Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Word about Words

Don’t let these commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases trip you up
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? Just as importantly, using the correct word can better convey the nuance you desire. As Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Solution vs. Solve

Wrong: We need to solution this problem in a hurry.
Right: We need to solve this problem in a hurry.
Right: We need a solution to this problem in a hurry.

Solution is a noun, yet I’ve heard it (mis)used as a verb. But we already have a perfectly good verb to use: solve. Please don’t solution anything!

Conversated vs. Conversed

Wrong: We conversated about that very subject.
Right: We conversed about that very subject.

To converse is to talk informally. Conversate (back-formed from conversation) is a slang version of the verb converse.

Climatic vs. Climactic

Wrong: The climatic scene was intense.
Right: The climactic scene was intense.

Climatic (verb) is to climate (noun) as climactic is to climax.

Pseudo questions

Wrong: I wonder why she did that?
Right: I wonder why she did that.

Sometimes a sentence seems like it should be a question even though it isn’t. In the above example, the word why suggests a question, but in fact the sentence is a statement. Had it been written “Why did she do that?” it would be a question.

Emulate vs. Simulate

Wrong: We’re attempting to emulate emotions in a robot.
Right: We’re attempting to simulate emotions in a robot.

To emulate is to attempt to equal or exceed. If you emulate someone you are trying to be like him or her. On the other hand, if you simulate something you are creating a likeness, assuming the appearance, or copying. A person might simulate, or feign, interest. One way to think of the difference is that emulation is real, while simulation is fake.

Nevermind vs. Never mind

Wrong: Nevermind about that.
Right: Never mind about that.

Nevermind is a noun that means attention, notice, or heed (as in “Pay him no nevermind.”). It can also mean business or affair. (“It’s no nevermind of yours.”) Never mind, however, is an idiom that means “don’t worry” or “it’s of no concern.”

Carat vs. Caret vs. Karat

Wrong: I bought my fiancé a 2 caret diamond ring.
Wrong: This bracelet is made of 14 carat gold.
Right: My necklace is 14 karat gold, with diamonds totaling 2 carats.

It’s easy to get the various spellings confused, as similar as they are. A carat is a measure of weight used for gemstones, totaling 200 milligrams. In the U.S. and Canada, karat is a measure of the fineness, or purity, of gold, with 24 carats being 100% pure. (In some countries, it’s spelled carat.) Of course, at that purity, it’s too soft to be practical as jewelry, hence the more common, sturdier, and less expensive 10K, 14K, and 18K fineness. Silver, copper, and other metals are added not only for strength, but to create different colors as well (such as white gold and red or rose gold). A caret (^) is nothing more than a special symbol used in editing to indicate where something is to be inserted. It’s not as valuable as a carat or karat (except, perhaps, to an editor).

Pompous grass vs. Pampas grass

Wrong: That bush over there? That’s pompous grass.
Right: That bush over there? That’s pampas grass.

Pampas grass, or Cortaderia selloana, is a tall, reedlike, ornamental grass, native to South America. Because it’s pronounced like pompous (POM-pus), it’s easy to understand the misspelling.

Over run vs. Overrun

Wrong: The cabin was over run with rats.
Right: The cabin was overrun with rats.

Overrun, when used as a verb, means to invade, swarm over in great numbers, overwhelm (as an army), exceed (as in a budget or allotted time), or overflow (as a river bank). When used as a noun, overrun can mean a surplus (an overrun of 500 copies) or the amount exceeded (as in a cost overrun). Over run is simply an error.

Revenge vs. Avenge

Wrong: Cough, cough. Promise me you’ll revenge my death!
Right: Cough, cough. Promise me you’ll avenge my death!

The verb avenge refers to doling out punishment as an act of justice or retribution. Revenge, when used as a verb, suggests doing harm or inflicting pain in retaliation for real or imagined wrongs. (The noun revenge refers to an act of revenge.) To avenge is to seek justice; to revenge is to “get even.”

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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1 comment:

Heather Kephart said...

Oh geez, I do the "pseudo questions" all the time. Quotation marks as well. I'm "bad" about that.

Thanks for more helpful stuff!