Common Word Usage Errors

Most writers mix up a word or two now and then. Some writers mix up a lot of words a lot of the time. In novels that have not been copy-edited, I find a disturbing number of errors and those of word usage are some of the most glaring.

They are also the easiest for the writer to fix and to avoid in the first place.

Here are some examples of words and phrases that are often confused or misused.

I shudder when I see lay and lie misused, but it is such a common error that I have devoted a whole post to it. You can visit it here.

raise, rise

You rise when you get up, but when you lift something else up, you raise it.

The past tense is rose, or if you lifted something you raised it.

loose, lose

A knot could come loose, and then you might lose something you had tied up with it.

breath, breathe

When you take a breath, you breathe.

loath, loathe

You might be loath to do something that you loathe.

peek, peak, pique

Let’s take a peek out the window at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. Oh, no, not now. Maybe later. But you have piqued my interest.

But later, she was piqued by his rudeness, and huffed around the house in a fit of pique.

horde, hoard

A horde of people pushed their way towards the speaker.

During the Covid crisis, some people were hoarding toilet paper.

hang, hung

The picture was hung on the wall, but the man was hanged from the gibbet.

ensure, insure

You ensure (make sure) that something happens, but you insure (buy compensation) against losing money in case of an accident.

less, amount, fewer, number

Less and amount are used with quantities that cannot be counted individually, while fewer and number are used for things that can be counted.

There has been less cloud this week, but we have had fewer cloudy days.

A number of people have said that the amount of meat a person eats has a direct effect on their health.

affect, effect

What he said does not affect me directly, but the overall effect of his way of talking is that people like him less for it.

The list of word usage errors is quite long and I may post another list at a later time. For now, this is a start.


19 thoughts on “Common Word Usage Errors

    • You’d be shocked if you saw how many times these mistakes occur. I think that often, the writers do know the difference but the mistakes creep in because they aren’t thinking about them very hard. If you point out a mistake, most writers will say, “Oh yeah, of course! I knew that.” These posts are mainly for reminding writers to watch for these things that they already know about, but often forget to use properly.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Some of these are a bit tricky, especially when English is not your first language, or when you don’t think when you write. Until recently, I actually didn’t know the difference between lay and lie and constantly mixed them up. The way I remember this now is that you “lay” something down and you “lie” down yourself. 🙂

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