Choosing the Right Words

Posted: January 14th, 2014, 5:22 pm   By: brittany.corners

There are many word pairs that are similar in spelling but very different in meaning. Choosing the wrong word can mean conveying the wrong message or confusing your readers. If you struggle with some of the following word pairs, use this guide to always know which word is the right one.

Affect vs. effect

Affect is usually used as a verb, and it means to influence something. Effect, on the other hand, is a noun, and it refers to something that results from an action or event.

Example 1: To affect readers positively, you must write engaging articles.

Example 2: Engaging articles have the effect of keeping readers interested.

Because vs. since vs. due to vs. as

When you are choosing which of these three words to use, it is important to consider the context of the entire sentence. Never write “due to the fact that;” it is a wordy way of simply saying because. Due to essentially means’resulting from or caused by, but it is almost always interchangeable with because. Because, since and due to and as can all share this definition. Since and as, however, can also mean an amount of time has passed. If you choose to use since, make sure it is not confusing to your readers.

Example: Since you read blog posts, your writing is improving.

In the above example, you can interpret since and the sentence in two ways. If since is understood to mean the amount of time passed, the sentence means from the time you started reading posts until now has resulted in improved writing. However, if you substitute because for since, the sentence means that your writing is improving as a result of reading blog posts.

Continuous vs. continual

Continuous means that something continues without stopping – there is no break in time or stream. Continual means something is more chronic – that it is repeated, but there are breaks.

Example 1: The continual interruptions make it hard to complete work.

Example 2: The continuous support of the CS internal staff rocks.

Different than vs. different from

Either phrase is acceptable when comparing two nouns. However, the generally accepted norm is different from according to AP style. If you are comparing a noun to a clause, use different than, as different from would require additional wording.

Example 1: Canadian English is different from American English.

Example 2: Grammar rules are different than I remember.

Example 3: Grammar rules are different from the ones I remember.

Ensure vs. insure vs. assure

Ensure means to make sure something does or does not happen. Assure means saying something with confidence. Insure means to provide an insurance policy. Insure is the word least likely to appear in e-commerce writing.

Example: Rest assured, if you insure your home, you can ensure compensation in the event of a fire, damaging storm or robbery.

Farther vs. further

Farther refers to a physical distance that is measurable. Further refers to something more metaphorical or figurative – meaning you cannot measure it. Think of further as the extent of something.

Example: The store is a littler farther than you thought, but further online research for something closer is not something you wish to do.

Less vs. fewer

Fewer is used when referring to people or things in plural form that you can count. Less is used when something does not have a plural or counting is not possible. Less is also used when numbers stand alone or with measurements and time.

Example: There are fewer errors in many pieces of content, resulting in less frustration for many editors.

More than vs. over

Use more than for amounts, figures and anything that is countable. Over is a spatial reference and a preposition. There is no hard and fast rule according to AP style for the preferred use; however, use more than to avoid double prepositions in cases where over creates one. Otherwise, evaluate your sentence and the context and choose the phrase that sounds best.

Number vs. amount

Number is used when something is countable. If it is impossible to count or a monetary figure, use amount.

Example: The number of writers working on a particular batch of HITS affects the amount you earn.

Then vs. than

Than is used in comparative statements. Then is used in almost every other situation and is a marker of time or gives a sequence structure to events or thoughts.

Example: You can make more writing for CS than for any other mturk requester.

Example: Learn the style guide well, and then apply it to your writing.

Toward vs. towards

While these two words essentially mean the same thing if you were to look to a dictionary for their meanings, AP style dictates to always use toward – no “s.” Towards is more commonly used in British English.

Sensual vs. sensuous

The distinction between sensual and sensuous is very small, but it does exist. Sensual is an adjective that means appealing to the physical senses. Sensuous shares this meaning, but it also means relating to or derived from the senses. Sensual is often seen as a combination of sensuous and sexual. This distinction is very small, and using them interchangeably is not technically grammatically incorrect. However, if you are a careful writer who aims for greatness, you keep the words separate and use them appropriately.

Example 1: Lounging on silk sheets is a sensuous experience.

Example 2: Silk robes make you feel sensual.

Whether vs. if

If is used to express a condition. Whether is used for comparative statements. When using whether, the “or not” is implied and is not included.

Example: If you love to cook, having the right kitchen gadgets is essential.

Example 2: Whether you love to cook or you let your hubby prepare all your food, having the right kitchen gadgets is essential.

These are just some of the confusing word pairs you may encounter in your writing. If you struggle with a pair that is not mentioned here, consult a dictionary for the meanings of both words to determine which is the correct one.