Misused/Misspelled Words

Misused and/or misspelled words are like reading a road map the wrong way. They give the reader the wrong direction (and they suggest to the reader that you're not being careful).

In the following list are misspelled words that faculty compare to hearing chalk squeak on a chalkboard. So learn these simple definitions:

a lot (not alot) accept/except advice/advise
affect/effect all right (not alright) already/all ready
altogether/all together alumna/alumnae alumnus/alumni among/between
bad/badly fewer/less its/it's
lose/loose principal/principle their/there/they're
then/than to/too/two weather/whether
who/whom which/who/that your/you're
a lot (not alot)
it's never one word, but is always two words: a lot

Harold ate a lot of pepperoni, anchovy, broccoli, and green onion pizza; he was up all night with a lot of sickness as a result.

accept = to agree with, to receive
except = to exclude

I accept all points of the verdict except the final one that indicts me for the slaying of your affection.

advice = the information that you give to another, but don't necessarily take yourself (a noun)
advise = the act of giving information to another (a verb)

The advice you gave me helped me advise my client in his stock choices. Are you billing me?

affect = to influence (used as a verb)
effect =the result of an action (used as a noun) or the act of causing change (used as a noun)

That movie affected me strongly; I was half-awake all night thinking of bleeding limbs. I won't go to any more hacker films if they have that effect on me.

Tip: Note that psychologists use "affect" as a noun meaning "feeling or emotion." Use "affect" as a noun only in a psychological context.

The criminal psychologist pointed out that the killer showed no affect when describing how he murdered the lawyer.

all right (not alright)

It's never one word, but is always two words: all right?

already/all ready
already = previously
all ready = completely prepared

When he arrived home, his wife was already asleep, even though she promised to be all ready to go to the movies.

altogether/all together
altogether = completely, entirely
all together = grouped

She gathered the pieces of the portfolio all together, and she decided that the process of compiling her artwork was altogether satisfactory.

alumna/alumnae alumnus/alumni
alumna = one female graduate
alumnae = more than one female graduate
alumnus = one male graduate
alumni = more than one male graduate, also used as a plural for males and females

Susan is an undergraduate alumna of Elmira College. Phil is an undergraduate alumnus of Goddard College. They both are graduate alumni of SUNY Empire State College.

among = use with more than two
between = use with two

Grandfather divided his lottery winnings among his four children, and my father divided his share between my sister and me.

bad = describes a person, place, thing, or state of being (feeling, looking)
badly = describes an action or another descriptive word

I feel bad; I had a bad fall, and the wound healed badly. (Not: I feel badly.)

fewer = a countable number
less = an overall or general amount, non-countable

Because of many parents' increasing concern with good nutrition, fewer students in my second-grade class bring cookies for snack time. Also because of that same concern, many companies are making cookies with less sugar.

its = belonging to it
it's = it is

It's the first day after the snowfall, and already the snow has lost its fresh, clean look.

lose = to have lost something
loose = free, not fastened

She said, "I'll lose ten more pounds," even though the dress was loose on her emaciated frame.

principal = the person in charge of a school; the main person, thing, or concept; the main amount of money
principle = a basic truth or standard

Principal Shaw is a person of principle.

their = belonging to them
there = a direction
they're = they are

Sam and Barbara told us that they're not recommending a visit to Gotham City to their friends. They had a lot of trouble there. When they went to make a phone call to their family at home, they were ejected from the public phone booth by someone crying, "Hey, you there, get out of Superman's way!"

then = to show time
than = to show comparison
to = a preposition (used with a noun or pronoun)
too = also, very
two = quantity

"To err is human, to forgive divine" is one of the two phrases that I remember only too well.

weather = the stuff that it's doing outside
whether = indicates a choice; whether or not to do something

Our ski trip depends on whether the weather is appropriate.

who = the subject of a sentence
whom = the object of an action

"Who requested this book? What's that? I can't hear you. I deliver this book to whom?"

Tip: Try each word with "to" or "for." Whom is the word that makes sense with "to" or "for."

which = refers to things or animals (not people)
who = refers only to people (not things or animals)
that = refers to people, things, or animals

James Stewart, who befriended Harvey, which was an invisible rabbit, often had conversations with that rabbit, to the chagrin of his family in the film.

your = belonging to you
you're = you are

"I loved your interpretation of a stalk of celery," she gushed. "You're very talented."

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