Spelling Bee

Are you ready for a tough spelling bee?

Here are twenty-five words that sometimes give people grief.

  1. address
  2. all right
  3. asphyxiate
  4. camouflage
  5. carburettor (Americans may spell it with only one “t.”)
  6. chrysanthemum
  7. commitment
  8. committee
  9. desiccated
  10. diphtheria
  11. embarrass
  12. exhilarate
  13. gorilla
  14. grammar
  15. harass
  16. hemorrhage
  17. inoculate
  18. intercede
  19. liquefy
  20. ophthalmologist
  21. penicillin
  22. seize
  23. siege
  24. supersede
  25. vaccinate

Why not have a look at these words and then have someone give you a spelling test? How do you think you’ll do?

If you don’t get 100%, don’t worry. You won’t be alone.

Are you sweating blood yet?





This or That?

Which word is the right one to use?

Some words are so similar in spelling, or sound, or meaning, that it can be difficult to know which is the correct one in any particular case.

Here are some that give many of us a hard time. I’ll begin with the two that I have problems with.

  1. discreet/discreteDiscreet means reliable, careful. If a person is discreet, they are not likely to blab something you’ve told them in confidence. Discrete means separate or distinct.
  2. canvas/canvass – I will canvass the potential voters to try to gain their support, and then I will hide in my canvas tent until the election is all over.
  3. cannon/canon – Think of the cannon as a big gun, and cannon is a bigger word than canon. A (little) canon is a senior clergyman. It can also refer to a piece of music.
  4. compliment/complement – The word “complement” looks like the beginning of the word “complete.” Complement is the completion of something. The dessert complemented the meal. Then when the cook brings a wonderful dessert, you can say something nice and give her or him a compliment.
  5. comprise/composed of – Oh! This one is troublesome. If you remember not to follow comprised with “of,” you are well on your way to using it correctly. A whole thing comprises some parts; the parts do not comprise the whole. They make up the whole, but do not comprise it.  The whole comprises the parts. Do not confuse this word with composed of, or consist of, or make up. e.g. The baked goods section comprises several kinds of pie. The puzzle is composed of pieces of many shapes. It comprises 500 pieces.
  6. extant/extinctExtant means still in existence. Extinct means something no longer exists. e.g. The extant works of the ancient authors were stored in a special vault. The dodo is an extinct bird.
  7. shear/sheer Shear is to cut, as with shears (scissors). Sheer can mean something like pure, or complete, as in sheer nonsense. Sheer can also refer to something that has fallen off or that drops straight down, as in a sheer drop-off on a cliff, or sheer, as in see-through (curtains), or sheer as in swerve abruptly.
  8. hoard/horde – A hoard is a collection of valuable things. Sometimes people hoard things that are valuable only to them. A huge group of people can be called a horde. Often they are called a horde if they are unruly.
  9. waver/waiver – If you waver, it could be that you are not as steadfast about an idea as you thought you were. A waiver is a document that gives up your right or a claim to something.
  10. plane/plain – A plane is a flying vehicle. It could also refer making a flat surface as on a wooden board, or it could refer to a level, as in being on a different plane (level), especially in thinking. The other plain could refer to something ordinary, especially in looks, and it can refer to the flat lands of the prairies.

Be Careful of These Misused Expressions – Ten More

It seems there are always ten more and ten more. I could go on for quite a long time, listing misused words and phrases. Don’t worry. I’m not being judgmental. Many people misuse these expressions all the time. Even news anchors come out with these mistakes.

Usually, my feeling is that it’s your right to talk and write any way you want, but if you publish it, then it should be correct.

Here are ten more expressions that many people use incorrectly.

  1. fortuitous – This does not necessarily mean fortunate or lucky. It refers to something (usually a good thing) that happens by chance or by accident, not by design. The distinction is fine, but take care when you use this word.
  2. kind of/sort of – These expressions should only be used in familiar writing styles, where they are used to replace “rather” or “something like.” More extreme misuses (such as “kinda” and “sorta”) leave me shuddering, but I have suffered through novels that use these expressions throughout. I will concede that in rare cases, a character may use “kinda” and “sorta” in dialogue, but in narrative sections of the text they are not good form. Save your use of kind of/sort of for when you mean a type or variety of something.
  3. less/fewer – Use less for quantity  and fewer for a number.  e.g. We have less money, but we have fewer dollars. We have less rain because fewer raindrops fell.
  4. amount/number – Use amount for quantity, and number for something that is potentially countable. e.g. The number of people at the concert was huge, but so was the amount of garbage they left behind.
  5. irregardless – Not a word. The negative (less) is already in the suffix of the word “regardless.” The association with words such as irregular and irresponsible could be the cause of some of the confusion.
  6. personally – Not needed in most cases. Just leave it out. It might be used to differentiate between being somewhere in person, as opposed to being there virtually (on the Internet), but in general use, it is often repetitive and serves little purpose.
  7. interesting – This is not an interesting word unless you make it so by adding details to tell why.
  8. true fact – A fact is something verifiable, so to say that something is a true fact is redundant. All facts are true; otherwise they are not facts.
  9. as good as – Avoid dropping the second “as.” The expression is incomplete without it. Wrong: She’s as good or better than me in tennis. Right: She’s as good as or better than me in tennis.
  10. point in time – Don’t use this expression. It means nothing. There is no “point” in time. it is continually passing by.


So now you know.


Parentheses: When and How to Use Them

First of all, what is a parenthesis? It’s the singular form of parentheses.

Sometimes (often) they are mistakenly called brackets. See the difference here:

Parentheses (  )

Brackets [  ]


When should you use them? They are meant to set off words that have no grammatical relationship to the rest of the sentence.

1. Often they enclose words that are meant to add information or explain a term or idea just mentioned, but without the sudden interruption of a dash.


Three kinds of dogs (spaniels, shepherds, and chihuahas) went for a stroll in the park with their owners.

The First Amendment (guaranteeing freedom of speech) is under attack.

I cleaned the house (mainly dusted and vacuumed) and then I was ready to relax.

2. Parentheses can also be used to enclose terms given in another language.


He had a laissez-faire  (let things happen as they may) attitude.


His attitude was to let things happen as they may (laissez-faire).

3. Parentheses are used to enclose numbers in lists that are included in text.


She decided that her new diet would include (1) sun-dried tomatoes, (2) feta cheese, and (3) lots of pasta.

4. What do you do when you need to explain something and use parentheses inside parentheses?


If you do it the British way, you would use parentheses inside the original set of parentheses, but the American way uses a less confusing approach (brackets [the square kind] inside the parentheses).

5. Does the period at the end of the sentence go inside or outside the closing parenthesis?

It depends on whether the part in parentheses is a phrase inside the sentence, or whether it would stand alone as a sentence. Look closely at the subtle differences in punctuation in the examples below:

On the bakery shelf were six kinds of cake (all of which Mary wanted to taste).

On the bakery shelf were six kinds of cake. ( Mary wanted to taste all of them.)

My feeling about the use of parentheses is that they can help to explain things in an expedient way, but they are best avoided unless there is good reason to use them. Possibly they are more convenient for use in bibliographies and in scientific writing, but in fiction writing, it is often better to avoid their overuse.


Braces { }  This third type is used in programming language, as well as in mathematical and other specialized writing. Do not use them in place of parentheses or brackets.




Serial Commas

The old way of listing items was not to put a comma before the final conjunction.


Her favourite foods were pasta, salad, fish and avocados.

But fish and avocados don’t really belong together the way salt and pepper do, so the trend has been to add an extra comma to make this clear. The following way has become accepted.

When you list three or more items in a series, a comma should appear before the conjunction.

Here are some examples:

Her favourite foods were pasta, salad, fish, and avocados.

I chopped wood, George put it in the wheelbarrow, and Sam stacked it in the woodshed.

If two of the items belong together (like bread and butter or macaroni and cheese) there is no comma between them.


Her favourite foods were salad, fish, macaroni and cheese, and avocados.


Her favourite foods were salad, fish, avocados, and macaroni and cheese.

If your sentence contains a series whose elements are all joined by conjunctions like “and,” “or,” or “but,” no commas are needed, although you might want to put them in if the elements are long.


Turn left on Torrance and immediately turn right on Lazo and then go straight ahead for about half a mile until you get to my road, or take a taxi and avoid all that frustration.

One annoying thing I have noticed writers do when they make a list is to leave out the final conjunction before the last item.


Her favourite foods were pasta, salad, fish, avocados.

 (Please don’t do this. Just put that “and” in front of avocados and make me happy.)

Her favourite foods were pasta, salad, fish, and avocados.

Confusing Possessives and Contractions

Contractions are all about words that are made shorter by putting an apostrophe in the space where letters are missing.

One of the most common mistakes in making contractions is with you’re. It is often misspelled as your. You know I like gimmicks for remembering things. Well, two things remind me of the right way to spell these words.

you’re – This stands for you are, but the “a” is taken out.  If you are trying to say you are, then you’re is the word you want.

your – This word means that something belongs to you. I try to think of something that belongs to us as our “something,” so for something that belongs to you I use your. Notice that your has our in it?


Another real pain is whether to use its or it’s.

Think of the letters that are missing when you say it is. If you want to say it is, take out the “i” in is and put an apostrophe instead.

If you just remember that, then you will know that the other meaning for its (the possessive) has no apostrophe.

It’s (it is) time to visit the horse and brush its (ownership) coat.


they’re, there, their

The apostrophe in they’re tells you that a letter is missing, and it means they are.

To remember there, as in over there, think of not here. You will see the word here in there.

The last one, their, is an odd one to remember, but it is the possessive. “They” own something. I often see this word misspelled as thier. If you get the letters mixed up, think of their as having the word the in it. We all know how to spell the.

Losing the Punch

Many sentences in our writing have the potential for packing a punch. It all depends on the choice of words and sometimes the punctuation. One of our goals, as writers, is to keep the reader turning pages. We need to choose our words carefully to achieve this.


The tension in a scene can be lost if you don’t pay attention to maintaining the emphasis and focus on what you are trying to say. Losing the punch in your writing can leave the reader feeling like this fellow (above), deflated and less inclined to continue reading.

One way to lose your reader is to drone on, explaining too much. Don’t repeat a point once you’ve made it.

A dull way to express yourself is to use the passive voice. The word “passive” itself tells us that not much action is taking place. Here are two examples of how you can change a sentence from passive to active.

The Passive Voice


The wobbling bike rider was hit by the car.


The car hit the wobbling bike rider.


The burglar was bitten in the leg by the snarling dog.


The snarling dog bit the burglar’s leg.


Overused exclamation points dilute the impact of an otherwise exciting scene.

Keep the use of exclamation points to a minimum. A good rule is to save them for one or two-word expressions.

Run! Hurry! Jump! These one-word expressions warrant exclamation points.

I think you should run! This longer sentence is no better off with the exclamation points. On the contrary, it looks amateurish to use exclamation points in an effort to make a dull, long phrase sound more exciting.

Overused Adjectives and Adverbs

When used to enhance writing, these words often do just the opposite. Avoid them as much as possible. Here is a list of some of them.

  • awfully
  • beautiful(ly)
  • certainly
  • exciting
  • extremely
  • fantastic
  • highly
  • perfectly
  • pretty (much)
  • really
  • richly
  • so
  • such
  • super
  • swell
  • too
  • tremendous(ly)
  • very
  • wonderful(ly)

The list is far from complete, but you’ll recognize words like these when you look for them and take them out of your writing.

“Short and punchy” is more interesting than a long, droning narrative.

Strong Verbs

In rewriting our drafts, we have an opportunity to add punch to flagging sentences. Take a closer look at your verbs. Do they accurately describe what you want to say, or do they merely describe it adequately?

One of the most obvious ways of cleaning up weak verbs is by replacing verbs that are in the progressive tense (ongoing action), if possible.

Progressive tense verbs usually have an auxiliary verb like to have or to be.

Example of progressive tenses:

Past Progressive – I was driving.

Present Progressive – I am driving.

Future Progressive – I will be driving.

Sometimes these are exactly the tenses you want to suit what you are trying to say, but often, especially in the past and present tenses, a change can help to make the writing snappier.

I was driving” could be “I drove.”

I am driving” could be “I drive.”

I will be driving” could be “I will drive.” (This one is trickier and only works if the meaning is not affected.)


Generally, a weak verb is defined as one whose base form doesn’t change when it is put into the past tense.

For example:

walk, walked

jump, jumped

love, loved

move, moved

work, worked

This kind of verb can be made more interesting by using stronger verbs, ones whose base form does change in the past tense. For example:

give, gave

bring, brought

think, thought

sleep, slept


Besides choosing these stronger verbs, there is still more you can do. Some verbs (whether they are considered weak or strong by the above definition) could almost always be improved by replacing them with something more interesting. Take ordinary, overused verbs, and replace them with punchier, more precise ones. You might even want to try using a thesaurus to find alternate verbs to use.

Here are some fairly boring verbs that can often be replaced with something better.

go (went)

be (was, were, are, am)


any verb showing movement (walk, run)

I went to the corner store” could be made so much better with a verb that gives us more information. These are not the best, but they’re sure better than “went.”

I hurried to the corner store.

I sauntered to the corner store.

I dashed to the corner store.

You can do this with many ordinary verbs and make your writing more precise to say exactly what you mean. But just as with so many writing skills we use, be careful not to overdo it.




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.