Common Mistakes in English Writing
Even after years of education, there are some things that some people still mess up. For me, it's algebra. For others, it's the laws of physics. And for many, it's grammar.
It's not easy. Words and phrases that sound fine in your head can look like gibberish when written down -- that is, if you even realize you made a mistake in the first place. It's easy for little grammar mistakes to slip by, especially when you're self-editing.
But how do you prevent grammatical errors if you're not even aware you're making them?
1. Assure vs. Insure vs. EnsureAll of these words have to do with "making an outcome sure," which is why they're so often mixed up. However, they aren't interchangeable.
* "To assure" means to promise or say with confidence. For example, "I assure you that he's good at his job."
* "To ensure" means to make certain. For example, "Ensure you're free when I visit next weekend."
* Finally, "to insure" means to protect against risk by regularly paying an insurance company. For example, "I insure my car because the law requires it."
2. Less vs. FewerYou know the checkout aisle in the grocery store that says "10 Items or Less"? That's actually incorrect. It should be "10 Items or Fewer."
Why? Because "items" are quantifiable -- you can count out 10 items. Use "fewer" for things that are quantifiable, like "fewer M&Ms" or "fewer road trips." Use "less" for things that aren't quantifiable, like "less candy" and "less traveling."
3. Compliment vs. ComplementThese two words are pronounced exactly the same, making them easy to mix up. But they're actually quite different.
If something "complements" something else, that means it completes it, enhances it, or makes it perfect. For example, a wine selection can complement a meal, and two colors can complement each other.
The word "compliment" though, refers to an expression of praise (as a noun), or to praise or express admiration for someone (as a verb). You can compliment your friend's new haircut, or pay someone a compliment on his or her haircut.
4. Farther vs. FurtherPeople often use "farther" and "further" interchangeably to mean "at a greater distance."
However, in most countries, there are actually subtle differences in meaning between the two. "Farther" is used more to refer to physical distances, while "further" is used more to refer to figurative and nonphysical distances. So while Paris is "farther" away than Madrid, a marketing team falls "further" away from its leads goal. (Note: The word "further" is preferred for all senses of the word in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Nations.)
The word "further" can also be used as an adjective or as an adverb to mean "additionally." For example, "I have no further questions."