is that “alright” became familiar from its wide use in English-language subtitles in foreign films. It saves one letter and one word space, and in writing subtitles every letter matters. Of course, once familiar, it got picked up and used. I have to say I have never seen “all right” in a subtitle. Thanks for the list–I am addicted to lists.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you’ll come back to check out other posts. There is so much to learn and we never stop improving our English. Even those who consider themselves good writers can learn something new now and then.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you!! Very interesting about what do you teach. As you see I love to write and I have some plans about that. I would like to write my own book. I love to write short stories as you see on my blog. Thank you! You bet! I will check out your other posts.

        Liked by 1 person

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