Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How To Use Those Pesky Words

You'd think being an English major would help me out in this area, but even I have a hard time keeping track of some of these words. These words are part of the reason non-English speakers say that our wonderful language is one of the hardest to learn. There are so many words that are almost the same, but with totally different meanings, or sound just the same but are completely different. You gotta love English :D

In any case, I thought I'd go through some of the words that seem to be a pain for everyone (yours truly included).

A few of the pesky ones:

Acclamation: praise or, loud applause or approval, or an approving vote
Acclimation: to become accustomed to a new climate or environment

affect: to pretend; to influence
effect: a result

assure: to make certain, to give confidence to, to promise, to guarantee (such as with a person) – I tried to assure her everything would be alright.
ensure: to make sure, to protect (such as with a thing) – My mom checked her purse to ensure she still had her keys.
insure: to provide or obtain insurance

Note: insure and ensure can be used interchangeably most of the time, EXCEPT when referring to actual insurance (car insurance, dental insurance, etc). In that case, you must use “insure.” Example: I need to get my car insured.

Tip: a few hints from yourdictionary.com =
1. You assure a person
2. You insure your car
3. You ensure everything else

beside: at the side of
besides: in addition to

compliment: to praise
complement: something that completes

farther: actual, physical distance
further: to a greater extent

Note: Webster’s Dictionary uses these interchangeably, their definitions are the same. However, I usually see these used more specifically. Examples: Marianne stood farther from the rest. I wanted to explore the museum further.

lay: to place, which is always followed by an object
lie: to recline (also means to fib, but we will ignore that definition for this discussion)

Here’s a handy little cheat-chart:

present - lie
past - lay
participles - lying

present lay
past - laid
participles - laying

Examples: She lay the book on the table. She laid the book on the table. She is laying the book on the table. OR She went to lie down. She lay down an hour ago. She is lying down.

Tip: If you can replace the word with put, then use lay. Example: She put the book on the table (can be changed to) She lay the book on the table.

than: used to compare two or more things (Roger is stronger than Mark)
then: used for subsequence, time-related (We went to the bank, then the market; He was my teacher back then)

Homonyms – words that sound the same but aren’t

boar: wild pig
boor: a person with rude, clumsy manners
bore: not interesting

The boar had huge tusks. Marianne's habits were boorish. She was such a bore.

canvas: rough cloth
canvass: to examine thoroughly

The artist brushed paint across his canvas. Jake's commander sent him to canvass the area.

callous: generally refers to having an unfeeling attitude (She was callous in her treatment of her son)
callus : refers to a thickening or hardening of the skin (I have a callus on my foot)

His treatment of her was callous. I have a callus on my foot.

hoard: a stowed-away supply or cache
horde: a swarm or large group or crowd.

When I am querying, I have a tendency to hoard chocolate. When the chocolate shortage hit, the angry horde came to my house with pitchforks and torches.

lightening: removing weight or darkness
lightning: static electricity from the sky

(I just got creamed on this one :D My MC almost got struck by lightning in one scene, so I used the word quite a bit…only I spelled it lightening (which can also refer to what happens just before a woman gives birth. So yeah…my crit buddies had a good chuckle editing that section :D )

David took some of the wood from my arms, lightening my load. Kesi was almost struck by lightning.

palate: taste
pallet: a platform for transporting goods; a bed
palette: a selection of paint
palette: one of the plates near the armpit of an armor suit

Drink ice water between the dinner courses to cleanse your palate. The pallet was made of old wood. She slept on a pallet at the foot of her mistress's bed. The artist took up his palette and began to paint. The sword slid beneath the palette and pierced his flesh.

Stay tuned next Tuesday! We'll tackle when we should use That/Which/Who/Whom.

Are there words that trip you up sometimes? Or am I the only one that gets them mixed up occasionally? :D


Katie Salidas said...

Oh this is such a helpful post! I mix up my words all of the time. I'm bookmarking this.

Thanks for sharing.

Ina said...

Interesting post! When I studied in London, I actually found that the native English speakers had less of a grasp on these pesky words than those of us who had learned English as a second language.

Laurie Marquis said...

Very interesting...now is that interESTing or inTresting??? gotta love the English language...

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

This is really useful, Michelle. It's funny how we all have one or two of these that trip us up or we have to recite the rules to remember.

Robin M said...

Very helpful post. Yes, I do sometimes get some of these words mixed up. Thanks for clearing it up.

Barb said...

A great post!

Just a small thing, but technically, it's life assurance. Insurance is against something that might happen.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

WONDERFUL USEFUL POST! I'm an English major, too, and sometimes I lose track of these too. I'll mark this one. Thanks!