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Tag Archives: language

Formally or formerly?

DictionariesOne of my readers, Graham, suggested this troublesome pair – I always l like to receive suggestions of pairs to write about, so do drop me a line if you’ve checked the index first and I haven’t written about your favourite!

Formally is an adverb formed from the adjective formal, and means being done by the rules of convention or etiquette, officially recognised, with a conventional structure, form or set of rules. “He replied formally to her gilt-edged invitation”, “I was dressed formally as it was a high-class event run by the establishment!.

Formerly is an adverb that means in the past; before whatever is being discussed now.

“Formerly, for example in the 19th century, social visits were done much more formally, according to established rules and customs. Now everything is much more relaxed and informal, with people dropping in to see each other without having to leave a card in the hall first.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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Phase or faze?

DictionariesI find these two words being mixed up quite commonly, and it’s one of those ones that … I won’t say it annoys me, because I try to remain calm and focused on the sense of the writing in the face of errors, but it sometimes makes me a bit tense.

The incorrect usage is always in one direction of the confusion. I’ll show you what I mean …

A phase is a distinct period of time or stage (“we are doing the building work in three phases: foundations, walls and roof, with gaps to raise money in between”) and it has some complicated scientific meanings which are related to this idea of separateness and which we probably don’t need to go into here.* The verb to phase (in/out) means to carry out a process gradually (“We are phasing in the new hires so everybody doesn’t arrive at once”) and is used in those scientific contexts I talk about below.

What phased does not mean is confused or discombobulated.

To faze is to confuse, disturb or discombobulate – so the past tense is fazed. “I was fazed by the information he was bombarding me with and had to take a break”.

Faze – confuse. Phase – time period or other separate thing.

“I was not fazed when the phases of the traffic lights were altered, because I had read the notices and knew it was about to happen.”

*Oh, alright then, if you insist: in physics, it’s the relationship in time between the cycles of a system and a fixed point in time; in chemistry it’s a distinct form of matter that is separate from other forms in terms of its surface; and in zoology, it’s the variations in an animal’s colouring depending on the seasons or genetics.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
 

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Appraised or apprised?

DictionariesThis one was suggested by my friend Lyndsey Michaels – thanks, Lyndsey! As she works with tender documents, and both of these are used in formal and business writing, I’m assuming that she’s found that they’ve been mixed up frequently in the raw materials that she’s sent to craft into official documentation.

So, to appraise means to assess the value of somebody or something. You often get a yearly appraisal at work these days, and an antiques expert might appraise a table, for example.

To apprise means to tell or to inform. It’s usually used in a phrase like “She apprised him of the state of the company’s finances”.

Interestingly, there is an archaic word, to apprize or apprise, which does mean specifically to put a price on something. I don’t know whether that meaning has continued in people’s minds, or whether the two would get mixed up anyway.

“He apprised his boss of the auctioneer’s appraisal of the table and suggested that they didn’t bother to sell it after all.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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Draw or drawer?

DictionariesAnecdotally, I’ve noticed that this distinction is starting to get lost or muddled. I can’t give you specific examples, although there is a furniture shop close to where I live with the rather wonderful advert for “chester draws” (I do try not to mock odd use of English, but I rather like the inventiveness of this one, hence sharing it here).

To draw (a verb) is to make marks on paper with a pencil, or on another material with another medium, in order to produce a picture. It also means to drag something along or across (a horse draws a cart, we draw the curtains when we close (or open!) them); to reach a certain point (“we hope that the meeting will draw to an end by 7pm”); to work out (you draw conclusions); to attract attention (“his miming act drew a smaller crowd than he’d expected”) and various other technical things to do with pipes and sails and water.

There is a noun, draw, but this means to select a winner randomly (“We will have a draw of the raffle tickets at the end of the fete”), a game that ends in the same score for both sides or, in cricket, where the match has to be abandoned because it can’t be completed in the time allowed (“The match was a draw. Both teams got 1 goal”), or an attraction (“her burlesque act was a  big draw and the variety show made a huge profit”). What it isn’t is anything to do with furniture.

A drawer (a noun) is the slide-out compartment in a piece of furniture, kitchen unit, desk, etc. It’s also a rather old-fashioned word for underpants, a drawer is someone who draws something, and you can be the drawer of a cheque when you write one. But the main use is the one to do with furniture.

“The winner of the prize draw received a beautiful chest of drawers. I’m going to draw a picture of it for the person who donated it, so they can remember it.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
 

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Forward or foreword?

DictionariesIn the past two days, both I and a colleague have come across clients sending us the “forwards” to their books, so it’s worth me underlining the correct use of forward and foreword here, I think!

Forward means in the direction that you are facing or in the direction that you are travelling. As an extension, it means travelling or moving onward/ahead (literally or metaphorically – “the convoy moved forward across the plain” / “forward-thinking has enabled us to plan the future”), in the standard order (“the purchasing process is going forward”), and then further advanced than would be expected (“she is forward in her reading”). It has additional meanings of the front of a ship; being a bit bold and over-familiar (“she was very forward and flirted with all of the sailors as she served their drinks”); and sending on a letter from one address to a final destination (“When he was at university, his parents thoughtfully forwarded all of his junk mail to him”).

A foreword, which is the word that our author clients were looking for, is a short introduction to a book, which is usually written by somebody other than the author of the book – a celebrity or someone more experienced in the field.

While the foreword might be considered to go at the forward end of a book, it’s a fore word, as in words that come before.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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Illusion or delusion?

DictionariesWhat’s the difference between an illusion and a delusion. In this post in my series of Troublesome Pairs, I’ll explain it to you …

An illusion is a false or deceptive appearance, impression or perception: “He gave the illusion of being able to touch-type: in fact, he stared at the keyboard and typed with two fingers”; “The illusion produced by the smoke and mirrors was very convincing and she thought that she could see the magician in two places at the same time.”

A delusion is an internally produced belief that is not in line with what is generally accepted to be the truth: “He fell prey to the delusion that he was a magnet for women, but put them off with his cheesy chat-up lines”.

You can think of it like this: an illusion is imposed from the outside, while a delusion arises from the inside. I hope that helps!

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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Dryer or drier?

A commonly confused pair, this is in fact confusing when you start to look into it, too! Perhaps that’s why I’ve left it until now!

Drier is the comparative of the adjective dry. So, today it didn’t rain very much, so it was drier than yesterday, when it poured with rain all day. This white wine is drier than that white wine. Liz’s laundry has been on the washing line in her North-facing garden all day and is no drier than when she put it out. You get the idea.

A dryer is a device which dries things. So you have a tumble dryer or a hair dryer. Simple.

But: drier is also an alternative or variant spelling of dryer. How disappointing. But we don’t need to use it as such, do we? Let’s keep those two alternatives going strong, and get our laundry drier by using our tumble dryer!

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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Faint or feint?

DictionariesHere we go with another Troublesome Pair. We have a slight spelling issue going on with the second of these two, as well, just to add extra value!

Faint as an adjective means barely perceptible, slight, and in medical terms, close to losing consciousness: “Even the faint whiff of eggs was enough to make me feel faint”. The verb to faint indicates a sudden loss of consciousness: “She saw the horrible sight and fainted, falling to the floor, out cold”. Faint hearted – means lacking conviction or courage – another of our extensions into metaphor.

A feint (not a fient) is a pretended or deceptive thrust or blow in the sports of boxing fencing (or in general fighting). “I feinted a punch to the left and ran around him as he ducked”. It is also, in my favoured usage, the term for paper which has been printed with faint lines to give a guide for handwriting – you will see “Narrow feint” or “Wide feint” printed on the front of notebooks or pads of paper.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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Bimonthly or semimonthly / semi-monthly? Biweekly or semiweekly / semi-weekly?

I covered biennial or biannually quite a while ago now, but Guy K Haas commented on my index to all of these Troublesome Pairs that I should cover bimonthly or semimonthly, and biweekly or semiweekly. And so I shall.

However, one caveat before we begin: Try not to use these. There is so much confusion about words like these, that it is almost always so much better to write “Every two weeks” or “Twice a week” rather than using the more complex term. After all, these terms are usually used when one is scheduling something, and you don’t want your scheduling to go awry, do you!

Bimonthly actually means, in the dictionary (all of them), taking place or appearing twice a month … or every two months. So that’s no use, is it!

We find the same issue with biweekly – it can mean either (both) taking place or appearing twice a week … or every two weeks. Useless, again!

Moving on, semi-monthly and semi-weekly do mean occurring or appearing twice a month / twice a week (and notice that hyphen: that’s a bit annoying in itself, isn’t it!).

So, my recommendation: leave these well alone. State the exact times the whatever it is will be doing whatever it does. “My magazine is going to come out every two months” – “Oh, mine’s coming out twice a month, or every two weeks”. Job done.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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Slight or sleight?

This one was suggested by Matthew, Mr Libro. I’ve got to the point where I can’t remember whether I’ve covered a particular confusing word pair or not (see the link at the bottom of this post for the index to them all) but it is indeed a new one …

Slight is an adjective meaning not very sturdy or strong, or inconsiderable, small: “The rider was so slight that they feared he could not control the larger horse”; “There is a slight problem with your use of their and there, have a look at Liz’s Troublesome Pairs posts”. A slight (noun) is a kind of insult which is based around not showing someone the appropriate level of respect or attention: “He never bothered to read her blog posts, and she felt this slight keenly”.

Sleight is only actually ever found as part of the phrase ‘sleight of hand‘. This means manual dexterity, usually in the context of someone doing magic/conjuring tricks. By extension, it has also come to mean skilful deception of any kind, as more of a metaphor.

“He gained a slight advantage by employing sleight of hand and misleading the other runners as to the direction to take. However, as it was only a slight advantage, they soon caught up and beat him”.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
 

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