While line editing and proofreading, I frequently correct some of the same words over and over again in many different manuscripts. I find that most writers already know the difference between words that many people misuse—their/they’re/there, two/too/to, your/you’re, etc. But there are a lot of other common words that many people, including writers, misuse. To keep your copyeditor happy and your writing clear, keep an eye out for these words in your manuscript:
- Blond vs. blonde
I see confusion about this one all the time. In French, and frequently in British English, “blond” is male and “blonde” is female. But in American English, it’s much more common to use “blond” as an adjective for both genders and as a male noun, while “blonde” is only used as a female noun. You may occasionally see someone observe the gender distinction in adjectives, but it’s not common in American English. So, typically, a woman is a blonde whose hair is blond.
- Fiancé vs. fiancée
“Fiancé” is always male and “fiancée” is always female. (This is the easy one.)
- Lie vs. lay
Both “lie” and “lay” are verbs, but they have different meanings. “Lie” means rest or recline on a surface—“I need to lie down.” But “lay” is a transitive verb that means to put or place something—“I always lay my coat down on the couch.” Where most people get confused is that the past tense form of “lie” is “lay,” while the past tense form of “lay” is “laid.” So, examples in the past tense: “I lay on the couch last week” vs. “I laid my coat on the couch last week.”
- Passed vs. past
I’ve seen published authors make this mistake. “Past,” as a noun, refers to time gone by; as a preposition, it means beyond. But “passed” is the past tense (and past participle) form of the verb “to pass.” So, “The football passed him,” or “The football went past.” Never use “went passed” or “go passed.”
“Bemused” and “amused” are not synonyms. “Bemused” means bewildered or confused. For example, “The solution to the puzzled bemused him.”
- Toward vs. towards
“Toward” is preferred over “towards.” The same is true for similar words—leave the “s” off of “afterward,” “forward,” etc. This rule also applies to “anyway”—no “s.”
- I.e. vs. e.g.
Many people use the abbreviations “i.e”. and “e.g.” interchangeably, but their meanings are different. “I.e.” comes from the Latin “id est,” which means “that is” and is used to further explaining something; it’s synonymous with “in other words.” But “e.g.” stands for “exempli gratia,” which means “for example.” Think of i.e. as restating or elaborating on something, while e.g. simply provides an example.
- Farther vs. further
“Farther” refers to physical distance, while “further” refers to figurative or metaphorical distance. So you might walk “farther” down the road and scroll “further” down the screen. (There are a few exceptions to this, because it can be ambiguous as to whether you’re referring to a physical distance or not, but it’s a good general rule.)
- Disinterested vs. uninterested
“Disinterested” means unbiased or impartial, while “uninterested” means not interested. So a judge or jury should be disinterested, but not uninterested.
“Travesty” is not a synonym for “tragedy.” It means a parody or mockery. So a “travesty of justice” is something that makes a mockery of it.
I see a lot of people using “peruse” to mean skim or read quickly, but it actually means to review or study something carefully.
- Nauseous vs. nauseated
“Nauseous” actually means to cause nausea, while “nauseated” means to feel sick. So a person doesn’t feel “nauseous,” they feel “nauseated.”
I could keep going, but that’s enough grammar lessons for one post! These might seem like unimportant mistakes, but readers do notice them, and it’s important to be mindful of them. Even if you have your work professionally copyedited or proofread, there’s still a chance that mistakes can slip through. Plus, you can impress your copyeditor with how clean your manuscript is. ;)
Have you ever mistaken these words? Do you still find them confusing? Have a suggestion to add to the list? Let me know in the comments!
Interested in professional editorial services for your manuscript? Check out my Services page for more information about what I offer.