“Our affinity for language makes us human. We are never better than when we use words clearly, eloquently, and civilly.”  David W. Orr

Easily Confused Words – Part 2

Among, Between: The traditional rule requires between to be used only for sentences involving two items and among for sentences involving more than two, as in the following:

            He sat between his new bride and his mother-in-law.

            The bridal bouquet landed on the floor among all the single girls.

However, Jan Vanolia, in Write Right, suggests that if followed too stringently it could lead to the absurdity of “She traveled among Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque.”  She suggests using between when individual relationships are emphasized and the number is unspecified (he appeared between acts) and use among with unspecified numbers if individual relationships are not emphasized (discontent among the employees.) (p. 129).

I, Me, Myself:  I is in the subjective case and should be used when it is the subject of the sentence. Me is in the objective case and should be used when it is the object of the action or thought conveyed by the verb or the object of a preposition.

My sister and I went shopping at Target with our mother. (subject)

Mom was looking for Easter dresses and shoes for my sister and me. (object of preposition “for”)

Myself  is used for emphasis (“I, myself, will accomplish that task.”) Or as a reflexive (I hurt myself  falling down the steps.) Never use myself as a substitute for I or me.

            Wrong: The money was given to my partner and myself.

Right:  The money was given to my partner and me.

Loose, Lose: Loose is an adjective meaning unrestrained or not fastened. Lose is a verb that is the opposite of win and find. I think most people know the difference between these words in speech, but they often use the incorrect spelling in their writing.

            If I don’t sew up the hole in my pocket, I will lose all of my loose change.

Principal, Principle: Principal can be an adjective or a noun. As an adjective, it refers to one who is first or foremost in importance, rank or worth, as the principal dancer in the ballet or the principal character in a film. As a noun, it’s the person who holds a high position, especially the head of an elementary or high school; the main participants in a business deal; an actor in a starring role; or a sum of money owed as a debt.

            One of the principal characters in Gone with the Wind is Scarlett O’Hara. (adjective)

The students who were involved in the prank had to speak to the principal.. (noun)

Principle is a noun that refers to a basic truth or statement, especially a system of beliefs or ideals. (The Senator swore to uphold the principles of democracy.) It may also refer to a rule or standard, especially of good behavior. (The Eagle Scout was a young man of principle.) Or it could be a statement describing the functioning of natural phenomena or mechanical processes, such as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which says “it is impossible to measure both the speed and position of an object at the same time.”

There, There’s, Their, They’re:  These four words are frequently misused or misspelled on signs, online in posts or in texts. There can be an adverb (in or at that place—over there) or an adjective when used for emphasis (those men there can tell you). Their is a possessive adjective (their furniture). They’re is a contraction of they + are (they’re going home).

There’s is a contraction of there + is and is often misused with plural nouns:

Wrong: There’s three reasons.

Right: There are three reasons






To, Too, Two:  These three words are also often misused in writing, both in articles or in online content.

To is a preposition indicating action toward a person, place, or thing (drove to the city). It can also be an adverb used as a function word indicating direction toward (feathers wrong end to) or (run to and fro).

Too is an adverb meaning also (take the flowers too) or excessive (the house was too big for us).  It can also mean very, as in I don’t think she was too interested in the play.

Two is an adjective meaning one more than one in number.  She had two cookies and a piece of candy.

A patron, seeing the sign on the left, asked them to fix the typo. The new version is on the right. I would like to see a period after “cook” and an exclamation mark at the end of the text, but that’s probably asking too much!


More confusing and misused words will appear in “Easily Confused Words-Part Three.”


Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries. 100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016.

Venolia, Jan. Write Right! A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar, and Style. 4th Edition. Berkley: Ten Speed Press, 2001.


Karen Schuster, May 26, 2020


#spelling, #editing, #Eagle-Eye-Editing, #confusingwords, #usage, #grammar, #wordusage


Easily Confused Words – Part 1

“The slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

–George Orwell

            During my 25 years of reading and correcting papers and reports for students and adults, I have come across many different spelling and usage errors. Some have made me smile and some have made me groan and shake my head. Here is a small sample of the words I have seen confused or substituted the most often. Some of my own spelling and usage demons are included in this list too.

Advice, Advise:  The noun advice means a suggestion or opinion regarding a course of action. Advise is a verb meaning to give advice, and the person who does this is an advisor or adviser (both are correct).

  • My college advisor gave me some great advice. He advised me to take a variety of courses before declaring a major.

Affect, Effect:  Affect is usually used as a verb meaning to influence or to have an effect on. (1) The noun effect means results or consequences. (2) The verb effect means to bring about.

  • The coronavirus affected all of our lives and had a dramatic effect on schools, hospitals, and businesses. (1)
  • When life returns to normal, businesses hope to effect changes in their operations. (2)

Al and All words:  Some one-word and two-word forms vary according to the meaning:

  • The ham is almost done; you are all most welcome to join us for dinner.
  • By the time we were all ready to leave, the taxi was already here.
  • We were not altogether happy about being all together at the camp.

The last two are frequently misused:

  • All right is correct, meaning entirely right or adequate, but alright is not a word.
  • A lot is correct but alot is not a word.

Capital, Capitol:  Capital and capitol are often confused because they refer to things that are related. A town or city that is the seat of government is the capital but the building in which a legislative body meets is the capitol.

  • Capital also refers to wealth, an uppercase letter, and something first rate or excellent, as in a capital idea.
  • The Capitol building which houses the U.S. Congress is always capitalized.

Complement, Compliment:  While distinct in meaning, they are often confused because they are pronounced the same and almost spelled the same. Complement is both a verb and a noun, meaning to complete a whole or satisfy a need. Compliment is also a verb and a noun meaning praise.

  • “The antique silver was a complement to the beautifully set table.” (noun) (Am. Heritage)
  • “The neutral color of the paint complements the beauty of the oak floors.” (verb) (Am. Heritage)
  • The bride paid her friend a compliment on the exquisitely wrapped gift.
  • The guests complimented the bride’s parents on the delicious dinner.

Fewer, Less:  Fewer is used with individual items that can be counted (fewer potatoes) and less is used for quantity or when the item is regarded as a single entity (less oatmeal).

  • “The fewer mistakes you make, the less embarrassment you will feel.” (Venolia)

Irregardless: This is a redundancy and is not considered standard English.  Use regardless and you won’t get into trouble with the Grammar Police.

Its, It’s:  Its is the possessive pronoun and it’s is a contraction meaning it is or it has.

  • “The apostrophe has a life of its own.” (Venolia)
  • It’s easy to put the apostrophe in its place.” (Venolia)

Lay, LieLay means to place or put down while lie means to recline. 


More confusing and misused words will appear in “Easily Confused Words-Part Two.”



Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries. 100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016.

Venolia, Jan. Write Right! A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar, and Style. 4th Edition. Berkley: Ten Speed Press, 2001.


Karen Schuster, April 19, 2020




Kat Roedell – Guest Blogger


The Downfall of Instant Publishing

If you engage on the internet via social media, news outlets, or browsing websites you will see misspellings and grammatical errors galore.  Instant publishing has its benefits, but if the writer is only reliant on spell check, the primary purpose of content – which is Communication – can be lost.  For example, several of my friends recently have published books.  In great excitement, and wishing to support them, I purchased my e-versions and downloaded them onto my kindle.  Unfortunately, my articulate, intelligent friends each failed to hire an editor for their self-published books.  Grammatical errors, syntax and construction issues abounded, and my desire to read those books left me. 

Writing is much more than putting words into a sentence.  Considerations like “Who is the audience?”,  “What is the focal point?” and “How do I keep the reader engaged?” are all important – but the most critical question “Is my message clear?” is set to the wayside when an editor is not involved in the process.

The age of instant publishing has been a detriment to new and aspiring writers.  We no longer have to jump through the hoops of learning the trade, we can self-publish at whim for minimal costs.  Editing, has unfortunately suffered from cost cutting measures. Why pay an editor when we have spell check?

Proofreading is more than just identifying typos. A good editor will find missing words, the wrong word spelled correctly (to, too and two), and duplicate words (i.e., imagine was used 5 times in the last three paragraphs).  A great editor will teach the writer excellent writing skills in construction, and word choices (connotations vs. accurate words), as well as ways to clarify communication and streamline the content.

So how do we fix this problem?  Understand that even if the writer doesn’t see the typos, grammatical errors, and poor construction, according to CBS News in Which generation is most annoyed by bad grammar?” published August 28, 2015 – at least 71% of people over 18 see the misspellings and grammatical errors in other people’s work.  That’s a huge percentage of people to irritate with subpar fiction or non-fiction content.  Consider the cost – to edit or not to edit, that is the question.

Do We Really Need Commas? Part 1

In this age of texting, tweeting, and voice-to-text messages, the lowly comma has all but been forgotten. Is it really necessary?  Will our message lack clarity if we don’t put the commas in the right places or ignore them completely?  Many people might say, “Well, I know what you mean” or “I don’t really pay attention to punctuation anymore.”  I have read many Facebook posts and texts with no punctuation at all or maybe a period at the end of a long string of run-on sentences.  This is a problem for several reasons: it takes longer for the reader to figure out the writer’s message; the real meaning may not be clear; or the writer appears to be illiterate, careless, or lazy.

On the lighter side, using a comma correctly can save lives!  

Use a comma for direct address
Use commas in a series









Jan Venolia, author of Write Right!, has this to say about commas:       

“In their search for an all-purpose rule, some writers place a comma wherever they would pause or take a breath when speaking. This heavy-breathing school of punctuation may leave readers feeling somewhat winded. On the other hand, too few commas create misunderstandings. You need to chart a course between those extremes, placing commas where they help readers grasp your meaning”  (p. 54).

A Few Rules to Keep in Mind from Write Right!

Use commas when needed for clarity:

  • To separate identical or similar words

“Whatever you’re going to do, do it right.”

  • To provide a pause or avoid confusion

            “Fashion passes, style remains.” Coco Chanel

  • To indicate omission of a word or words

“When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.” Thomas Jefferson

Be careful not to use too many commas or your writing will become tiresome.  Unless the comma is needed for clarity, you may omit it between short, closely related clauses.  Here are a few examples from Write Right! (p. 55):

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.”  Helen Keller

“I saw the angel in the marble and I just chiseled till I set him free.” Michelangelo

“Give a little love to a child and you get a great deal back.” John Ruskin


This is only the beginning of a discussion of  the rules for using commas.  I will return to the subject in a later blog, titled “Do We Really Need Commas? – Part Two.”  Stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!





Venolia, Jan. Write Right! A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar, and Style. 4th Edition. Berkley: Ten Speed Press, 2001.


Karen Schuster, April 10, 2020


#commas, #editing, #Eagle-Eye-Editing, #correctuseofcommas