Center for Writers - Resources

USAGE


accept, except

Accept means "to agree to or receive."

Will the union accept the terms of the contract?

Except means "exclude or leave out."

They want the no-smoking rule excepted from the contract.

affect, effect

Affect is a verb that means "cause a change in" or "influence."

The cold weather will affect the plants.

Effect is a noun that means "result or conclusion."

Did the cold weather have a harmful effect on the plants?

TIP A verb is an action word. Action begins with a; affect, which is an action, begins with a.

allot, a lot, alot

Allot means to make provision for:  e.g., When budgeting for the trip, we should allot $50
for gasoline.

A lot refers, at least typically, to many:  e.g., There were a lot of geese at the lake today.

Contrary to popular belief, alot is NOT a word.

all right

All right is two words, not one--e.g., alright.

amount, number

Amount is used for uncountable things (soup, wealth, happiness).

Number is used for countable things (sandwiches, dollars, blessings).

The amount of soup we need to prepare depends on the number of guests invited.

continual, continuous

Continual means “occurring repeatedly “

Continuous means “going on without interruption in space or time “

Although all life-support systems of the space station are designed to function continuously, the crewmembers continually check the instruments that monitor those systems.

different from, different than

Different from is preferred to different than. His purpose is different from mine.

disinterested, uninterested

Disinterested means “impartial.”

Uninterested means “having no interest in.”

They were uninterested in hearing my argument, so we agreed that a disinterested person should settle our dispute.

due to, because of

Do not use due to as a preposition.

INCORRECT     He dropped out of school due to failing grades.
            CORRECT        He dropped out of school because of failing grades.

Due to may be used as an adjective following a form of to be, however.

His failure to make the appointment was due to the loss of his planner.
                My present temperment is due to the change in the weather.

everyday, every day

Everyday is an adjective meaning "used daily" or "common."

She coped with everyday problems with exceptional good humor.

When referring to a day as a unit of time, use every day, wherein every  is an adjective that modifies the noun, day.

Feed the dog every day.

explicit, implicit

Something that is explicit is expressed directly, whereas something that is implicit is implied.

fewer, less

Fewer is used for countable things (calories, haircuts, fleas).

Less is used for uncountable things (fat, hair, scratching).

The new product has fewer calories and less fat than the old one did.

further, farther

Further means to proceed or to go beyond a given point.

Having come to a locked door, we could go no further.

Farther is used with respect for geographic distances.

                New York City is farther than Dallas
hopefully

Hopefully is an adverb that means "in a hopeful manner." It can modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Its use as a sentence modifier to mean, "I hope" is not desirable in academic writing.

We hope the twins will arrive on time. or We waited hopefully for the twins to arrive on time.

NOT Hopefully, the twins will arrive safely.

in regard to, in regards to

In regard to is standard; in regards to is not standard and should be avoided.

What should I do in regard to dropping this course?

insure, ensure

Insure is reserved for financial or legal certainty.

I can insure my car, but I cannot ensure that it will not be damaged.

irregardless, regardless

Irregardless is nonstandard for regardless.

Regardless of what you do, I am going to the park.

lie, lay

Lay is a transitive verb that means "put" or "place," and takes a direct object.

The principal parts of the verb lay are

lay (present), as in “Please lay the books on the table”;.
laid (past), as in “I laid the books on the table yesterday afternoon”; and
laid (past participle), as in “I have laid the books on that table every day after school since I was six.”

Lie is an intransitive verb meaning "recline or be situated." It does not take a direct object.  The principal parts of the
verb lie are

lie (present), as in “I lie out in the sun each day to get a tan”;
lay (past), as in “I lay down yesterday afternoon for a nap”; and
lain (past participle), asi in “I have lain down for a nap every afternoon for the past five years.”

loose, lose

Loose is an adjective meaning “not tight,” whereas lose is a verb that means “to suffer loss.”

Consider “The goose is loose” vs. “If he isn’t careful, he’ll lose his buttons.”

myself, himself, herself, themselves

Reflexive pronouns always use the objective case because they reflect back on their antecedents:

They claim to have built the house themselves.

As intensifiers, they serve to focus emphasis on the antecedent:


I did it myself.
The spy believed his life itself was in danger.

Do not use reflexive pronouns alone, without nouns or other pronouns that serve as antecedents.

The coach wanted John and me (not myself) to join the team.
Mary and I (not myself) are the ones who prepared all the food for the picnic.

passed, past

Passed is a verb referring to the past tense of pass, whereas past is an adjective or noun referring to something that happened before the present time.

Consider “The day passed slowly” vs. “Last Wednesday is in the past” or “This past Tuesday was a day to remember.”

reason is because, reason why

Both because and why mean "for the reason that," so using either the reason is because or the reason is why is redundant.

The reason we left was that [not was because] the noise was distracting.
The reason they left the books on the table is unclear.