Misused words: five mistakes we commonly make in our writing

Whatever you’re writing, whether it’s a policy, procedure or proposal, you want it to read well. Which is why it’s important to make sure that the words you use are the right ones. Unfortunately, the English language can be complicated, which means this isn’t always that easy (and that’s even before you start worrying about your grammar!).

While I work for myself now as opposed to as part of a team, when I was a manager training up new members of staff, I created a cheat sheet to help them – and stop me having to constantly correct their work. I came across it the other day and thought it would be worth sharing the most common mistakes that were made here. Hopefully, it will help others with their writing.

1. Affect / Effect:

This is probably the one I struggle with most and always find myself double-checking. The trick is remembering that Affect describes the Effect or change because it’s a verb while Effect a noun and describes the outcome or result.

2. It’s / Its:

Another one that stumps people is it’s and its because there is a misconception that the apostrophe is needed when describing a possession – it isn’t. It’s is a contraction of it is, or it has while its describes ownership, e.g. we bought the house because of its location.

3. Literally:

I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve read that this is one of the most misused words in the English language. That’s probably thanks to teenagers using it to describe every emotion they experience or to convince parents of the reality of a situation that actually has no basis in reality. For those of us out there who want to use it in our writing, remember it means something that actually happened. It shouldn’t be used for emphasis.

4. Mitigate:

This one is a pet peeve of mine because it is so often followed with the word against, especially when used in responses relating to risks. Mitigate means to make something less severe, serious or painful. It stands up all on its own. So, if you use it, don’t add any extras as it will negate the meaning.

5. e.g. / i.e.

This is another one I struggle with myself because I tend to automatically use e.g. without even thinking. I have to remember that e.g. stands for example (apparently the trick is to say ‘eggsample’, though it doesn’t always work for me I have to say). And, while i.e. actually mean ‘that is’ the trick is to think of it as ‘in essence’.

There are plenty more where these five came from, which I’ll share in future posts. These, though, I thought, were a good start. Are they words / terms you struggle with? If not, what others do you find difficult – I will add them to my list and look at them in more detail next time.





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