Complement Your Speech with the Right Word: Misused Words

You probably know all about the difference between their and they’re, but did you know there are hundreds of such wrongly interchanged words?

Today we’re going to look at a few of these—starting with the word “few” itself.

The next time you’re in the express line at the grocery store, check out the sign. Does it say Ten Items or Less, or does it read Ten Items or Fewer? Properly, it should read the latter.

The use of “fewer” applies only to items that can be counted, such as groceries, swords, or Hogwarts students. For example, you might say, “Nestor’s armory contained fewer swords than Musidora’s.” You would never say, “Nestor’s armory contained less swords than Musidora’s.”

You would also say, “I have fewer students in my Defense against the Dark Arts class this semester.” You would never say, “I have less students this semester.”

Clarette in her lime-green tea frock.Alternately, “less” applies to matters of degree, value, or amount. For example, you would say, “The plant Uxoria is less hot than the planet Teito.” You would also say, “I have less money than Eadith.” And finally, you would say, “I have less courage than Clarette, for I would never appear at the prince’s ball in a lime-green frock.”

Here’s another one English speakers commonly confuse—“complementary” and “complimentary.” Complementary generally means that the each of two items provides what the other lacks. So, for example, a witch cooking up a love potion might complement a love herb with a passion herb.

Complimentary, however, means “given free.” That is, you might be given a palm reading for free—a complimentary palm reading. And those free samples at Target on Sunday afternoon? Those are complimentary, too.

One final example: ensure versus insure. “Ensure” means to make certain or sure. So before leaving for vacation on Risa, the Riker family might ensure that the Good Ship Lollipop is secure. Alternatively, Queen Dagmar might ensure that the throne passes to her responsible daughter Josetta instead of to her spendthrift son Newall.

“Insure,” on the other hand, refers to, well, getting insurance. You don’t ensure your engagement ring; you insure it. You do, however, ensure that you get insurance.

Many, many such examples of misused words exist in the English language: comprise versus compose, founder and flounder, reticent versus reluctant, and so forth. But by now you know that our speech is so rife with them that you’d probably like a longer list. And here it is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *