Monday, July 27, 2009

A Word about Words

A Word about Words
By Mark Terence Chapman

Here are some more words and phrases that are commonly misused or misspelled. A conscientious writer should use these correctly. More importantly, using these words/phrases correctly will reduce the odds of your writing being rejected by an editor due to excessive errors. (Editors don’t want to waste time on pieces that require an inordinate amount of their time to clean up.) Even if you write only business reports and emails, you still wouldn’t want people chuckling over your misuse of the English language, would you?

Envelop vs. Envelope

Wrong: Stick it in an envelop and mail it.
Right: Stick it in an envelope and mail it.

An envelope (pronounced EN-vel-ope or ON-vel-ope) is a flat container, usually made of paper, in which to put letters or other papers. Envelop (en-VEL-up) is a verb that means to enclose, surround, or wrap up. Therefore, you might envelop a letter with an envelope.

Contingent vs. Contingency

Wrong: We have a backup plan as a contingent.
Right: We have a backup plan as a contingency.

As an adjective, contingent means dependent on (as in contingent upon the weather) or uncertain (contingent plans). The noun contingency refers to a chance event or uncertainty. (He was prepared for any contingency.)

Emigrate(ion) vs. Immigrate(ion), Emigrant vs. Immigrant

Wrong: She has plans to immigrate to Canada.
Right: She has plans to emigrate to Canada.
Wrong: He’s a recent emigrant to our country.
Right: He’s a recent immigrant to our country.

An immigrant is someone who immigrates, or moves here from another country. Conversely, an emigrant is someone who emigrates to another country. To keep them straight, think of the “e” in emigrate as standing for “exit.”

Grandiose vs. Grand

Wrong: This grandiose building will stand as a symbol of hope for decades.
Right: This grand building will stand as a symbol of hope for decades.

Something that’s grand is imposing, majestic, impressive, or magnificent. Grandiose means pompous, overblown, or affectedly grand—definitely not a compliment.

Imminent vs. Eminent vs. Preminent

Wrong: They were prepared for his eminent demise.
Right: They were prepared for his imminent demise.
Wrong: He’s a preeminent authority on the subject.
Right: He’s an eminent authority on the subject.
Right: He’s the preeminent authority on the subject.

Imminent means impending. Eminent means prominent, distinguished, or notable, as in a noted authority, while preeminent means at the forefront or above all others. Therefore, there can be many eminent authorities, but only one preeminent one.

Flout vs. Flaunt

Wrong: He seems to go out of his way to flaunt authority.
Right: He seems to go out of his way to flout authority.

To flaunt is to show off conspicuously or ostentatiously, as in flaunting a new sports car or jewelry. On the other hand, to flout is to treat with scorn, disdain, or contempt.

Pair vs. Pairs

Wrong: She bought four pair of shoes at Macy’s.
Right: She bought four pairs of shoes at Macy’s.

Pair means two. For more than one pair, use pairs—the plural form of the word.

Automatic vs. Automated

Wrong: The process is entirely automatic.
Right: The process is entirely automated.

Automatic means able to start or operate independently or without thought. Automated means to apply the principles of automation by having a machine perform a task.

Horde(ing) vs. Hoard(ing)

Wrong: She’d been hording food for years, in case of disaster.
Right: She’d been hoarding food for years, in case of disaster.

To hoard, a verb, is to stockpile for future use or preservation. Horde is a noun that refers to a large group of people or animals, as in a mob or herd.

Historic vs. Historical

Wrong: This is an historical day!
Right: This is a historic day!

Historic means noteworthy. A historic day is one that will be long remembered. Historical merely means relating to history (as in historical records)—something that happened once upon a time. (Note: “An” should only precede words that begin with vowels. Therefore “an historic” is incorrect, even though it frequently appears this way, as if the “h” were silent.)

If you’ve ever been confused about any of these words or phrases, tack this column to the wall by your desk. It’ll help you avoid similar errors in the future.

Mark Terence Chapman writes in various genres: He’s a poet, short story writer, novelist, humorist, and even a nonfiction writer tackling computer topics and nanotechnology. To find out more about Mr. Chapman, please visit his Web site at: or his blog at:

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