Category Archives: Errors

Sere, seer or sear?

Sere, seer or sear?


This Troublesome Trio was suggested to me by the ever-helpful Linda from Linda Proofreads – thank you! Those among you with good memories will recall that she’s suggested pairs before – they can’t be infinite but I certainly haven’t thought of them all yet.

So three words with very different meanings that are spelled differently but are all pronounced the same.

Sere is an adjective (and a literary one at that) which means “withered” and can also be spelled sear, and I always thought it meant dry and kind of nobly so, so that shows it’s always worth looking things up in a variety of sources before you confidently bung down what you think something means from your vast experience, etc. It’s also a fairly new word (only around 120 years old) for a series of animal or plant communities which have been formed from succession, for example the endless lavender plants that my garden produces, one from the other but still in the same area.

A seer is a person who can see visions of the future, a prophet or the like. Seer can also be used in a very old-fashioned way to describe someone who sees a specific thing, but I would shy away from using it in that sense, to be honest. It’s also an Asian unit of weight. Who knew?

To sear (a verb) means to burn or even scorch something with an intense and sudden heat, and is often used to describe browning meat or other foods at a high temperature. As an extension into a metaphor, something can be seared into your memory of mind, fixed there, the vision of something which you can’t now “unsee”, for example. A searing pain is a strong and sudden burning sensation.

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!


Posted by on July 20, 2017 in Errors, Language use



Premier or premiere? What about premium?

Premier or premiere? What about premium?

I’m going to admit now, because there are things that all of us editors have to look up (right? Please share! Better to check than be wrong) and this is one of the ones I have had trouble with in the past and have had to commit to memory. Which one means the most important and which one means the first performance?

Premier means the first in importance or order, and this extends to being used for a head of state (in Australia and Canada, it’s the official title for the chief minister of a state or government, everywhere else it can be used to denote the head of state, “The British premier stated that …”).

A premiere is the first showing of a film or the first performance of a musical work or play. So you go to a film premiere, not a film premier.

Premium has several meanings, one of which is superior and usually more expensive – premium cat food, for example (a premium is also the amount you pay for insurance or a sum added to a normal sum in order to get something better).

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!


Posted by on May 25, 2017 in Errors, Language use



Breach or breech?

Breach or breech?

I was asked about this one by my lovely friend Linda, a good friend and a super editor, too. It’s sometimes hard to think up new troublesome pairs to write about, so I love it when people suggest them to me, often because they’ve encountered someone else confusing them, sometimes for themselves (it’s the former in Linda’s case).

To breach something (the verb) means to make a hole in it OR to break something like an agreement or a law, or simply a code of conduct. A breach (the noun) is the result of someone breaching something: it’s the act of breaking an agreement or a law (a breach of conduct) or a gap or hole in a wall or other barrier. “By wearing jeans in the dining room, he breached the club’s formal dress policy”. It’s often used in a military sense, but in a general one, too.

The breech (noun only) is the part of a cannon, gun or rifle barrel that is behind the bore. The old-fashioned use of the word means a person’s buttocks, but this survives chiefly in the term “a breech birth” which occurs when a baby is turned around in the womb so that its bottom or feet emerge first.

Breeches (which that last sense of breech comes from) are short trousers, ending just below the knee, which are nowadays used in ceremonial or riding dress.

Breaches are multiple gaps in a wall, etc. or multiple infringements of policy and laws.

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!


Posted by on May 3, 2017 in Errors, Language use



Venal or venial?

Venal or venial?

Another troublesome pair from near the end of the alphabet – and while we’re talking about alphabets, I’ll admit now (and sadly it will probably be true for any future readers, too; you’ll be amazed how many people search for these pairs years after I posted them) that I’m a bit behind with updating the index. However, if you use the Search feature (under menu on a mobile or in the right-hand column on a desktop) you will be able to find all of them.

OK, venal vs. venial.

If you are venal, it means you are susceptible to bribery, for example a corrupt politician or town planner.

Venial is quite different: it is used in a Christian context to describe a sin which is not seen as removing divine grace from the soul. It has therefore also come to mean, by extension, slight or pardonable, although I can’t personally recall seeing it used in this way in a non-religious context (or without any reference to religion) and I would advise using slight or pardonable instead if you want to use it in a secular context unless you’re very sure your audience will understand it.

Additional point: venial sins are contrasted with mortal sins, which are terrible, grave sins which do deprive the soul of divine grace.

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!

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Posted by on April 26, 2017 in Errors, Language use



How to start a new line, paragraph or page or indent a paragraph in Word 2007, 2010, 2013 or 2016

How to start a new line, paragraph or page or indent a paragraph in Word 2007, 2010, 2013 or 2016

This is a quick reference round-up how to and how not to covering how to stat a new line, how to start a new paragraph, how to start a new page and how to indent a paragraph in Word for Windows.

I have covered all of these in detail in various longer articles which I’ll link to as we go along.

Why all the fuss? Why can’t I do it my way?

If you are formatting a document to be used by someone else, edited and changed or, especially, printed, it’s vital that you use the standard ways to lay out your document to prevent it getting into a mess or someone else having to reformat it (which could be expensive if you’re paying them). In addition, certain methods, especially using Enter to start a new line, can make your document messy as soon as you enter extra text before that line break (see the relevant article for details and examples).

How to start a new line in Word

Don’t use the space bar to move the cursor along until it finally gets to the next line

Do use a soft line return or a hard paragraph return:

  • Pressing the shift key and enter key at the same time at the end of your line will move the cursor to the next line without any paragraph breaks, spaces between the lines, etc. (this is very useful if you’re creating two-line captions)
  • Pressing the enter key at the end of your line will move the cursor to the start of the new line (this will give you a space between the two lines if you have your paragraphs set up like that

How to start a new paragraph in Word

Don’t use the space bar to move the cursor to a new line, then create a new line of spaces

Do use a hard paragraph return: hit the Enter key on your keyboard

How to put a space between paragraphs in Word

Don’t use the Enter key to add a line of white space

Do use the Line Space icon in your Home tab or the Paragraph menu to add a space after each paragraph

How to indent a paragraph in Word

Really don’t use the space key to line up the paragraphs

Don’t use the Tab key to indent the paragraph

Do either highlight the whole text and set the rulers at the top of the page OR set the Normal style to have an indent at the start of a paragraph

How to start a new page in Word

Don’t use the Enter key to move the cursor down to the next page

Do use the Enter and Control keys at the same time to force a page break

This article has summarised how to start a new line, paragraph and page and indent a paragraph correctly in Word.

Related articles in this blog

Line space icon

Paragraph menu

Indenting paragraphs

Page breaks



Posted by on April 19, 2017 in Errors, Word, Writing


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Swathe or swath?

Swathe or swath?

I had always assumed that there was just one word for a row of grass or other cereal crop as it falls as it’s mown, or a broad area of land, also used by extension for a broad area of anything (swathes of the English-speaking population use swathe and not swath), but then swath started cropping up in both the newspaper and the current affairs magazine I read regularly (which do not share a publisher, although some journalists write for both).

To me, personally, “swath” sounds wrong when I read it (this is where I find out not everyone hears the words in their head, like when I found out that not everyone gets earworms (uninvited music playing in your head). I’ve always pronounced the word to rhyme with “bathe”, with the “a” that’s in “cave”, presumably because I first saw it written as “swathe” and applied the rule that an “e” at the end of a word lengthens the vowel. “Swath” reads to me with a harder “the” and the “shortened”, so like the beginning part of “gather” (this is hard without using linguistic pronunciations symbols!) although I suppose you could read it with the same vowel as “bath” or even “swatch”.

As the dictionaries I consult for this series (primarily Oxford and Merriam-Webster) both say you can use either swathe or swath, I’m guessing that which you use depends on which you first saw and read and thus the way you pronounce it. I’d love to know which you use and how you pronounce it!

Oh, and if you like this kind of stuff, I can highly recommend Kory Stamper’s new book “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries”. I’ve not finished it yet, but, oh, it’s just marvellous. There’s a photo on my book review blog here and a review will appear on the blog in due course.

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!


Posted by on April 15, 2017 in Errors, Language use



Viscus or viscous?

Viscus or viscous?

I do like a -us or -ous distinction that’s not just talking about American versus British English, and, well, enjoyed wouldn’t be quite the right term, would it, did some writing about this when I covered mucus or mucous. So here’s another pair of words that sound and are spelled almost the same but don’t mean the same, and you wouldn’t really want to mix them up, would you!

Viscus, it turns out (I didn’t know this off the top of my head. One of the most important rules of being an editor is know when to look things up, and I always check even the ones I think I know in several resources before posting these articles) – is the singular form of the word viscera (which is the word for the internal organs, particularly those in the abdomen).

Viscous describes the state between being a liquid and being a solid: a thick stickiness. Ugh. When I did a search to make sure I hadn’t written about this before, the results came up with my mucus or mucous and unguent or ungulant articles. I think I’ll write about something sere and dry and non-sticky next …

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!

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Posted by on April 5, 2017 in Errors, Language use