You write a note to your crush, saying you like her alot.
She doesn’t look impressed.
She takes a red pen and circles alot. She tells you that, ‘alot’ is not a word. It should be ‘a lot’, with a space in between. Its two words, not one.
And here’s another tip, comparable is pronounced as com-pre-ble, not com-pare-re-ble.
A OR AN
Why is it an honest man, not a honest man?
Just remember, when deciding whether to use ‘a’ or ‘an’, it is not how the following word is spelt, but how it sounds!
If the following word starts with a vowel sound, that is, an aeiou sound, use ‘an’. So it’s an umbrella, an hour, an extreme incident.
If the following word starts with a consonant sound, use ‘a’. So, it’s a hotel, a university, a dog.
Accept or Except
An HR manager once told me about how many candidates would reply an email to say that they “except” the job offer!
Avoid this embarrassing mistake by keeping this tip in mind.
Use “accept” when you want to take or receive something. For example, “I am pleased to accept this job offer.”
On the other hand, the word “except” means to exclude. For example, “I am pleased to accept the terms of this job offer, except I am unable to start next month.”
Adapt or Adopt
Your friend excitedly tells you that she’s “adapted” a new puppy from the animal shelter.
The words “adapt” and “adopt” are often used interchangeably but they have different meanings.
What your friend meant was that she “adopted” a new puppy as to “adopt” means to take something or someone, including things like ideas and methods, and make it one’s own.
When we “adapt”, we are changing something that already exists into something that suits a new purpose. For example, “My friend had to train his puppy to adapt to its new environment.”
Affect and Effect
There are many factors that can affect our performance at work.
‘Affect’ is often used as a verb to mean ‘have an effect’ or ‘make a difference to’.
This is not to be confused with ‘effect’, which is often used as a noun to mean ‘a result’ or as a verb to mean ‘to bring about a result’.
So while there are many factors that ‘affect’ your performance at work, we must be resilient to avoid any negative ‘effects’!
Among or Between
You were having a discussion with your friends when one of them said, “Can we keep this between the four of us?”
‘Between’ is actually used when referring to two people, places or things.
When referring to three or more people, places or things, use ‘among’.
And here’s another tip: Baroque is in again, fashion wise. Say ber-roq, instead of ba-roque.
Among or Between
Should I be sharing my sweets between or among my two friends Sally and Simon?
Well, since there’s three of you, you would be sharing your sweets among yourselves. The three of you may also be choosing your favourite candy among the four types available.
If Sally decided she didn't want any candy because of a tooth ache, then you would be sharing your sweets between you and Simon because there are only two of you.
In summary, use “between” when you’re talking about two distinct items but use “among” if there are three or more items.
Amount or Number
Your colleague exclaims, “The number of work I have is unbelievable!” Well, it’s actually not a bad thing if she uses the word “number” because “number” usually refers to individual things that can be counted.
However, the correct word to use in this context would be the “amount” of work because “amount” usually refers to something that cannot be counted. For example, water, sand and in this case, work.
Amused or Bemused
‘Bemused’ and ‘Amused’ sounds similar. But that do not mean they have the same meaning. In fact, ‘amused’ and ‘bemused’ mean two completely different things.
‘Amused’ means entertained or made to laugh while ‘bemused’ means to find something confusing or puzzling.
For example, ‘Sarah was amused by his antics and enjoyed his company’. But ‘She was bemused by his sudden decision to quit as she thought he enjoyed working for the organization’.
As a simple tip, just remember that you are amused at an amusement park and bemused when you don’t understand.
When meeting friends who you haven’t seen for a long time, do you say you are ‘anxious’ to see them?
This actually means that you are frightened of them!
‘Anxious’ implies a looming fear, dread or anxiety.
Say you’re ‘eager’ or ‘excited’ to see your friends instead.
Unless of course, you really are dreading to meet them!
“Did you read any book today?” your friend asks her daughter.
The word ‘any’ can mean one or all. When asking for any of something, the item that is being asked for needs to be plural in form.
For example, ‘Did you make any phone calls?’ or ‘Did you read any books today?’
And here’s another tip, the ‘b’ in ‘subtle’ is silent, so it’s sa-tle, not sub-tle.
At or In
Is it ‘I stayed at London for a month’ or ‘I stayed in London for a month’?
An easy way to choose between ‘at’ or ‘in’ is to remember that people stay ‘in’ cities and countries and other general locations, while people ‘stay’ at hotel’s, people’s homes, and other specific locations.
So the correct answer would be, ‘I stayed in London for a month’.
Attain or Obtain
The words “attain” and “obtain” both ultimately mean to get something, but they have different nuances in their meanings.
If you had to put in a lot of effort and overcome some difficulty in reaching your goal, the best word to use would be “attain”. For example, “I finally attained my driving license after two failed attempts.”
On the other hand, the word “obtain” simply means to get something that doesn’t always require a lot of work. For example “I breezed through my driving test and obtained my license on my first try.”
You see a sign hanging outside a clinic which says ‘We are open between 9am to 2pm.’
When using ‘between’, the correct preposition to go with it should be ‘and’.
So, the correct phrasing is ‘between 9am and 2pm’.
When we use ‘from’, we pair it up with ‘to’. For instance, ‘You can collect the prize from 10am to 6pm.
Bi or Semi
‘Bi’ and ‘semi’ are prefixes related to the concept of two. Though they seem similar, they are not synonymous.
‘Bi’ means every two or every other, while ‘Semi’ means twice.
An example of ‘Bi’ would be, ‘The magazine is published bi-weekly, every other Wednesday’.
An example of ‘Semi’ would be, ‘Our semi-annual appraisals are in January and July’.
Borrow or Lend
Your brother tells you, “I want to lend books from Dennis.”
If you want something that belongs to another person, you borrow, not lend.
The owner of the object lends the object to someone.
So, you borrow books from Dennis and Dennis lends the book to you.
And here’s another tip, dee-pore-zit is never pronounced as dare-per-seet, just dee-pore-zit.
Returning from an overseas trip, your friend tells you “Looking at my passport chop makes me happy. It reminds me of the countries I have been to”.
In this instance, the word ‘chop’ refers to a stamp. While Singaporeans would understand this, most people would be shocked, as they would imagine your passport being cut into pieces, based on the word ‘chop’.
So the correct word to use in this instance would be, passport ‘stamp’.
Another example of a common error often overheard in the workplace with regard to the word ‘chop’ would be, “Can you please chop and sign?”. This statement would be absurd as after chopping something into smaller bits, where would you put your signature? Instead, you should ask, “Can you please stamp and sign?”
Close or Closed
Have you come across a sign that says “Please keep the door close”?
We don’t think this is what the person who wrote the sign intended to say because this means that he wants you to unhinge the door and keep it near you!
What the sign maker should have written is “Please keep the door closed” so that users will remember to shut the door after they have walked through it.
Complement or Compliment
While both have positive meanings, “complement”, spelled with the letter E, refers to something that completes or makes something else better. For example, “that glass of wine really complements the food”.
On the other hand, “compliment”, spelled with the letter I, can refer to an expression of praise or the act of praising something. For example, “He complimented his wife on her pretty dress.”
Why not make someone’s day by giving them a compliment!
A travel agent told you, “This package comprises of a two night stay at the resort and three meals a day.”
The word ‘comprise’ is defined as ‘made up of’. It is therefore redundant to say comprise of. Just comprise will do.
And here’s another tip, rendezvous is pronounced as ron-deh-voo, not ren-dez-vous.
Condemn or Condone
Did the principal condemn or condone the students for misbehaving.
If the principal was very upset and expressed strong disapproval, then we would say that the principal condemned the students misbehaviour.
On the other hand, if the principal was feeling magnanimous that day, we would say that the principal was upset with what the student did but chose to condone the incident in the hope that the student will mend his ways.
Continuous and Continual
Continuously and continually is another one of those word pairs that are commonly confused.
Something that is ‘continuous’ happens without stopping. So, you might say ‘It rained continuously for two days.’
Something that is ‘continual’ happens again and again. Ever since the scandal happened, the phone has been ringing continually.
Convince or Persuade
Though ‘persuade’ and ‘convince’ seem synonymous, they do not mean the same thing.
The root of ‘persuade’ is ‘sweet talk’. It means bringing someone to the desired point by means of clever argument, enticement or appeal.
For example, ‘I persuaded them to stay for dinner’.
The root of convince however, is to ‘overpower’. It means to make a person unable to maintain a contrary position by force of logic.
For example, ‘She convinced the police she was telling the truth’.
Could or Would
When do you use could or would?
Use “could” when referring to possibilities in the future, for example, “I could make dessert for next week’s party.”
You can also use “could” when making polite requests. For example, “Could you please help me carry these bags?”
Regarding “would”, use this word when talking about unreal or unlikely situations. For example, “I would travel around the world if I have more time and money.”
You can also use “would” when you are making polite offers, for example, “Would you like to drink some tea?”
While driving, your friend angrily tells you, “His car cut mine!”
While Singaporeans would have no problem understanding this, other people would be stunned at this statement, as they would think the car is being severed by another car.
The correct phrase would be either ‘to cut in front of’ or ‘to cut off’. So the next time you want to express your displeasure, it should be, “His car cut in front of mine!” or “His car cut me off!”
Day Off or Off Day
If you’re taking leave from work, remember to tell your colleagues that it’s your “day off” and not your “off day”.
If you’ve had an “off day”, it means that your day has been going poorly. For example, “Mary was late for work because the bus broke down and now her computer refuses to work. I guess she’s just having one of those off days.”
You would be a lot happier having a “day off” as this refers to a day where you are not required to work.
We hope you get to take a break and enjoy a day off soon!