10 Common Words Even Smart People Butcher

common writing mistakes that make you look stupid, www.baab.bizUsing poor grammar or spelling in your business communications is like having an entire conversation with bread crumbs on your upper lip from that turkey and cheese sandwich you had for lunch. Talk about awkward and embarrassing!

In our busy lives, it’s very easy to hit ‘send’ way too quickly before really giving your email the eagle eye. So my first advice to you is slow down and take time to proofread.

(I sure wish I’d slowed down before sending that email last week calling my “Copy Clinic” the “Copy Colonic”). Oops!

As a kid, I read the dictionary (I know – a completely nerd move) and grew up loving words. I’m always asked to read, rewrite or proofread and I love it!

Over my years of writing, I’ve seen some words that trip up even the best grammar gurus. They’re tricky and have folks running to the dictionary whenever they come into play.

Here’s my list of 10 common words (and phrases) even smart people butcher:

1. All ready vs. Already

All ready is used to indicate that you’re prepared. Already is used to state, “by this time.”

  • I am all ready to go.
  • Wow, you’re here already?

2. Affect vs. Effect

Affect is used to indicate having an influence on something. Effect is the result.

  • I hope my tardiness will not affect my grade.
  • The company’s new plans will effect many changes.

3. Bare vs. Bear

Bare means undressed or undisguised. Bear is, of course, an animal and also means to carry.

  • She bears the burden of the bills now that her husband is gone.
  • He bared his soul in church today.

4. Compliment vs. Complement

Compliment refers to offering praise to someone. Complement refers to something that goes well together.

  • My friend complimented me on my dress.
  • That barbeque sauce really complements the chicken.

5. Ensure vs. Insure

Ensure means to make certain. Insure means to protect against financial loss by way of a legal contract.

  • I will ensure you are completely happy with my services.
  • The car was insured by Car Insurance Inc.

6. Farther vs. Further

Farther expresses distance. Further refers to more, to a greater degree.

  • He ran farther than Tim.
  • He took his plan further by hiring a coach.

7. Peak vs. Peek

Peak refers to the most extreme possible amount or value. Peek refers to a secret look at something.

  • The view from the mountain peak was amazing.
  • She gave her fans a sneak peek of the movie.

8. Principal vs. Principle

Principal means the most critical or the head of a school. Principle refers to a basic truth or law.

  • Helping others is her principal goal.
  • According to the principles of gravity, what goes up must come down.

9. Than vs. Then

Than is used to compare two things. Then expresses at that point in time, afterward, in addition to and therefore (typically used with “if”).

  • Julie is much taller than Jim.
  • If you want to go, then you’ll need to first clean up your room.

10. Their vs. There

Their expresses possession. There indicates a location or place.

  • The girls saved their allowances to buy designer purses.
  • I sat the book down over there.

Your Spell Checker Won’t Catch These Errors

Your spell checker is helpful in finding and tracking spelling errors. But the thing about these words is that they’re common writing mistakes, not misspelled words – so that means your “perfect” spell checker probably won’t catch these babies. So you still need to know how to properly use words such as these and proofread your writing … without the use of technology. (Yep, break out that good ole No. 2 pencil.)

Here’s your homework: Stash this handy-dandy list in your personal files so the next time you need to tell someone “you’re all ready,” you already have the spelling correct. 🙂

Ready to write brilliant business content that makes people fall in love with your brand? Get the Write Like A Boss! Guide and finally get the attention your business deserves. Click here for instant access.

apryl beverly, business writing consultant, business plan writer





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  • There, their, they’re……these are the little grammatical errors that drive me crazy when I’m reading, and sometimes trip me up when I’m writing. One little mnemonic that helps is “my pal the principal”. Great resource, Apryl!

    • I love that! “My pal the principal” – great way to remember. Thanks for reading!

  • I just bookmarked this page! I like to think of myself as a slightly better than average writer (wishful thinking I know). However, I make a few of these common mistakes myself. Thanks for the useful resource!

  • The last two on the list than/then and their/there are two that I find myself confusing without even realizing as I write, only after I edit my stuff do I catch it or my editor catches them for me. But, bear/bare reminded me of something funny I saw on Family Guy, one of my favorite shows. See image.

  • I don’t make any of those mistakes but as a Brit writing for a US publication, I often forget to use ‘z’ instead of ‘s’ in words like ‘analyze’ and ‘organization’!

  • Nice to meet a fellow ‘word nerd’! My favorite pastime was diagramming sentences! But no matter how much we love the written word, and how careful we try to be, once it enters cyberspace, it’s done.

    I’ll add one to the list. Alot is not a word. I see that one a lot! LOL

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