Don’t Misuse These Words

A misused word is like a fly in your soup—some might overlook it, but for others, it will ruin their entire eating (or in this case, reading) experience. So, when writing your next report or email, how can you be sure you aren’t including any flies? Check out these 10 common word usage errors to be aware of.

  1. Tenant vs Tenet: A tenant is someone who occupies a property; a tenet is a principle, as in the five tenets of good governance.
  1. Appraise vs Apprise: To appraise is to assess; to apprise is to inform, as in keep me apprised of your team’s process.
  1. Hone vs Home: Hone means to sharpen; but is often erroneously used in place of “home” in the phrase home in on.
  1. Irregardless: Though occasionally used, this word is not accepted by many, and the correct words to use in its place would be “regardless” or “irrespective.”
  1. Comprise: Comprise means “to contain.” A correct usage would be the legislature comprises fifty delegates, while an incorrect usage would be fifty delegates comprise the legislature. When in doubt, remember that the whole comprises the parts, but the parts cannot comprise the whole.
  1. Compliment vs Complement: A compliment is when you say something nice about your friend; complement is either to enhance or to be an enhancement, depending on whether it is used as a noun or a verb. The chili complements the lime nicely; the chili is a nice complement to the lime.
  1. Discreet vs Discrete: To be discreet is to be careful or unobtrusive; to be discrete is to be separate.
  1. Belie: Belie means to give a false impression, as in the calm waters belied the lake’s fearsome reputation as a graveyard of careless sailors. This word is often incorrectly used to mean “reveal,” when the word that the writer is looking for in that situation is “betray,” as in the line of whitecaps betrayed the presence of dangerous shoals.
  1. Disinterested: Disinterested means objective and impartial but is often incorrectly used to mean “uninterested.”
  1. Login vs Log In: Login is a noun, as in check your email for your login information; log in is a verb, as in let me log in to my email and find it.

This post is the third in a new series called “Good Writing in Gov,” which explores the many aspects of writing that can help public servants improve their communication. You can view all current posts in the series by clicking on the tag Good Writing in Gov.

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