So this isn’t about the military. And it is only tangentially about new media.
But I have always believed that choosing to write on a blog or another social media platform is NOT a license to write poorly. (Note: Edited to add a key missing word there. Thanks KJ!)
Enter Copyblogger, perhaps the best when it comes to advocating for strong online writing.
Brian Clark has a great new post. Even if you think that it is “inconceivable” that you use words incorrectly, you should check out the Inigo Montoya Guide to Commonly Misused Words.
(The reference comes from one of my favorite quotes from Mandy Patinkin’s character in The Princess Bride: “You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”)
His tips are:
Adverse / Averse
Adverse means unfavorable. Averse means reluctant.
Afterwards is always wrong. It’s afterward.
Complement / Compliment
I see this one all the time. Complement is something that adds to or supplements something else. Compliment is something nice someone says about you.
Criteria is plural, and the singular form is criterion. If someone tells you they have only one criteria, you can quickly interject and offer that it be they get a clue.
Farther / Further
Farther is talking about a physical distance.
“How much farther is Disney World, Daddy?”
Further is talking about an extension of time or degree.
“Take your business further by reading Copyblogger.”
Fewer / Less
If you can count it, use fewer. If you can’t, use less.
“James has less incentive to do what I say.”
“Tony has fewer subscribers since he stopped blogging.”
Historic / Historical
Historic means an important event. Historical means something that happened in the past.
This word is used incorrectly so much (including by me) it may be too late. But let’s make you smarter anyway. The rule is you only use hopefully if you’re describing the way someone spoke, appeared, or acted.
- Smart: I hope she says yes.
- Wrong: Hopefully, she says yes.
- Wrong: Hopefully, the weather will be good.
- Smart: It is hoped that the weather cooperates.
- Smart: She eyed the engagement ring hopefully.
Imply / Infer
Imply means to suggest indirectly (you’re sending a subtle message). To infer is to come to a conclusion based on information (you’re interpreting a message).
Insure / Ensure
Insure is only correct when you call up Geico or State Farm for coverage. Ensure means to guarantee, and that’s most often what you’re trying to say, right?
Irregardless is not a word. Use regardless or irrespective.
“I’m literally starving to death.”
No, odds are, you’re not.
Literally means exactly what you say is accurate, no metaphors or analogies. Everything else is figurative (relative, a figure of speech).
Premier / Premiere
Premier is the first and best in status or importance, or a prime minister. Premiere is the opening night of Star Wars 8: George Wants More Money.
Principal / Principle
Principal when used as a noun means the top dog; as an adjective, it means the most important of any set. Principle is a noun meaning a fundamental truth, a law, a rule that always applies, or a code of conduct.
Towards is always wrong. It’s toward. I went 41 years not being sure about this one.
Unique means (literally) one of a kind. Saying something is very or truly unique is wacked. It’s either a purple cow or it isn’t.
Who / Whom
This one is a lost cause, but let’s go down swinging. The way to deal with the who versus whom quandary is a simple substitution method.
First, a refresher on subjects and objects.
Subjects do the action:
“He/she/we like(s) to rock the house.”
Objects receive the action:
“The rock star sneered at him/her/us.”
Use who for subjects and whom for objects.
- Who wrote this blog post?
- Who is speaking at the conference?
- Who is going to clean up this mess?
- Whom are you going to write about?
- Whom did he blame for the Google Slap?
- Whom did he bait for the links?
Truth is, whom just doesn’t sound right in many situations where it’s correct, especially in the US. You now know the rule… feel free to break it.