You might not notice – but somebody will.

easily confused words

Several years ago, a friend of mine worked for a recruitment consultancy. Let’s call them Acme Inc. Their contracting arm (which supplied staff to companies on a contract basis) was called Acme Inc. Independant Services. Did you feel a twitch of discomfort as you read that? Good. So did my friend – and one day, over an end-of-the-week glass of Chardonnay, he mentioned it to his boss. Independant, he explained, doesn’t exist. Dependant does (the woman had three dependants). Dependent does (the three children were dependent on her). Independent does (he stood as an independent candidate). But independant doesn’t. His boss, playing for time, drained his glass. Then, he smiled his twinkly smile, and slurred, “it’s a deliberate mistake. It shows that we really are different.” My friend returned his smile, considered his career, and kept his mouth shut.

Write to the point

Good grammar is important to good writing. Would you consider showing a client around messy offices? How about answering the phone informally? Or having a logo that’s skew? Of course you wouldn’t. But somehow, dodgy grammar flies under the radar. At least, most of the time. For somebody out there will notice – and they’ll draw conclusions pretty fast. So here are the first five of my Top 10 easily confused words.
  1. who’s/whose Who’s is a contraction of who is. So you can say who’s at the door? But you can’t say the man who’s car I ran into. It’s an understandable mistake (Peter’s car, Jane’s car, who’s car). Instead, you should say the man whose car I ran into.
  2. i.e / e.g. If you’re a Latin scholar, you’ll never confuse these. But most people nowadays don’t know their amo from their amas. i.e. stands for ‘id est’, which means ‘that is’. In other words, you’re explaining what you’ve just referred to (the Chancellor of the Exchequer i.e. the Minister of Finance). e.g. on the other hand, stands for ‘exempli gratia’, and means ‘for the sake of example’. It’s used when you’re giving one example among many. So you could write one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council e.g. France.
  3. disinterested / uninterested It’s common nowadays to see disinterested used as the opposite of interested, as in my brother is disinterested in politics. It should be my brother is uninterested in politics. Disinterested means impartial or neutral, so you could say to resolve the dispute, we need a disinterested party to hold mediation talks.
  4. principal / principle Just the other day, I read on a web site our guiding principals are honesty, integrity and efficiency. And that’s wrong. For a principal is more likely to guide a school, if anything. Or you could talk about a principal ballerina. If you’re talking about values, it’s principle every time.
  5. it’s / its This is a very common mistake – and an understandable one. If you can say Peter’s hat and my uncle’s house, you’d expect to say the house lost it’s roof in the storm. But you don’t. Instead, you say its roof. It’s is a contraction of it is. So you could say it’s a lovely house (but not if it lost its roof in a storm).
If your head’s already hurting, then perhaps it’s time to lay lie down. Part 2 next week.