A Baker’s Dozen of Word Switcheroos Authors Should Avoid

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.


baker's dozen for writersWord mix-ups can flummox even people who work with words daily.

Long ago Judith interviewed news anchor Allison Ross. Were it not for a last-minute word check, Judith might have called Ross’s on-air presence “enervating” (wearying), rather than “energetic” (lively).

Later, in her children’s biography about detective Allan Pinkerton, she almost had Pinkerton charging with Union troops at Antietam with the “calvary” (hill near Jerusalem), not the “cavalry” (soldiers on horseback).

Edith had to triple-check her weekly columns for your/you’re bloopers caused by flying fingers. And once, reporting on a cool field trip to a water treatment plant, she wrote about “effluent,” which a well-meaning, but dictionary-impaired, copy editor changed multiple times to “affluent.”


A Baker’s Dozen of Word Mix-ups

1. nauseous/nauseated

“I feel nauseous,” complained Buffy, after a garlic-laden dinner.

Whoops! Buffy is making others “feel sick or disgusted.”

If you feel unwell, use nauseated.


2. lend/loan

Did you lend or loan your sister your chartreuse pumps?

No matter which word you used, it was an ill-advised move, since Sis stepped in a mud puddle while wearing them.

Banks lend (verb) money. But if you buy a house, you apply for a loan (noun).

3. eminent/imminent

Stephen Hawking is an eminent (famous) physicist, cosmologist, and author, who has overcome incredible physical challenges.

With tropical storm Flossie approaching Hawaii, landfall seemed imminent (about to happen).


4. emigrant/immigrant

On board ship, the emigrants (people leaving their own country) eked out a meager existence.

Between 1890 and 1910, thousands of immigrants (people settling in a foreign country) came to America.

(Tip: The e- is like ex-: out of, away from; the im- is a form of in-, for, obviously, in!)


5. anymore/any more

One word: With my creaky joints, I don’t tango anymore (any longer, nowadays).

Two words: Are there any more (emphasizes “extra”) chips?

Don’t say, “Anymore, I don’t eat hot dogs. Use the adverb anymore only at the end of a sentence following a verb.  Substitute the word “nowadays.”


6. alot/a lot

This one’s easy. Avoid the substandard alot at all costs.

The Grammar Patrol sees this mix-up a lot.


7. all ready/ already

Janet’s all ready (prepared) for her island cruise.

Termites have already (they chomped away last year) destroyed my ceiling.

Adverbs tell “when.” For already, think “before” or “by a specified time.”


8. bring/take

Bring me my Smurf slippers!

The action is toward you; test by substituting the word “come.”

Take that monstrosity to the rummage sale.

The action is away from you; test by substituting the word “go.”


9. disinterested/uninterested

A judge doesn’t want an uninterested (lacking interest in) juror.

He or she wants a disinterested (neutral or objective) juror.


10. fewer/less

Edith has been known to speak up in grocery stores at the “10 items or less” aisle (should be “fewer”).

Fewer (countable) people entered the hog-calling contest.

The artist’s concert featured less (not countable) vocal pyrotechnics.


11. principal/principle

Think, the principal’s your pal.

Her pockets are filled with money, just like principle (your money) and interest.

But when considering a “principle truth” or “rule,” think principle.

Murphy’s Laws contain principles that never fail.


12. hopefully

Use hopefully only when you mean “full of hope.”

Hopefully, my phone will ring tonight.”

Yikes. Can your phone be filled with hope? Ah, we thought not. Say, “I hope my phone will ring tonight.”

Hopefully, the twins crept down the stairs Christmas morning.

They were, indeed, filled with hope.


13. Lie/lay

Enter the granddaddy of mixups: lie/lay

Here’s a simple rule coined by Edith’s mom.

 Hens lay (as in, set upon).

 People lie (recline).

But beware!  You lie on the bed today. You lay there yesterday.

And the beat goes on . . .


Please Share

So, irregardless (whoops! so substandard) . . .

Regardless of what you’re writing, beware of these pesky word mix-ups!  See our two Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides for more in-depth discussion on these topics plus funny cartoons to illustrate them. That’s it for this month from the Grammar Patrol! Post others you spot. We love using your examples.

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3 Responses to “A Baker’s Dozen of Word Switcheroos Authors Should Avoid”

  1. Ann Says:

    Alright! I think I understand now. (joke) Next you might tackle the pronouns television announcers and “writers”

  2. Edith Hope Fine Says:

    Har har. No wonder English is so hard for second language learners. Already is fine. Alright isn’t.

    Re the TV bloopers, th e ones I hear are primarily pronoun errors and could (and should) be labeled cringe-worthy! I collect them. Good idea for a column. Everybody send the TV language slips that you catch.

  3. mary scherr Says:

    This is a good brief list of very common errors– they sometimes lead to funny examples.

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