WORD USE & ABUSE


[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [H] [I] [J] [K] [L] [M]
[N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]

- A -

a / an - Use a before consonant sounds and an before vowel sounds. Examples: a historic, an honorable.

about - Avoid when approximating measures. Use approximately when citing one number, otherwise use a range.

There were about 130 people at the concert.
Edited:
The manager said there were approximately 130 people at the concert.
There were 120 to 150 people at the concert.

above - Words do not appear above other words on paper. Words and statements precede each other. Remember Web sites are printed by some readers.

The above section applies only to screenwriting.
Edited:
The preceding section applies only to screenwriting.

accustomed to - Do not use with in place of to. A common mistake is using accustomed with in place of familiar with.

We were accustomed to small paychecks.
We were familiar with cheap publishers.

A.D. - Preferred for popular writing, including most newspapers and magazines. The suggested standard for technical and non-fiction writing is C.E., “Common Era,” which was adopted by some scientific journals and universities to respect non-Christian readers. This standard was prompted by complaints from one group, as far as I can tell from limited research. I assumed it was an atheists’ organization, but was incorrect.

 

A.C.E, “Alternative Common Era” or “After Common Era began” (among other phrases, used to add the “A” to the notation), is used in some texts and periodicals. See B.C. for further discussion.

add an additional - Simplify, replace with add when possible. Use another or more when needed.

Add an additional three cups of flour to the mixture.
Edited:
Add another three cups of flour to the mixture.
Add three cups of flour to the mixture.

adequate / enough - Choose one; they are synonymous.

admit - Do not use admit to, use admit or admitted.

He will admit nothing.
She admitted borrowing the love scene from his novel.

adviser / advisor - Advisor is standard in American English. Most dictionaries list both as acceptable.

affect / effect - Affect is the verb and effect is generally the result.

The moon affects lovers, and the effects can be deadly.

after / afterwards - Afterwards is considered proper. Most Americans use afterward.

aid / aide - Aide applies to the military, diplomacy, and nursing. Aid refers to medical attention or any personal assistant.

The general’s aide needed first aid after tripping.

aim to - Use intend to.

I intend to correct my errors.

ain’t - Does anything need to be stated?

air - Often ambiguous, air has more than a dozen accepted definitions. Use air for the atmospheric mix of gasses.

Replacements for the expression (“airing”) of an idea: expose, discuss, explore, broadcast, express, and others.

alive and well - Avoid unless the person was previously not well or, worse, was not alive.

all - Do not use all of.

All of the writers had carpal-tunnel syndrome.
Edited:
All the writers had carpal-tunnel syndrome.

all-around / all-round - Most common in sports stories, all-round is preferred.

all ready / already - All ready means completely prepared and already means previously.

He was all ready to wait for his date. She was already dressed when he arrived.

all right / alright - Use all right in American English.

all that - Superfluous. Remove all that unless writing dialogue.

It wasn’t all that bad.
Edited:
It wasn’t bad.

all the - Use the when possible, unless all is not obvious.

The writers owned pens.

all the farther - Use as far as.

This is as far as I can walk.

all-time record - It is a record, which implies “all-time” best.

all together / altogether - All together means in a group. The phrase can be removed in most instances. Altogether means either entirely, or mentally stable.

The writers met all together. Only one was altogether.

allude / refer - To allude is to suggest without naming. To refer is to name the object.

allude / elude - To allude is to hint or suggest. To elude is to escape.

allusion / elusion / illusion - Allusion is a suggestion without a specific reference to a concept or thing. Elusion is to avoid or escape. Illusion is deception.

almost - Avoid when possible due to its vague nature. Almost lacks precision.

He almost won the election
Edited:
He lost the election by five votes.

also - Avoid when possible and never use as a conjunction in place of and.

alternate / alternative - Alternate means by turns, first one then another. An alternative is a choice.

The writers alternated writing alternative scenarios.

although / though - Avoid both when possible. Although is a concession, though can replace however in English. We would avoid though and however.

Although the manuscript was handwritten, the publisher accepted it. Though, later he realized his mistake.

alumnus / alumni - The masculine singular is alumnus. Alumni is the plural. In Latin, alumna is the feminine singular, but has fallen from usage.

a.m. - Use lower case and periods but do not duplicate a period at the end of a sentence. Avoid phrases such as “9 p.m. tonight.”

among / amongst - In American English use among to mean within a group. Amongst is antiquated for in the middle of a situation or gathering.

amoral - Immoral means contrary to accepted standards. Amoral and unmoral mean without regard to moral standards. See immoral.

amount - Avoid when superfluous.

The amount of sugar in the recipe was three cups.
Edited:
The recipe contained three cups of sugar.

angry / mad - To be angry is to be displeased while to be mad is to be insane.

another - Avoid when superfluous.

Harry is one student and Ralph is another.
Edited:
Harry and Ralph are students.

anticipate - Use expect when appropriate. Anticipate expresses eagerness towards an unpredictable event, not a planned event.

anxious - Never use in place of eager. Anxiety is nervousness and foreboding. One is eager to and anxious about.

He was anxious about seeing the doctor; he was eager to be done with it.

any and all - Do not use.

approximately - When using approximately, give readers a narrow range of values.

The script is to be approximately 500 to 525 words long.

as - Avoid when possible, using alternatives.

As no one could stop him, we ran.
Edited:
Since no one could stop him, we ran.

at - Use to refer to a specific location or time. You are at a city or building, not in, even though you are likely inside the building. Use in to refer to cities or places following an adverb

While in San Francisco, we will be staying at the Hilton.

aught - Do not use. Aught is an antiquated pronoun, not a synonym for ought.

author - Books are written, not authored. Use author as a noun.

awful - Now overused with the misuse is approaching accepted use, awful properly means awe-inspiring yet dangerous, not merely dreadful.

The tornado was an awful sight.

awhile / a while - Awhile is an adverb for time. A while is synonymous for a moment and should be replaced when possible. If a preposition appears before a while, the usage is correct.

The writer stared at the blank page awhile. We watched him for a while.

- B -

back of / in back of - Use behind instead of in back of. Use on [the] back of to refer to a physical location. Indicate locations for effective writing.

Standing in back of him, we could see the stain on his shirt.
Edited:
Standing behind him, we could see the stain on the back of his shirt.

back up / backup - Use back up as the verb and backup as the noun or adjective.

He is so paranoid, he will back up his backup copy.

bad / badly - Bad is an adjective or noun, meaning undesirable or ill-prepared. Badly is an adverb of manner implying sloppy, incomplete, improper, or extreme.

He is a bad golfer who hates to practice. No wonder he played badly today.

B.C. - Preferred for popular writing. The new standard is B.C.E., “Before Common Era,” to respect non-Christian readers. From the Columbia Univeristy Guide to Standard American English, 1993:

because - Avoid when possible. Due to works better in some cases.

Because of the war, many went hungry.
Edited:
Due to the war, many went hungry.

blame - Blame on is considered incorrect while blame…for is proper.

We blame him for the accident.

believe / know / think - Avoid all three in essays and non-fiction unless quoting or explaining what other people believed, knew, or thought. The words are weak and sound defensive in rhetoric.

I believe there are three reasons his script failed.
Edited:
There are three reasons his script failed.

As you know, stories have character-driven or plot-driven structures.
Edited:
Stories have character-driven or plot-driven structures.

I think his story lacked structure.
Edited:
His story lacked structure.

blond / blonde - Blonde refers to a woman, blond refers to a man. Some object to the gender distinction and use “blond” exclusively.

both - Avoid when possible.

John and Mary are both writers.
Edited:
John and Mary are writers.

break / broke - An action results in a break. According to some editors, few people would intentionally break a limb

The writer broke his leg.
(Why would one intentionally break a bone? Or did a writer break another person’s arm?)
Edited:
The fall broke the writer’s arm. The break required a cast

breakthrough - A cliché. Avoid when possible and remember — not every “discovery” is a breakthrough.

brunet / brunette - Similar to blond, brunette refers to a woman, a brunet is a man.

bureaucrat - Now considered an insult by most American English dictionaries. (As if civil servant is better?)

but - Often redundant, avoid when possible.

by - Avoid when possible. Use synonyms for clarity, since by has many definitions. When used with a verb phrase, change the sentence to an active form to remove by.

As we drove by the store, we saw him standing by a mysterious woman.
Edited:
As we drove past the store, we saw him standing next to a mysterious woman.

The essay was written by Gretchen
Edited:
Gretchen wrote the essay.

- C -

can / may - Can means a possibility, may indicates permission granted or a polite request.

She can write the story, and the editor may let her.

caused - Use with the preposition by, not from.

Death was caused by drowning.

cement / concrete - Cement is an ingredient of concrete. Cement is a stone powder used with sand, gravel, and water to create concrete. Cement is also synonymous with glue.

We cemented our friendship by writing our names in the wet cement.

close to - Avoid when possible. Use near or next.

compose / comprise - The whole comprises the parts; is comprised of is incorrect. Composed of is considered proper for a list of parts.

The book comprises four chapters.
Or:
The book is composed of four chapters.

confessed to - Eliminate to. There must be an object of the confession.

He confessed an interest in romance novels.

conservative - Technically conservative means resistant to change. Most Americans associate the term with anti-government and pro-business political views. If a publications uses “conservative” to describe political views, it is obligated to use “liberal” as well. We prefer using neither unless an individual self-identifies with a term.

consist in / consist of - To consist in is to inherit from, to consist of is to be composed of.

The value of love consists in its passion. Passion consists of biology and insanity.

contagious / infectious - Contagious diseases are transferred by contact. Infections are carried by organisms and may or may not be contagious. Not all diseases are either.

continue on - Avoid when possible, especially in clichés.

cool - Avoid when possible, and never use the slang form unless quoting.

corpus delicti - Evidence necessary to establish that a crime, not always a murder, has occurred. Often misused by mystery writers.

could care less - Should be replaced with the phrase “could not care less” or “couldn’t care less.”

I could care less what she thinks.
Edited:
I couldn’t care less what she thinks.

course - Avoid of course as superfluous. Also avoid course when used to indicate the passage of time. Replace with during or another word when possible.

Of course he lied, like he always does.
Edited:
He lied, like he always does.

In the course of history, few have been more feared.
Edited:
Few have been more feared.

couple - Requires a plural verb when referring to people. Test sentences by using they in place of couple.

The couple were embracing in the moonlight.
The couple are happily married.

crackdown on - Avoid as a cliché. Rarely is it needed.

cut in half - Grammatically this should be “cut in halves.”

He cut the loaf in half.
Edited:
He cut the loaf in halves.

czar - Preferred to tsar.

- D -

damn - Use sparingly for increased effect. All “profanity” (or swearing) should be used judiciously.

damn it - A blasphemy, while dammit is a non-specific profanity.

data - A plural referring to a collection of statistics. Therefore, use a plural verb.

The data are inconclusive.

daylight saving time - The use of savings is a common error.

dead body - Use body; it is assumed to be dead.

The victim’s dead body laid in a crimson pool of blood.
Edited:
The body laid in a crimson pool of blood.

desert - Both dry, barren land and what one deserves. A common mistake is the phrase “just desserts,” implying one deserves a sweet treat. The phrase has changed over time.

Walking across the desert, he dreamed of a cool dessert. It was just desert for an ice cream thief.

destined - Use the preposition to.

The book was destined to collect dust.

dialog / dialogue - Dialogue is preferred by most sources, but dialog is becoming standard in American English. A dialog box is a computer interface, while dialogue is spoken lines.

die - Use the preposition of not from.

He died of a gunshot wound.

different - Often redundant; most things are different — even twins. When necessary, use different from, not different than. Different is an adjective and should not be used in place of differently. One thinks differently but is different.

This novel is different from her last.

The young man might look nice, but he acts differently.

dilemma - A choice between bad and worse, not a choice between positive alternatives. Good versus bad is an easy choice; dilemmas are not easy.

It was a dilemma, whether to cross the shark-infested waters or starve on the island.

disinterested / uninterested - Disinterested means unbiased, uninterested means lacking attention.

We needed a disinterested judge. Instead, we got an uninterested one.

doubt - Do not follow doubt with that unless a negative connotation is wanted. Shorten the sentence for effect.

I don’t doubt that his statement is the truth.
Edited:
I don't doubt his statement.

Dr. - Use only with doctors of medicine and dentists. Some writer’s guides include veterinarians. For other doctors, use the accepted doctorate abbreviations. Do not add M.D. to a person’s title.

drunk / drunken - Drunken is the adjective, drunk is a verb or noun. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving failed to consult a grammarian.)

The drunken driver crashed his car. He is a drunk. He drank six beers before trying to drive home.

- E -

each - According to the Associated Press and Strunk and White, each is a singular pronoun.

each other - The possessive is each other’s and is followed by a plural noun.

We gathered to critique each other’s works.

eager - Wanting a positive event to occur. See anxious

He was eager for the meeting with his new publisher.

East - Capitalize when referring to a region of the United States.

e.g. / i.e. - Erroneously interchanged: e.g. is exempli gratia, meaning “for example.” i.e. is id est, meaning “that is.”

effect - The result of an action is its effect. See affect

either - According to the Associated Press and Strunk and White, either is a singular pronoun. Use a singular verb unless a joining noun is plural.

Either paper or diskettes are required to save a novel.

elderly - Too ambiguous, since the people live longer each generation. Be specific when possible.

She was an ederly poet.
Edited:
She was a 95-year-old poet.

else - It is now common in American English to use the form everyone else’s as a possessive, everyone’s else is correct. Most editors prefer the American standard — the antiquated form is awkward.

elusion / elusive - Difficult to understand or well-hidden. See allusion

e-mail / email - E-mail is considered correct, but email is increasingly common.

emote - To feign an emotion.

engine / motor - An engine converts chemical energy to mechanical energy. A motor converts electrical energy to mechanical energy. Also, an engine develops its own power internally, a motor receives power externally.

Scientists hope to replace the gasoline combustion engine with electric motors… if they can generate enough electricity cleanly.

endemic / epidemic - An endemic is local, an epidemic is not.

We must act while the disease is endemic to this city, before it becomes an epidemic.

end result - Redundant. Use result.

The end result was disastrous.
Edited:
The result was disastrous.

epidemic - See endemic

estate - Avoid in modern fiction because in America trailer parks are now named “Estates.”

et al. - Et alii means “and others,” referring exclusively to people.

etc. - The abbreviation for et cetera, meaning “and so forth.” Avoid when possible.

even - Avoid when possible, using alternative constructions. Use for equal, as in ratios, height, and other measures.

There were even odds on the game.
The headstones were even, to signify the equality of men.

Questionable:
Even the coach was late to practice.
I even like anchovies on pizza.

every - Avoid when possible, using absolutes only when accurate.

Every person I meet on this trip seems rude.
Edited:
Most people I meet on this trip seem rude.

everyone - According to the Associated Press and Strunk and White, everyone is a singular pronoun

everybody - According to the Associated Press and Strunk and White, everybody is a singular pronoun

exaggerate - Must be an intentional mistake of measure, not an accidental statement.

exist - Preferred for things that are alive, but proper for all things, even concepts.

eye of the storm - Remember in fiction to use as a dead-calm, not a disturbance.

The eye of the storm was eerily quiet.

- F -

faerie / faery / fairy - Faerie refers to mythical winged creatures, faery is common to Celtic mythology, and fairy is used in American English to refer to something feminine, as well as mythical creatures.

feel - An emotion, not to be confused with think or believe.

few - Avoid as imprecise.

fiancé / fiancée - An engaged male is a fiancé. An engaged female is a fiancée.

flautist / flutist - Flutist is proper, flautist looks antique.

flounder / founder - Flounder means to struggle, founder means to sink or fail.

As their ship began to founder, hapless crew members flounders in the water.

foreword - Material appearing before the text of a book. See introduction and preface

free gift - Redundant; a gift is free. If you pay for something, it wasn’t a gift.

fun - Avoid when possible. Fun is overused.

- G -

gage / gauge - Gage is a financial security or a pledge of honor. A gauge is a measuring device. Technical writers often use gage in error. In American English, gage might become common in all writing.

general public - Redundant. Use public.

The general public does not understand most legislation.
Edited:
The public does not understand most legislation.

get - Use obtain when possible unless no effort was made to receive something.

He will get permission to go with us.
Edited:
He will obtain permission to go with us.

gobbledygook- Often misspelled, gobbledygook is the language of a bureaucracy.

good - Good is an adjective, never an adverb. For an adverb, use well. Good means acceptable or average. See well.

He is a good person.

Incorrect:
The student did good on the spelling test.
Edited: The student did well on the spelling test.

He did not feel good.
Edited: He did not feel well.

gray / grey - Either is considered proper when referring to color, with gray preferred by most. As an adjective in American English, gray is used.

The color grey was long a favorite of the gray-bearded writer.

grisly - Often mistaken for grizzly, which means gray in color and is a type of grayish bear. Use grisly for “horrible or gruesome” sights.

The grizzly bear attack resulted in a grisly scene.

guarantee / guaranty - Guarantee is common in American English. Guaranty is used in the names of financial firms.

Acme Guaranty Bank offers no guarantee on returns.

guerrilla - The preferred American spelling for a rebel soldier or extreme military tactics.

- H -

half - The proposition of is not needed without numbers. If a number is used, half of is acceptable. Also see cut in half.

Half the students were early
Five is half of ten.

heart attack - Use a technical term when possible.

heroic - Use with care, not every good deed is heroic. A heroic action is beyond normal for a particular person or profession. A heroic act requires greater personal risk than normally expected; the risk may be to body, mind, or career.

The fireman’s rescue of his colleagues was heroic.
Revealing the murderer’s identity cost the heroic priest his position.

Hispanic - Some consider this offensive and prefer origin-specific ethnic descriptions. We aren’t positive readers are so politically correct.

She was Hispanic.
Optionally:
She was a Mexican-American.

historic / historical - Important events are historic in nature, while historical events are any past events.

The signing of the treaty was historic.
Historical evidence revealed violations of past agreements.

home / house - A home is an occupied dwelling, a house is a stand-alone building.

She planned to make the house a home for her new family.

homosexual - Applies to men and women attracted to the same sex, not only men. Some editors prefer gay and lesbian, but we leave it to the author.

hung / hanged - Hanged is proper for executions. Items are hung, people are hanged.

The delinquent would not be hanged for his theft of clothes hung on the line.

- I -

I - Use careful grammar when selecting I or me. I is a subject, me an object.

i.e. - id est, meaning “that is.” See e.g.

ideology - A system of political beliefs. Do not use for non-political systems.

if / whether - Whether is preferred when offering alternatives. Use if for conditional statements.

I am unsure whether or not I will go.

Conditional:
If the writer receives a Hugo he can decide whether or not to attend the ceremony.

illegible / unreadable - Illegible means difficult to decipher due to poor handwriting, printing, or damage. Unreadable means dull or poorly written.

The illegible note had been retrieved from a puddle.

His dull prose was unreadable.

illusion - A deception. See allusion

impact - To either strike with force or compress. Impact is not influence or effect. Use affected or influenced.

Weather is impacted by global warming.
Edited:
Weather is influenced by global warming.

immoral / amoral / unmoral - Immoral means contrary to accepted standards. Amoral and unmoral mean without regard to moral standards.

Society considered murder immoral, but sociopaths are amoral and do not care.

imply / infer - To imply is to hint. To infer is to conclude rightly or wrongly.

She implied he was not in her home, but from her trembling voice we inferred he was hiding there.

in / into - Use into with verbs of motion. Use in as a preposition for location.

The writer jumped into his car eager to leave, but his keys were in the house.

inasmuch - While correct, avoid. Superfluous.

in close proximity - Redundant.

indexes / indices - Indexes is now common, however, indices should be used in technical writing.

Indian - Avoid for Native American, unless writing a Western novel or quoting.

in effect - Do not set off by commas. Synonymous with implying.

When telling his agent he was tired, the author was in effect saying his deadline would not be met.

infectious - Infections are carried by organisms and may or may not be contagious. See contagious

in nothing flat - Cliché. Avoid.

in order to - Use to

in routine fashion - Use routinely

in spite of - Cliché. Use despite

interesting - Overused.

in the final analysis - Cliché. Avoid.

into / in to - Into is a preposition while in to is an adverb followed by the preposition to. Also, in is a final location, into follows a verb and indicates movement.

The mystery writer turned herself in to the police after placing her manuscript into the mail.

in view of - Cliché. Use since or because.

in which - Avoid.

irregardless - Not a word. See regardless

We will act irregardless.
Edited:
We will act regardless.

it goes without saying - Then why are you saying it? Avoid.

- J -

judgment - Correct American English spelling.

just - Avoid unless referring to honor or trust. Usually redundant.

- K -

know - Avoid when possible, especially within essays and non-fiction. See believe

As you know, eliminate some phrases for concise writing.
Edited:
Eliminate some phrases for concise writing.

- L -

lay / lie - To lay an object requires a subject, object, and usually a preposition describing the destination for the object. To lie is to recline or rest, which is something a subject does alone.

to lie:
I shall lie on my couch to rest.
She is lying in bed.

to lay:
I will lay the kitten in its bed.

leave / let - To leave someone alone means to isolate or to go away from. To let someone alone means to avoid bothering or imposing upon the person.

We decided to leave him alone in the library after he screamed, “Let me alone!”

libel - Libel is to defame using any medium such as a news broadcast. See slander

liberal - Technically liberal means open-minded. Most Americans associate the term with pro-labor and pro-government political beliefs. See conservative

lightening / lightning - Lightening means to reduce the weight. Lightning is a flash in the sky.

loath / loathe - Loath is an adjective that means reluctant. Loathe is a verb meaning to hate or detest.

The writer was loath to criticize another even though she loathed his novel.

- M -

mad - Insane. See angry

madam / madame - Madame is a formal title. Use madam for the mistress of a whorehouse or a polite address. You’re expected to be polite in a brothel.

mantel / mantle - A mantel is a shelf and a mantle is a facade or cloak.

taking his pipe from the mantel, he wore the mantle of a scholar.

may - May is permission granted or a polite request. If there is not request, use can or might. See can, might

“You may write the article,” said the editor, “but I might not publish it.”

May Day / mayday - May Day is the international workers’ holiday, which was really a pagan holiday. Mayday is an Anglicized version of the French phrase m’aidez, meaning “help me!”

Midwest - A region of the United States.

might - Use might for a hypothetical condition.

I might help edit the story if he asks nicely.

Mohammed - The preferred spelling according to the Associated Press.

Moslem - The increasingly common American English term for an adherent of Islam. However, the Associated Press prefers Muslim.

motor - A motor converts electrical energy to mechanical energy. Also, a motor receives power externally. See engine

Ms. - Avoid when possible. According to American Usage and Style, the salutation Ms. first appeared in the Standard Handbook for Secretaries (1956) as a way to address a woman in formal correspondence when her marital status was unknown.

Much - Avoid, much is imprecise. How much? Why? To what extent?

Muslim - Preferred term for an adherent of Islam according to the Associated Press.

must - Avoid when possible. Someone must do something rarely, since it implies an ultimatum has been issued.

myself - Avoid when I or me can substitute. Myself is a reflexive pronoun and should be used as such.

I wrote this myself.

- N -

naked / nude - Naked is considered whimsical while nude is considered suggestive or artistic.

The drunken painter sat naked on his stool, painting dancing nudes.

need - Avoid when possible. There are few needs in life: food and shelter, top the list.

neither - Use a singular verb and the conjunction nor.

Neither he nor she is the author of the poem.

nice - Overused. Avoid when possible.

no man’s land - Three words, with a possessive.

noncontroversial - Avoid. All issues are controversial. Anything else is a statement of fact.

not - Avoid when it is possible to use a single word. Negative words often begin with un, an, a, in, or im.

The show was not interesting.
Edited:
The show was uninteresting.

I am not going.
Edited, yet weaker:
I am remaining here. (Awkward.)

nowadays - One word, not nowdays.

numerous - Avoid as imprecise. Use many when necessary.

There were numerous books on the desk.
Edited:
There were ten books on the desk.

- O -

of - One of the most overused words in English (yes, sarcasm). Remove when possible. Also, Remove of in most cases dealing with groups or measurements.

One of the writers left early.
Edited:
One writer left early.

of between / of from - Use to indicate a range of measure.

The script requires a budget of between 20 and 30 million dollars.

of course - Avoid. Implies the reader is ignorant.

Of course, anyone can ride a bike.
Edited:
Anyone can ride a bike. (Still hyperbole, but less insulting.)

off of - Simply off.

He fell off of his chair.
Edited:
He fell off his chair.

often - An adverb of time, use with caution. Often is not precise.

We went to the beach often.
Edited:
We went to the beach weekly.

OK - Do not use okay according to the Associated Press. O.K. is also considered acceptable.

old friend - Cliché. Often considered ironic, use with care.

on - Use more precise prepositions when possible. On should apply only to a physical location. Try to substitute about or of; at or by; for; toward; or in. Avoid on before a date or day of the week.

We will meet on Monday
Edited:
We will meet Monday.

on / upon - As prepositions, increasingly synonymous in American English. However, they differ in past usages and we prefer to maintain those. Use upon for time, abstractions, and repetitions. Upon may also be used to indicate “old” things or ideas. Use on for locations, connected parts, and direct correlations.

Upon my love for you, I must act!” he declared.
She placed his calling card on the desk.
He wrote her letter upon letter, declaring his loyalty.
Based on her seeming lack of response, he moved to France.

Though his name was on the cover, the story was based upon a familiar legend.
(We assume the legend is old, hence upon is acceptable.)

one - Avoid as a replacement for I or you, except in formal writing.

One should be honest in poetry.
Edited:
You should be honest in poetry.

online / on-line - On-line is considered correct; online is increasingly common.

only - A common causes of split verb phrases.

He has only been writing a few years.
(Has been writing is the verb phrase.)
Edited:
He has been writing only a few years.

on to / onto - Onto is a preposition while on to is part of the verb phrase.

Placing her credit card onto the counter, she asked to travel on to New York.

onward / onwards - Only onward is an adjective while either can be used as an adverb.

The onward journey would be challenging.
Walking onwards, his feet ached.

or / nor - Use nor in the negative sense when the introductory statement does not directly affect the action refused. Use or if the two relate.

You must fish or cut bait.
(You free the bait if you do not use the smaller fish as lures.)

She refused to finish the script, nor would she give it to another writer.

other than - Avoid when redundant. Use otherwise or except.

ought - Do not use with auxiliary verbs and do not omit to when using the infinitive phrase.

She ought to write nightly for practice.

outside - Do not use of.

He stood outside of the agent’s office.
Edited:
He stood outside the agent’s office.

over - For numbers use more than. Use over as a preposition of location.

overall - The adjective and adverb are one word.

Overall, they succeeded. The overall effect was unknown.

owing / owing to - Use because or since.

- P -

pair / pairs - Either is a correct plural, though pairs is increasingly common. In relation to people use a plural verb.

The pair were scheduled to appear on the same panel. The host requested three pairs of shoes for the taping.

paramount - Avoid. Use important when possible.

pass / past - A common mistake is to use past as a past tense of pass. The proper verb is passed. The past is a time.

We watched as he passed the store, remembering how alive he looked in the past.

per - Use a or an adverb when possible.

He mailed query letters twice per week.
Edited:
He mailed query letters twice a week.
He mailed query letters twice weekly.

percentage - Often mistakenly used to indicate a small fraction, percentage refers to any number. Because it is “meaningless” without a value, avoid using.

perfect - Avoid modifiers with perfect, something is perfect or not. Some clichés are acceptable, but use them wisely.

per se - Avoid, as per se means “of, by, or in itself” and should not be used to define or clarify a statement.

He wasn’t gifted, per se, but worked hard.
Edited:
He wasn’t gifted, but worked hard.

petite - Avoid. Petite refers to height, but most assume the word implies a complete smallness.

Ph.D. - The correct form for a Doctor of Philosophy degree’s abbreviation.

plead innocent - In law there is no such phrase; the correct phrase is “plead not guilty.” Innocence is not a legal finding.

pleaded / pled - Pleaded is preferred by journalists, but pled is considered correct American English, too.

p.m. - The correct form. See a.m.

plus - Use and when possible. Plus requires a singular verb.

The dress plus her expression is the formula for seduction.

pretty - Avoid in the sense of moderately.

It was a pretty nice day.
Edited:
It was a nice day.

More to avoid:
pretty well, pretty close, pretty bad…

private industry - Redundant. Industry is private, unless you are in a socialist or communist country with state-owned industry.

probe - Use investigation when appropriate. Probes are popular tools of aliens, some publications claim.

professor - Reserve for those with a Ph.D.

prophecy / prophesy - The noun and the verb forms.

The prophecy was bleak. Why would he prophesy such a thing?

protagonist - Greek meaning “the principle actor in a story.” The protagonist is not necessarily good.

protest - Do not use the preposition of. One protests against an injustice.

put - Use for a physical action. Usually, a better word can be chosen.

He put the pen on the desk and walked away.

- Q -

quality - Items have quality or they do not. Avoid modifiers, such as high or low.

quasi - Hyphenate with adjectives.

It is a quasi-historical novel.

quick / quickly - Use quickly as an adverb.

Roadrunners are quick. We saw one quickly cross the highway.

quite - Avoid when possible, quite is like pretty when used as a modifier.

She was quite nice.
Edited:
She was nice

- R -

raised / reared - Animals are said to be raised while children are reared. It is increasingly common to use raised in both instances.

rather - The equivalent of somewhat or moderately. Avoid using additional modifiers.

He was a rather talented poet.

recur / reoccur - Recur is preferred for a repeated event.

rebut / refute - rebut is to argue the contrary. Refute connotes success in the argument.

regardless - Irregardless is not a word. To regard is to consider; regardless means without consideration.

Regardless of the final score, the team earned respect.

rendezvous - Properly used as a noun. One cannot rendezvous with; there is a rendezvous.

The lovers’ rendezvous was ruined by her husband.

result - Use the preposition in, not with.

Poverty might result in crime.

review / revue - Use revue for stage performances. A review is a study or critique.

The critic’s review of the revue was cruel.

Rio Grande River - Redundant, since rio means river. Use Rio Grande.

routine - Often redundant, anything normal or expected is routine.

- S -

Sahara Desert - Redundant as Sahara means desert.

said / stated - Written words are stated. Only the spoken word can be said.

“It states in his will that the money goes to the dog,” the lawyer said.

same - Avoid using as a pronoun. Sometimes it reads more naturally and should be used, but attempt to rewrite the passage except in dialogue.

He lied on the stand today. The same was true yesterday.
Edited:
He lied on the stand today, just as he did yesterday.

sans - Replace with without; most people don’t use sans.

scattered in all directions - Redundant. Use scattered.

scholar - Reserved for a specialist at a university.

see that / see where - Use see that, not see where unless you want to indicate a specific location.

I see that he was shot twice. Can you see where he was standing before he fell?

seldom ever - A contradiction. Use seldom alone.

She seldom ever signs autographs.
Edited:
She seldom signs autographs.

shall - The first person indication of intention. Increasingly, will is used in American English.

I shall write forever, as you will, too.

sharp - Redundant in reference to time.

Please arrive at 7 p.m. sharp.
Edited:
Please arrive at 7 p.m.

shoestring - One word.

should / would - Follow the same rules as shall/ will.

Sierra Nevada Mountains - Redundant. Use Sierra Nevada. Sierra is Spanish for jagged mountains. Amazingly, this appears in print frequently, as does Rio Grand River, another redundancy.

since - Use as an adverb of time. As a conjunction or conditional, replace with for or because when possible.

Since it was raining, she remained indoors.
Edited:
Because it was raining, she remained indoors.

sir - Correctly used with the full name of a British gentleman.

Sir Winston Churchill.

Skid Road / Skid Row - A skid road is a logging road (“skids”) and in Seattle there is a street named Skid Road where loggers first gathered. Skid Road became slang for poor, unemployed, or homeless in Seattle. As the slang spread, Skid Row became the generic slang.

slander - To defame verbally, such as by spreading a rumor. See libel

He slandered his former lover, saying she was a liar.

slow / slowly - Slow may be used as an adverb and an adjective. Slowly is preferred as an adverb, but not required.

The new driver was a slow learner. He drove slowly out of fear.

small - Use for size, but avoid for numbers of items.

smell - Follow with an adjective such as bad, sweet, sour, or good. Do not follow with an adverb.

The rose smelled sweetly.
Edited;
The rose smelled sweet.

snack - Use as a verb.

He snacked on potato chips.

so as - Redundant.

so far - Avoid.

somebody / someone - Both are correct.

something / somewhat - Something is preferred.

She is somewhat of a tart.
Edited:
She is something of a tart.

some time / sometime / sometimes - Some time is an adverbial phrase meaning an interval. Sometime is an adverb indicating an indefinite event. Sometimes indicates a probability.

After some time, the detective said, “The poison is sometimes fatal.” Sometime later, the victim died.

species - Both singular and plural.

splendid - Avoid as hyperbole.

square - For areas, precede the unit of measure.

The estate covered six miles square.
Edited:
The estate covered six square miles.

state of the art - Overused. Most new technology products are “state of the art.”

stunning - Overused, hyperbole.

such as - Use like when possible.

sudden death - Common in sports, but avoid in most writing.

suggest - Use to imply a tentative statement.

She suggested there was enough evidence for an arrest.

suggestive - To imply a sexual situation.

The dress was quite suggestive.

suicide - Use as a noun, not a verb.

supine - Lying face upward.

sure / surely - Use surely as an adverb, sure as an adjective.

He was sure she loved him… as her kiss surely proved.

- T -

temperature - Use fever for the result of an infection.

than - Use as a conjunction in most cases, not a preposition. Some experts do disagree, however. Than compares items by degree or extent.

He is a better writer than she is.

that - Overused. Remove that when possible.

We believe that she lied.
Edited:
We believe she lied.

that / which - That begins a restrictive clause and which begins a nonrestrictive clause. A good rule is to look for a comma, which marks the start of a nonrestrictive clause.

That red car was speeding. The driver ignore the light, which was red.

that / who - Use who for people.

Any student that is late will be penalized.
Edited:
Any student who is late will be penalized.

theater / theatre - Use theatre for stage productions or groups of people organized to present classical drama, theater for buildings. This guideline is not observed closely, as some buildings are named “Theatre” and some groups use “Theater” in their names.

thee / thou - Thou is the nominative and thee is the objective form. This guideline is violated in the King James Bible and within Shakespeare’s works.

then - Do not confuse with than; then indicates the next event in a timeline. See than

He stabbed his lawyer then hid the body.

there - Avoid there is and there are to begin sentences. Rewrite when possible.

There is evidence of his guilt.
Edited:
Evidence suggests his guilt.

this / these - Often confusing as pronouns, associate with a noun when possible.

This book is popular.

though - See although

thus - Avoid. It sounds pretentious, thus omit the word.

together with - Redundant. Use one or the other.

We went together with the other class.
Edited:
We went with the other class.

toward / towards - Towards is often used for movement in the direction of a real object, but either is correct.

tsar - Use czar.

- U -

unaware / unawares - Unawares is an adverb, unawere the adjective.

She was unaware of his love, walking unawares beside him.

unhuman - Possessing no human traits, as opposed to inhuman, which means cruel. However, it is common to use inhumane for cruel.

The unhuman monster was the creation on the inhuman scientist.

uninterested - Not paying attention. See disinterested

unique - Overused. If necessary, avoid modifiers since unique cannot be more or less so.

Her excuse was the most unique.
Edited:
Her excuse was unique.

unmoral - Immoral means contrary to accepted standards. Amoral and unmoral mean without regard to moral standards. See immoral

until - Overused. All situations exist until they change.

upon - Used to indicate time or immediacy. Use on for locations. See on / upon

Upon entering, he gasped at the horrorific scene.

upward / upwards - Use upward.

- V -

vast - Avoid. Most phrases using vast are clichés.

very - Overused. Either delete or try revising the sentence.

visit with - Use visit.

- W -

wait for / wait on - Use for, not on unless referring to a service provider waiting on a client.

We were waiting on her to finish.
Edited:
We were waiting for her to finish.

well - 1) A state of health.

He is well today.

2) An adverb of manner. See good.

She writes well.

3) Hyphenate in compounds before a noun, but not after.

The well-dressed man was well tuned as a politician.

West - A region of the United States.

what ever / whatever - Use what ever in questions, whatever in other instances.

“What ever are you doing?” she demanded.
“Whatever I wish,” he replied.

whereabouts - A singular, requiring a singular verb. It is better to use a prepositional phrase, for ease of construction. (is, not are, in U.S. English)

Her whereabouts is unknown.
Better:
We did not know the whereabouts of the suspect.

whether / if - Whether is preferred when offering alternatives. Use if only for conditional statements. See if

If the writer receives a Hugo he can decide whether or not to attend the ceremony.

which - see that / which

who / whom - Use whom with care. Whom is an objective form, but is falling from common use. As the object of a preposition, use whom. Look for to whom and by whom.

To whom should we mail the check?

word-of-mouth - Always hyphenate, as a noun or adjective.

workday / workweek - Both are compound words.

- X -

- Y -

yearlong - The adjective yearlong is one word in some style manuals.

- Z -

__________________________________________________

This guide is based on American Usage and Style, by Roy H. Copperud and recommendations by the Associated Press Stylebook.

Special thanks to S. Schnelbach and C. S. Wyatt at Tameri Guide for Writers: http://www.tameri.com