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Grammar Girl's 101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again

Grammar Girl's 101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again

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by Mignon Fogarty

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Millions of people around the world communicate better thanks to Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, whose top-rated weekly grammar podcast has been downloaded more than 30 million times. After realizing her fans were asking the same questions over and over, Mignon decided to focus her attention on those words that continuously confound the masses. In Grammar Girl


Millions of people around the world communicate better thanks to Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, whose top-rated weekly grammar podcast has been downloaded more than 30 million times. After realizing her fans were asking the same questions over and over, Mignon decided to focus her attention on those words that continuously confound the masses. In Grammar Girl's 101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again, you'll learn:
- When you should use affect and when effect is right- Whether you should you say purposely or purposefully- The difference between hilarious and hystericalPacked with clear explanations, fun quotations showing the word used in context, and the quick and dirty memory tricks Mignon is known for, this friendly reference guide ends the confusion once and for all and helps you speak and write with confidence.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“For anyone who writes, whether blogs or greeting cards, and anyone who speaks in public ... this book should be in your reference library!” —City Book Review

“The book's tips will help increase SAT scores and will come in handy when writing papers or college entrance essays. You will find Fogarty's style to be warm, humorous, and accessible. Become a confident writer and speaker. You won't just sound smarter, you'll be smarter!” —Portland Book Review

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St. Martin's Press
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Quick & Dirty Tips
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Grammar Girl's

101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again

By Mignon Fogarty, Arnie Ten

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2011 Mignon Fogarty, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4057-3


A Versus An

Sadly, a lot of people were taught the wrong rule for using the articles a and an. It's the sound of the next word that determines the word choice, not the first letter.

If the next word starts with a vowel sound, use an. If the next word starts with a consonant sound, use a. That means a word starting with u or o, for example, can require a or an depending on the pronunciation: a unicorn, an uncle, a onetime deal, an owner.


To remember that words starting with certain letters can go either way, set the image in your mind of a man playing a ukulele under an umbrella — an image that uses two u-words that require different articles.

Adieu Versus Ado

Every time I use the word ado in a Scrabble game with my husband, he insists it's not a word. He is wrong, but he's not alone. People often incorrectly write without further adieu instead of the proper phrase without further ado.

Adieu is a French word meaning farewell. It's just another way to say good-bye — like adios or ciao. To mean good-bye is how Julie Andrews used adieu in the song "So Long, Farewell" in The Sound of Music.

An ado, on the other hand, is a hubbub, bustle, flurry, or fuss. You may remember the word ado from the title of Shakespeare's comedy Much Ado About Nothing, in which a big fuss (an ado) is made about an affair that didn't happen.

In some instances, it is understandable that people could mistakenly believe the meaning of adieu makes sense in without further adieu. For example, if dinner guests want to leave without further excessive farewells, it may seem logical to say something such as "Without further adieu, we're off to the movies." Logical, but incorrect. If that is your sentiment, you need to use the plural: adieus.

Advice Versus Advise

The main difference between advice and advise is that advice is a noun and advise is a verb — the act of giving advice.

You once told me, don't get emotional about stock. Don't! The bid is 16 1/2 and going down. As your broker, I advise you to take it.

— Charlie Sheen playing Bud Fox in the movie Wall Street

Advice, meaning an opinion about what should be done, is an abstract noun. It isn't something solid you can see, but it's a noun nonetheless. Other abstract nouns include courage and loyalty.

Let me give you a nickel's worth of free advice young man. This so-called Dr. Brown is dangerous; he's a real nutcase. You hang around with him, you're gonna end up in big trouble.

— James Tolkan playing Mr. Strickland in the movie Back to the Future


Advice ends in ice, and it's easy to remember that a block of ice is a noun. (Even though the ice in advice has nothing to do with frozen water, thinking of it that way can help you remember which word to use.)

Aesthetics Versus Ascetics

Ascetics are people who live an extremely simple life, usually characterized by the rejection of material possessions and worldly pleasures. Ascetic is related to the Greek name for a monk or a hermit (asketes) and the Greek word meaning "to exercise or train" (askein).

Throughout history power has been the vice of the ascetic.

— Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher

The concept of aesthetics is a bit more difficult to define but generally relates to beauty or how something affects the senses. For example, a room can have good aesthetics or bad aesthetics.Aesthetics is also a branch of philosophy that considers such things.

Most people probably wouldn't be pleased with the aesthetics of an ascetic's home. You may sometimes see the word spelled esthetics. That spelling is considered an acceptable variant in American English, but aesthetics is still the standard spelling in Britain and the preferred spelling in America.

Don't talk to me about aesthetics or tradition. Talk to me about what sells and what's good right now.

— George Steinbrenner, former owner of the New York Yankees

Affect Versus Effect

Most of the time, affect is a verb and effect is a noun.

Affect most commonly means something like "to influence" or "to change." Affect can also mean, roughly, "to act in a way you don't feel," as in He affected an air of superiority.

I'd like to see some sign that it affects you or that you recognize that it affects other people.

— Omar Epps playing Dr. Eric Foreman in the TV show House

Effect has a lot of subtle meanings as a noun, but to me the meaning "a result" seems to be at the core of all the definitions.

When I see effects and I'm unable to discern the cause, my faith in reason and consequence is shaken.

— Emily Deschanel playing Dr. Temperance Brennan in the TV show Bones

In rare instances, the roles are switched. For example, you can effect change (a verb) and display a happy affect (a noun). (In the latter case, affect means "an emotion or disposition" — shown either on your face or in your body language.


Affect is usually an action (both start with a). Like most nouns, you can usually put an article (the or an) in front of effect without ruining the meaning of the sentence.

Affective Versus Effective

Even when people understand the difference between affect and effect, they often still get confused about affective and effective.

If you're trying to decide between the two, effective is almost always the right choice. Its synonyms include forceful,powerful,useful,capable, and taking effect.

Based on your cost in materials and your wholesale selling price, you'll effectively be paying yourself five dollars and nineteen cents a day.

— Jim Parsons playing Sheldon Cooper in the TV show The Big Bang Theory

Effective immediately, I am shutting down the weapons manufacturing division of Stark Industries.

— Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark in the movie Iron Man

Affective relates to emotions; you're most likely to hear it as the name of a psychological condition such as seasonal affective disorder (in which a type of depression is triggered by the decrease in sunlight in the winter).

Allude Versus Elude

Allude and elude sound similar and share the same Latin root word, but they don't mean the same thing.

Allude means "to refer to indirectly."

No jokes. No innuendos, no quips. Don't even think of alluding to having seen me naked or having touched any part of my body that does not have fingers.

— Kristen Bell playing Veronica Mars in the TV show Veronica Mars

Elude means "to avoid, evade, or escape."

The Neutrinos have eluded us.

— A rock soldier in the TV show Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


Remember that elude, escape, and evade all start with the letter e.

Altar Versus Alter

An altar is a place, often an elevated place such as a table, used for religious rites or spiritual offerings. The word arose in English around the year A.D. 1000, which is surprisingly recent given its tie to religion.

In this bar I will always be known as the guy who was left at the altar. It sucks.

— Josh Radnor playing Ted Mosby in the TV show How I Met Your Mother

Alter is a more recent word, dating from the fourteenth century and coming from the Latin word for "other." It means to change or modify.

If you ever travel back in time, don't step on anything. Because even the slightest change can alter the future in ways you can't imagine.

— Dan Castellaneta voicing Grandpa Simpson in the TV show The Simpsons


Religious people often talk about putting God first in their lives, and a is the first letter of the alphabet. That can help you remember that the object used for religious rites is spelled altar.


Anniversary should be reserved for something that happens once a year, but people often use it incorrectly to refer to something that happens weekly or monthly. New lovers are annoying enough without also butchering the language to talk about their three-week anniversary.

Anniversary comes from two Latin words: annus, which means "year," and vertere, which means "to turn." So an anniversary is literally the turning of a year — not something that should be attached to weeks or months.

This is the seventy-fifth anniversary issue. There is only going to be one seventy-fifth anniversary issue ever, and it's on our watch. We screw this up and we basically mooned a piece of history.

— Liza Weil playing Paris Geller in the TV show Gilmore Girls

Filipino English speakers seem to have a better grasp of the limitations of the word anniversary than Americans; I'm told monthsary is a common term in the Philippines for describing monthly landmarks.


Remember that anniversary is related to the the word annual.

Anxious Versus Eager

Anxious comes from a Latin word that means "worried, uneasy, or distressed"; and eager comes from a Latin word that means "sharp or keen."

To some, anxious has more of a negative connotation than eager. You're eager for your long-distance boyfriend's plane to arrive — unless you're going to break up with him; then you're more likely to be anxious for his plane to arrive so you can get it over with. Anxious is evolving, though: the distinction between the two terms was much stronger in the seventeenth century. Today, many people use the words interchangeably.

I think everything must go back to the fact that I had a very anxious childhood. My mother never had time for me. You know, when you're ... the middle child in a family of five million, you don't get any attention.

— Woody Allen as Z in the movie Antz

Well, I don't wanna seem too eager. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, that seems good.

— Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani in the TV show Friends


If you wish to make a distinction between anxious and eager, think of Xanax, the anti-anxiety drug with all those x's, as a way to remember that anxious conveys a sense of being distraught.

Assume Versus Presume

If you assume something about someone, you're basing your information on nothing — no facts or proof, just your belief gathered from thin air.

Before a man speaks, it is always safe to assume that he is a fool. After he speaks, it is seldom necessary to assume it.

— H. L. Mencken, author of The American Language

If you presume to know something about someone, that presumption is based on evidence or facts.

We falsely attribute to men a determined character; putting together all their yesterdays, and averaging them, we presume we know them.

— Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden


You have likely heard the famous quotation "Dr. Livingstone, I presume." This line was spoken by Sir Henry Morton, who was a reporter in 1871 when he went to Africa in search of the aforementioned missionary and explorer, Dr. David Livingstone. He used presume because he expected the person he encountered to be Dr. Livingstone.

Astrologer Versus Astronomer

What's the quickest way to insult astronomers? Call them astrologers.

Astronomers are scientists who study space and things in space such as planets, moons, stars, suns, and asteroids. An astronomer might say, "An increase in solar flare activity will increase the intensity and duration of the Northern Lights this weekend."

Astrologers make predictions about human activities and proclivities based on the positions and movements of celestial bodies. An astrologer might say, "You're an Aries and she's a Leo; you belong together!"

I'm a Gemini, and Geminis don't believe in astrology.

— Clive Owen, playing Jack in the movie Croupier


Astronomers are scientists who discover new planets. Therefore, astronomers must name new planets. Astronomer ends with nomer, which sounds a lot like namer. Astronomers are the namers of new planets. On the other hand, astrologers observe and work with only the current known heavenly bodies — no naming involved. (This memory trick is not based on the true origins of the words, but it helps me remember the difference between astrologers and astronomers.)

Bad Versus Badly

Bad is an adjective and badly is an adverb, so usually you use badly to modify a verb because most verbs are action verbs:

No, I don't think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly.

— Clark Gable playing Rhett Butler in the movie Gone with the Wind

There's an exception, though — you use bad to modify linking verbs such as be, is, and was:

What Saleem did was bad enough. Becoming like him would be worse.

— Cote de Pablo playing Ziva David in the TV show NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service

When you're talking about your emotions, the right thing to say is that you feel bad, not that you feel badly, because feel is a linking verb when it refers to your emotions rather than your sense of touch.


If you can replace a verb with a form of to be (such as is or was) without dramatically changing the meaning of the sentence, it is a linking verb.

Baited Versus Bated

Bated is one of the many words Shakespeare invented (or at least he was the first person to put the word on a piece of paper that survived to this day so that dictionary makers could find it). Baited is the past tense of the word bait, meaning "to lure an animal or person." The reason these two words confuse people is because of the phrase with bated breath.

Bated is a form of abate, which means "to diminish, beat down, or reduce." So when you're waiting with bated (read: abated) breath, you're so eager, anxious, excited, or frightened that you're almost holding your breath.

Shakespeare used the phrase with bated breath in The Merchant of Venice in a scene where Shylock (the moneylender) points out the irony of Antonio (the merchant) coming to him for a loan after Antonio treated him so poorly in the past:

Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key,
bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this;
"Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn'd me such a day; another time
You call'd me dog; and for these courtesies
I'll lend you thus much moneys"?

Since bated is a word many modern people don't know, it's common to see with bated breath incorrectly written as with baited breath.

There's an odd logic to the baited misunderstanding — you bait a hook to catch a fish, and people eagerly waiting for something could be tempted to put out metaphorical bait, but why would it be their breath? It wouldn't. Nobody would rush toward fishy breath.

Simply remember the moneylender Shylock and his abated breath.

Because Of Versus Due To

When you're choosing between because of and due to, because of is almost always the better choice. For example, it's best to say, "I don't have any homework because of [not due to] the holiday," and "Because of [not due to] the holiday, I don't have any homework."

I personally think we developed language because of our deep need to complain.

— Lily Tomlin, American comedian

It's best to reserve due to for times when you mean "owed" or "expected." For example, "He sent the money that was due to her," or "She was due to arrive at noon."


Excerpted from Grammar Girl's by Mignon Fogarty, Arnie Ten. Copyright © 2011 Mignon Fogarty, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

MIGNON FOGARTY, the creator of Grammar Girl and the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips Network, is also the author of the New York Times bestselling Grammar Girl's Quick And Dirty Tips For Better Writing and The Grammar Devotional. Her straightforward, bite-sized tips on grammar have led to features in the New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and an appearance on Oprah. She lives in Reno, Nevada.

Mignon Fogarty, the creator of Grammar Girl and the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network, is also the author of The New York Times bestselling GRAMMAR GIRL'S QUICK AND DIRTY TIPS FOR BETTER WRITING and THE GRAMMAR DEVOTIONAL.  Her straightforward, bite-sized tips on grammar have led to features in the New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and an appearance on Oprah. She lives in Reno, Nevada.

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Grammar Girl's 101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Copynet More than 1 year ago
I love this book, and it sure is a great refresher. After reading it, I felt more confident about keeping some of these words straight. I never could remember which was correct between "nauseous" and "nauseated" and I know others who always mix up "anxious/eager," and "lose/loose." This book will help you set them apart. There are also some words you might not confuse, but it's a good read to remember how close they are in spelling, but not so close in meaning: principal/principle, prostate/prostrate, lightening/lightning, til/till/until, and so on. There are also extra words at the back that Grammar Girl defined, so the book has more than 101 words. It's a valuable read, and it'll be a good book that you'll keep close at hand on your reference shelf and refer to often.
Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
So many, many people need this book. Flesh out vs. flush out. Because of vs. due to. Reign vs. rein (I see that used wrong all the time). I admit, this book has been living in my bathroom for a long time, so I can flesh out my vocabulary while flushing... Anyway, great word choices, great examples that help me to remember... Every writer and blogger and Tweeter should buy this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fine book for teens girls AND BOYS, as well as a nice refresher for adults. The title should be changed. LLL
n2filmzz More than 1 year ago
Baby boomer or X generation....great book to set it straight especially for those of us that ditched some English classes back in the day....
Mark_NJ More than 1 year ago
This book, like all of Grammar Girl's prior books (and podcasts), is well written with easy-to-understand examples. Like most people, there are words and word pairs that confuse and befuddle me. Grammar Girl clears up a lot of the uncertainty around these words, and provides background information on word orgins in an interesting and fun manner. I now know that when I shuffle cards, I'm actually riffling, and after reading this book, I finally understand why my wife was mad at me when I brought home 14 carrots for our anniversary rather that 14 karats (of gold)! I'm waiting with bated breath for Grammar Girl's next book!
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Kaylinn More than 1 year ago
Being a fan of Mignon Fogarty's service to us word lovers already, this book lived up to my expectations. You can use it as a reference at the point you might be needing to check a word, or you can simply sit and read it for the general information that you can glean and file away mentally for later use. Grammar Girl always states her case in an entertaining way. I can recommend this book without reservation to anyone who cares about our language and wants to use it correctly.
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Sharlene Reyes More than 1 year ago
After i read the sample i wanted to read more. This book is very useful
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Enzo0 More than 1 year ago
Berry byutiful