The Grammar Geek

Parsing Perplexing Word Pairs

Today the Grammar Geek looks at perplexing word pairs. Some are homonyms or homophones—words that sound alike but mean different things, and which may or may not be spelled the same. I’m also including words and phrases that sound “almost” alike and which are very often confused with one another.

The following are just a few word and phrase pairs, and confusion about them seems to be extremely common. I’ve chosen these because they are, or could easily be, relevant to mystery shopping.

Affect vs. Effect: Don’t believe those who say that “affect” is always a verb and “effect” is always a noun. They both can be either. But I’ll address the most common usages, and also suggest that the best way to remember these is simply by example. With these two words, context is everything!

Affect typically means to act upon, influence, etc. For example: The associate’s clear lack of interest in making the sale negatively affected my opinion of the brand.

Affect can also be used to indicate making a show of, cultivating, pretending, etc.: The maître d’ who seated us affected a thick French accent.

Effect is most commonly used as a noun: The personal effects I had left in the console compartment appeared to have been disturbed.

Effect can also be used as a verb, but not in the same way as “affect.” It means to result in, bring about, create, etc. E.g., The bank’s remodeled interior has effected a much more comfortable atmosphere.

A lot vs. alot: This one is simple: There is no such word as alot.

Complimentary vs. Complementary: This word pair can be very confusing, but this explanation should clear it up!

Complimentary has two meanings, the most common of which is to praise something about someone: The salesperson complimented me on my sweater, which personalized the interaction.

The other meaning is to give something free of charge: My server gave me a complimentary beverage to make up for the delay.

Complementary means enhancing, highlighting, or completing something: The salesperson suggested a scarf that perfectly complemented the color of the dress I had chosen.

Ensure vs. Insure: These words are understandably confusing, since their meanings are closely related, but there is a distinct difference.

Ensure means to make certain that something will or will not happen. It is preventive or proactive in nature: The store manager took steps to ensure that a salesperson waited on me in a timely manner.

Insure means that a person or firm will be compensated for loss or damage due to a qualifying event. It does not prevent the qualifying occurrence, but mitigates its effects. It is generally used in a financial sense: During the call, I asked the agent how much it would cost to insure my car at three different deductible amounts.

Perhaps the best illustration of the proper use of these words: You insure your life to ensure that your family will not be financially wiped out when you die.

Everyday vs. Every Day: Another word pair that is horribly abused every day.

Everyday is an adjective (it describes something else). It can mean “daily.” But it often denotes  typical, common, very frequently, etc. E.g., The salesperson asked if this would be my everyday vehicle.

Every day is an adjective (every) plus the noun it modifies (day). The phrase literally means “each day”: I try to perform at least one mystery shop every day.

Into vs. In To: Another pair that is understandably confusing. But they do mean different things. Both are used with verbs, but in different ways.

Into indicates the act of entering something, relocating to the interior of a place, etc.: We walked into the restaurant at 7:13 p.m. I reached into my pocket to get my wallet.

In to indicates an act for the purpose of, in order to, etc.: I went back in to return the shoes approximately one hour after making the purchase. The salesperson went in to her manager to see if the price of the car was negotiable.

Lose vs. Loose: I never thought I’d feel compelled to talk about these two words being confused with one another, but since their misuse is so rampant these days, I will.

Lose is to misplace something: I will lose my mind if I see these words mixed up again!

Loose means “not tight”: The mechanic said that my wheel covers were loose, and used a rubber mallet to pound them back into place.

Regardless vs. Irregardless: Another simple one: Irregardless is not a word. Really. Trust the Grammar Geek! Even spell-check doesn’t recognize it.

Their, There, They’re: Self explanatory, I think. There’s no excuse for mixing these up, not even allowing your phone unfettered predictive text! But just in case….

They’re going to the restaurant over there to see if they left their doggie boxes at the table.

 

Your Comments:

  1. Carol Smith says:

    Thank you for the GREAT (not grate) article!!

    I learned something new today, and for that, I am grateful (not greatful)!! Heh!!

    Keep up the GREAT work!!

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