Five More for your List


Morale (accent on the second syllable) usually refers to the general mood of a person or group. Are they enthusiastic and encouraged, or are they discouraged?

Moral (accent on the first syllable) is a lesson, often learned in a story like a fable. How often have we heard, “And the moral of the story is….”?


If someone has a flair for doing something, they have a natural talent or special skill. For example, my friend has a flair for home decorating.

A flare could be a light spreading out in a fan shape, a blaze, or a device that produces that flash of light. It could also refer to the fan shape of a pantleg. In the ’70s, pantlegs flared out at the bottom.


A flash of light in a thunderstorm is lightning (no e).

If something gets lighter in colour or in weight, we could say the sky is lightening, or the load is lightening. Think of getting lighter, as in to lighten, therefore, it is lightening.


Those cubes with dots are called dice. One of the cubes is called a die. But dice has been used as the singular for so long, that it is now accepted as meaning one or more cubes.

And now for the most fun one – how do you spell a teeny tiny thing?

It is minuscule.

I think I have always spelled this one wrong because I was thinking “mini,” when I should have been thinking “minus.”

There is only one i in minuscule, but there are two u’s.


Here Come the Relatives


When do you put a hyphen in the words for relatives? When do you use a capital letter?

I still struggle with the hyphenation. The capitalization is easier.

It works a bit like mom and dad. If you use the word as the proper noun (like a person’s name), it’s capitalized.

e.g. Did you bake a pie today, Grandma? Did Mom help you?


My grandma baked a pie. My mom helped her.

Same goes for aunt and uncle.


Are your aunt and uncle in town?

Yes, Aunt Mary and Uncle John are visiting us.

And now for hyphenation.

All the “grands” are one word:

grandmother, grandma (not gramma), grandfather, grandpa (not grampa), grandson, granddaughter (yes, it has two d’s), grandchildren.

If you put “great” in front of these words, put a hyphen after “great.”

great-grandmother, great-grandma, great-grandfather, great-grandpa, great-grandson, great-granddaughter, great-grandchildren.

If you need to add another “great,” add another hyphen.


The in-laws get hyphens; the outlaws don’t.

brother-in-law, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, father-in-law, parents-in-law.

The blended family gets special treatment.

half sister, half brother (no hyphen, separate words)

stepsister, stepbrother, stepmother, stepfather, stepparents  (no hyphen, ONE word)


step-granddaughter, step-great-grandson


This would give me a headache, so I make a quick list where I can look them up. If you want you can just print this page.




More Confusing Words

Here are a few more troublesome words to add to your list.


Who’s is a contraction for “who is.” If you want to say, “Who is  that man?” you will use “who’s” to say, “Who’s that man?”

If you want to know who owns that dog, you would say, “Whose dog is that?”


You might sign a waiver to renounce your right to something.

If you’re not sure if you should sign the waiver, you might be undecided and you might waver about making that decision.

used to/ have to

If you were in the habit of doing something in the past, then you used to do it. Don’t be fooled by the sound of the words. It is not correct to say use to when you mean used to.

Another expression that has a similar hard sound is have to. Believe it or not, I have seen it spelled hafto. Shudders!


Shear means to cut. Big scissors are sometimes called shears.

Sheer can mean vertical, as in the drop-off of a cliff. It can mean see-through, as in sheer (lacy or gauze) curtains. It can mean pure, as in “sheer nonsense.”


Loath without the “e” means “reluctant” to do something.

I am loath to walk down that dark alley in the middle of the night.

Loathe with an “e” means you dislike something intensely.

I loathe the taste of bitter medicine.


Again, it is a case of a final “e” or not.

If you can’t catch your breath, you can’t breathe properly.


Sooth is archaic for truth. Soothe with an “e” means to calm or comfort someone.


Headache Words

Even people who are comfortable in their native language run into word usage problems. English is especially difficult when it comes to word choice. In any kind of writing that you plan to publish or that others will read in a formal setting, proper word usage matters.

Here are some more troublesome words to add to your list.

gibe; jibe

A gibe is a taunt meant to hurt someone’s feelings – an insult.

Jibe means to fit. If something doesn’t jibe, it doesn’t go well with something. If people have opposing political views, for example, their ideas don’t jibe.

alright; all right

The correct form is all right. Avoid alright.

altogether; all together

When speaking of something as a whole, use altogether.

When a group is in one place, they are all together.


This is a combination of pass and time. It’s a way to pass the time, so it is a pastime. Note that there is only one “s” and one “t.”

Having said that, here are two other examples of similar words that are often used in the wrong way.

The time has passed us by.

It is past the time for talking.

Subtle differences, aren’t they?

pore; pour

Pour me some juice, please, while I pore over this sheet of instructions.

aid; aide

I can aid you in your work. That will be an aid to you. Then, if you like, I can be your aide.

grisly; grizzly

Something horrible can be described as grisly, if it is especially gruesome.

A grizzly is a very large bear. An attack by a grizzly can be very grisly.

Photo courtesy of Ken Johnstone.

Let’s try to use words correctly. I can’t bear it when I see them misused.


Ten Words That Give Us Pause

The English language has many words that sound similar, or are spelled the same, but have different meanings. Some are close to sounding right, but they may be the wrong one. Some are just a problem to spell correctly.

Here are some that many people get mixed up or misuse.

  1. rapt/wrapped

You may be rapt in thought (engrossed, or enRAPTured by an idea),  but a gift is wrapped.

2. rack/wrack

You can pretty much forget about wrack. It’s an old leftover from wreck. You may see it used in the expression wrack and ruin, but for everything else, use rack. You can rack your brain to figure out why that is.

3. languid/limpid

A stream can be limpid (clear and calm), but that does not mean it is limp or listless.

Languid, on the other hand, is used to mean limp and listless.

4. kindergarten (NOT kindergarden).

It comes from the German words for children (Kinder) and garden (Garten). A child going to kindergarten is called a kindergartner.

5. jamb/jam

The side of the door frame is a jamb.  It comes from the French word jambe, for leg.

A sweet spread for toast is jam.

6. forego/forgo

Forego means to precede (to come before). Forgo means to do without something.

7. flora/fauna

Many people use these words together without knowing that flora refers to plants while fauna refers to animals.

8. florescent/fluorescent

Florescent means to be in flower, while fluorescent means radiating light.

9. better/bettor

Better is an improvement, while bettor is one who places a bet.

10. bandanna/banana

She took off her bandanna to eat her banana.



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.


Ten Misused Expressions

There are a lot more than ten misused expressions, but we don’t want to be on overload, so here are some randomly picked misused words or expressions. You may notice that some are repeated from other posts, but that is only because I keep seeing those words misused and the reminder bears repeating.

Blah, blah, blah….

Like, you know….

  1. all right – This is the correct spelling. “Alright” is a variant and not generally accepted as correct. Please try to avoid using “alright.”
  2. everyday/every day – “Everyday” (spelled as one word) means ordinary, or usual.  “Every day” (spelled as two separate words) means each day.
  3. as to whether – This is just wordy. You don’t need “as to.” Simply say “whether.”
  4. data, strata, phenomena, media – These are plurals of “datum, stratum, phenomenon, medium.” So the data “are”; not the data “is.”
  5. hopefully – In most cases, this is misused. It means to do something in a hopeful frame of mind. Most likely what you mean to say is “I hope,” or “it is to be hoped.” Be careful with “hopefully.” In most cases it is better left out.
  6. inside of/outside of – When you are referring to a location, leave out “of.” If you mean a time frame (inside of two minutes), it is okay to leave the “of” in place.
  7. like – Do not use “like” in place of “as.” Usually if it is before a phrase or clause, you should be using “as.” (“She ran like her life depended on it,” should be “She ran as if her life depended on it.”) Also, do not insert this word as a meaningless introduction to an adjective  (She was like devastated to hear the way I speak, throwing “like” into my podcast over 400 times). By the way, in a one-hour podcast filled with many uses of “like,” I began counting  and was horrified to find that the person had used 400+ likes an hour. Isn’t that well over the speed limit?
  8. nice – Avoid this tired, vague word.
  9. most – do not use this word instead of “almost.” “Most everyone” should be “almost everyone.”
  10. the foreseeable future – Avoid using this expression. The future is NOT foreseeable; at least not yet.

So blah, blah, blah … Now, you know….

(👍 ͡❛ ͜ʖ ͡❛)👍

Word Surprises

Did you know that impostor is spelled with “or” and not “er”?

Did you know that guttural is spelled with “ur” and not “er”?

In the word for a big fuss, which letters are doubled? Here it is – hullabaloo.


Gimme a gimmick any day,

To tell me a word is spelled which way.

Stationary and stationery are two words that are often confused. One means to stay in one place, and the other refers to letter-writing material.

The difference in the spellings is in the ending (ary or ery).

The “a”  in ary is like the “a” in place. I remained stationary (in one place).

The “e” in ery is like the “e” in letter. I wrote a letter on fine stationery.



Oh, Bother

No, I don’t mean “Oh, brother,” but it basically means the same thing.

Here are some words that are a real bother to some people as they try to use them in their writing. (They are also a bother to people who read that writing if the words are not used correctly.)

Recently I read a book of well-written short stories. In the whole book I only came across two mistakes, but one of them really jarred me.

The character in the story went fishing and was waiting for that allusive bite.

I groaned and shrieked out loud. It grated so much and ruined that short story. That is the only thing I remember about the story. Allusive! I suppose it could have been an allusive bite if the fish was referring to something as he took the bait. Maybe he was saying to his school of fish, “Now, class, here is the perfect example of the kind of bait to avoid – the kind I was alluding to in our last lecture.” Of course, the writer meant to say “elusive.”


Here are two more words that are similar and cause a lot of trouble for both writers and readers. I’ll confess right now that this one used to give me headaches before I got their meanings straight.


I used to think those were opposites. They are, in fact, very similar in meaning.

Restive means “difficult to control or keep still.”


The Kindergarten class was restive as the children awaited the arrival of the visitors.

Restless means “unable to rest, fidgety.”

I tossed and turned all night. I had so much on my mind that it made me restless.


Here is one more. These two words can actually have four meanings.


The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. The plains are the flat prairie lands. It’s interesting though, that the plains are flat, and yet to plane something, such as a piece of wood, also makes it flat. Uh-oh! Now I’ve confused you.

Add to that, something plain, or ordinary for transportation and you have a plane that will fly you to your destination.

If you had a workshop in the prairies, on the plain, you could use your planer to plane some wood and build yourself an ordinary, or plain flying machine, a plane.


So do you remember who is known for saying, “Oh, bother”?

I’ll give you a happy face if you guess it.