I recently began reading a book about personal branding and its relation to how you look and behave. My thoughts — because I enjoy writing and it’s a service I provide to several clients — jumped directly to how your personal branding is also affected by how you present yourself on paper.
Anyone who reads a blog, e-newsletter, website or sales copy (along with thousands of other materials) is going to form an opinion of the author in addition to, and outside of, the topic being discussed. If multiple typos are seen, the reader will probably become somewhat distracted and may even begin to question the author’s credibility. Think about it, you probably do this yourself!
So if YOU are the author in question, isn’t it important to put in a good solid effort to produce material that is free of silly mistakes that others might interpret as pet peeves? I think so!
In order to help YOU improve your writing with some of those pesky words that people tend to confuse, below is a list of tips on how to tell them apart. I’ll admit that this list contains some that I struggle with, too.
Advice vs. advise
I know, I know, this is a tricky one but I have a super simple way to tell them apart besides the C and the S.
Advice is a noun meaning to make a recommendation or give a suggestion about something. She wanted my advice on how to pill a cat.
Advise, however, is a transitive verb meaning to recommend or inform. I was advised not to feed the dog 12 hours prior to surgery.
The difference, to me, is in the sound of the words, how they are pronounced in addition to the spelling. In my head, I rhyme “vice” with “mice” and based on whether or not it works, I know which is the correct spelling.
Affect vs. effect
Affect means to influence somebody or something. If I can use the word “influence” then I know this is the spelling I need to use. How will the tornado affect the local economy?
Effect has several meanings: a result or giving an impression. Again, I use the E in result to connect me to the correct spelling. The overall effect of her makeover was remarkable. Another meaning is being in force, such as The new rules don’t go into effect until next week.
Then vs. than
Then refers to a specific time, in addition to or therefore. Life was easier back then or I have to walk the dogs, then I can cook dinner.
Than exists to introduce a comparison. As you are saying the word in your head, listen for the subtle difference in the pronunciation. There’s more of an A sound in this version and that should help you with the spelling. I’d rather be hiking than sitting in an office.
Bare vs. bear
Bare means naked, basic or minimum. They only provided the bare essentials.
Bear means several things; most common being the big furry animal, but it also means a difficult thing to endure or to tolerate. In theory, if the definition of your word doesn’t relate to the first description, this second spelling is probably the right one. I can’t bear to see photos of starving and neglected animals.
Council vs. counsel
Council is a noun and means a group of people elected to run local affairs. They’re holding a council meeting tomorrow afternoon.
Counsel has several definitions ranging from a court lawyer to someone who gives advice or the act of giving advice. The key to telling the difference between the two words rests in the S-E-L. For me, I associate the SEL with “sell” which is an act of doing something, which translates to the act of giving advice and something which all lawyers do. I will seek his counsel before making a decision.
Stationary vs. stationery
Stationary is an adjective meaning not moving or staying in one place. The tip here is to associate the A at the end of the word with the A in adjective or stay. He rides the stationary bicycle every morning.
Stationery is a noun and means things used for writing like paper and envelopes. In this instance, I associate the E at the end of the word with the E in envelopes. I enjoy writing personal notes on beautifully embroidered stationery.
Principal vs. principle
Principal as noun means most important person or school administrator and as an adjective means primary. This time I immediately focus on the spelling of the second half and play this sentence in my head My school principal was always my pal. And to further carry the meaning, I continue the sentence with … and was the principal reason I went into teaching.
Principle, on the other hand, means ethical standard. This is one of those words where if the above tip doesn’t work, then this must be the correct spelling. As a matter of principle, I recycle everything I can.
Lose vs. loose vs. loss
Lose means to have something taken away or have it misplaced. It may be helpful to simply think to yourself “Is it lost?” and connect the two spellings. You will lose your spot in line if you walk away.
Loss is the fact of no longer having something or reduction. Weight loss can be a life-long battle.
Loose means not firmly attached or free. My association for this spelling always goes back to the 1978 Clint Eastwood movie “Every Which Way But Loose” and it helps. For you, maybe consider the spelling of loose having two O’s and free having two E’s. The loose step makes me stumble every time.
So there you have it! A whole second cheat-sheet of commonly misspelled and confused words that you can keep handy for quick reference… unless you memorize some of the tips I shared.
If you happen to be a writer but lack the confidence to know that you’re putting out professional and intelligent-sounding materials to your blog, newsletter or emails, consider partnering with a copy editor or proofreader like me to become your sounding board. It’ll give you peace of mind and increase your credibility in the eyes of your audience.