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Memorable Miscommunications

By Expert Author: Terry Sanders

As a writer or as an editor (especially as an editor), you must always focus on the details of the word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph details of your work.
Success is in the details, after all.
No matter how sharp your focus is, however, there are often words (word usage) that can easily trip you up. This article discusses some of the most common miscommunications to keep in mind, including:
• affect vs. effect ("affect" is usually a verb; "effect" is usually a noun)
-- Eating a good breakfast can affect the health of your children. (You bet!)
-- The effect was complete destruction of the environment (Hopefully, we all work to keep that from happening!)
• allude vs. elude ("allude" means to refer to something; "elude" means to escape, avoid)
-- He alluded to their agreement. (Poor guy, he just couldn't come out and say it!)
-- She eluded capture. (That may be a good-or a bad-thing, depending on the circumstances!)
• averse vs. adverse ("averse," as in you are opposed to it; "adverse," as in, it is bad, negative)
-- He was averse to the idea of eating spinach for breakfast. (Me too.)
-- She didn't want to go out in such adverse conditions. (Me neither.)
• bi vs. semi ("bi" means two; "semi" means one-half)
-- A bi-monthly magazine is published every two months. (Not often enough?)
-- A semi-monthly magazine is published twice in one month. (Too often?)
• compose vs. comprise (the whole "comprises" the parts; the parts "compose" the whole)
-- The pie comprises six pieces. (Yummy!)
-- Six pieces compose the pie. (Equally yummy!)
• currently vs. presently ("currently" means now; "presently" means soon, in the future)
-- Currently, I am eating. (Just a snack, thank you very much.)
-- I will be eating presently. (Can't wait!)
• farther vs. further ("farther" is used when talking about measurable distances; "further" is used for figurative distances)
-- He walked three miles farther than he did yesterday. (Good for him!)
-- She walked further than she ever thought possible. (Even though she only walked one mile! Still, good for her!)
• fewer vs. less ("fewer" is a matter of number; "less" is a matter of degree or quantity; except when numbers are considered as a sum)
-- Yes: With fewer people voting, there is a smaller chance for victory. (Get out and vote, people!)
-- No: With less people voting, there is a smaller chance for victory. (The same overall number of people, but perhaps missing arms and legs? Ouch!)
-- He made slightly less than $500,000 last year. (Nothing to sneeze at!)
-- There were fewer five-dollar bills in the cash register today. (But, hopefully, more twenty-dollar bills!)
• imply vs. infer (a speaker "implies"; a listener "infers")
-- She implied that he was a man of questionable character. (Uh oh!)
-- He inferred that she was interested in him. (Better check with her on that one.)
These are just a few examples of dubious distinctions that can make-or break-your writing, editing, and/or proofreading efforts.
Of course, if you are averse to making these types of adverse mistakes, a style guide is highly recommended, including:
• The Chicago Manual of Style
• MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
• Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
• The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers

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