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Writing Style Guide - Tricky Words

Compound Words | Misused Words | Hyphenation

Common Compound Words

Some compound words take a hyphen; some have a space between the words; others are combined into one word. Compound words quickly evolve in the English language; what is acceptable usage today may change in a year or two. These are the styles currently in use at UP for these common words:

email
first-year
first-generation
health care
website

Commonly Misused Words

adverse/averse

“Adverse” means unfavorable. “Averse” means reluctant.

affect/effect

“To affect” means (1) to influence, change or produce an effect; (2) to like to do, wear or use; or (3) to pretend. “To effect” means to accomplish, complete, cause, make possible or carry out. If you’re looking for a noun, you’re probably looking for “effect.” If you’re using a verb, you’re safest with “affect.”

afterward

not afterwards

allude/refer

“To allude” means to speak of without mentioning. “To refer” means to speak of directly.

allusion/illusion

An “allusion” is an indirect reference. An “illusion” is a false impression or image.

alumn/a/ae/i/us

Alumna refers to an individual female graduate.

Alumnae refers to a group of female graduates.

Alumnus refers to an individual male graduate.

Alumni refers to groups of male graduates or a mixed group of male and female graduates.

At UP, the more informal "alum" is acceptable to use when referring to an individual graduate; "alums" may be used to refer to a group of graduates.

around/about

“Around” should refer to a physical proximity or surrounding (I’ll look for you around the front of Waldschmidt Hall). “About” indicates an approximation (Let’s have lunch about 11:30 a.m.).

beside/besides

Use “beside” to mean (1) at the side of (sit beside me); (2) to compare with (beside other studies); or (3) apart from (that’s beside the point). Use “besides” to mean (1) furthermore (besides, I said so); (2) in addition to (and elm and maple trees besides); or (3) otherwise (there’s no one here besides Bill and me).

between/among

Use “between” to show a relationship between two objects only. Use “among” when it’s more than two.

“Between” takes an objective pronoun—me, her, him. “Between you and me” is OK. “Between you and I” is not.

complement/compliment

“Complement” is something that supplements. “Compliment” is praise or the expression of courtesy.

continual/continuous

“Continual” is a steady repetition. “Continuous” is uninterrupted.

criteria

plural (more than one criterion, which is a quality, a value or a standard of judgment)

daylight-saving time

not daylight-savings time

different from

not different than

disinterested/uninterested

“Disinterested” means impartial. “Uninterested” means someone lacks interest.

dissociate

not disassociate

entitled/titled

“Entitled” means having the right to something (she is entitled to the inheritance). Use “titled” to introduce the name of a publication, speech, musical piece (the piece is titled “Love and Illusion”).

farther/further

“Farther” refers to physical distance. “Further” refers to an extension of time or degree.

fewer/less

In general, use “fewer” for individual items that can be counted. Use “less” for bulk or quantity that is measured (not counted). “Fewer” usually takes a plural noun; “less” usually takes a singular noun.

imply/infer

“Imply” means to suggest or indicate indirectly. To “infer” is to conclude or decide from something known or assumed.

In general, if you imply something, you’re sending out a message. If you infer something, you’re interpreting a message.

in regard to

not in regards to

insure/ensure

“Insure” means to establish a contract for insurance of some type. “Ensure” means to guarantee.

lectern/podium

You stand on a podium and behind a lectern.

let/leave

To “let alone” means to leave something undisturbed. To “leave alone” means to depart from or cause to be in solitude.

like/as

Use “like” to compare nouns and pronouns. Use “as” to introduce clauses and phrases.

many/much

In general, use “many” for individual items that can be counted. Use “much” for bulk or quantity that is measured.

midnight/noon

Use instead of 12 a.m. or 12 p.m.

nor

Use this word anytime you use “neither.”

partially/partly

These two are not interchangeable. “Partially” is used to mean to a certain degree when speaking of a condition or state. “Partly” implies the idea of a part, usually of a physical object, as distinct from the whole.

peddle/pedal

To “peddle” is to sell. To “pedal” is to use pedals, as on a bicycle.

people/persons

Use “person” when speaking of an individual. The word “people,” rather than “persons,” is preferred for plural uses.

premier/premiere

“Premier” is first in status or importance, chief, or a prime minister or chief executive. “Premiere” is a first performance.

principal/principle

“Principal” as a noun is a chief person or thing; as an adjective, it means first in importance. “Principle” is a noun meaning a fundamental truth, doctrine or law; a guiding rule or code of conduct; a method of operation.

rebut/refute

To “rebut” is to argue to the contrary. To “refute” is to win the argument.

their/there/they’re

“Their” is the third person plural possessive adjective, used to describe something as belong to them. “There” can be used as opposite of "here," a pronoun that introduces a noun or clause, or a noun meaning "that place." “They’re” is the contraction of "they are."

toward/towards

“Toward” is correct.

unique

Commonly overused, this word literally means one of a kind, without equal.

use/utilize

Use “use.”

your/you’re

“Your” is the second person possessive adjective, used to describe something as belonging to you. “You’re” is the contraction of "you are"

who/whom

We rarely see the word “whom” in writing. But if your sentence has an objective clause referring to a person or animal with a proper name, you’re being ungrammatical if you don’t use whom.

The word “who” substitutes for the subjective pronouns he, she or they; “whom” must be used in the sense of him, her or them. If you don’t want to use “whom,” restructure your sentence. Don’t just stick in “who” when it is incorrect.

Hyphenation

In general, many two-word phrases are two separate words when used as a noun, verb or adverb, but take a hyphen when used as an adjective. Adverbs ending in –ly are usually not hyphenated.

Common Hyphenation Confusions

A

all-terrain

B

bilingual

C

co-chair
co-sponsor
coed
child care
co-op (noun)
course work (noun)
class work (noun) 

D

database
decision-maker (noun)
decision making (verb)
decision-making (adjective) 

E

email
extracurricular 

F

follow-up
full-time employee (adjective)
She works full time. (adverb)

H

health care

I

interoffice
inter-related

L

lifestyle
long-range (adjective); The long-range plans are astounding.
long range (adverb); The ideas cover a long range.
long-term (adjective); The long-term system will be in effect for many more years.
long term (adverb); The results will be firm and long term.

M

mainframe
microcomputer
multimedia
multipurpose

N

nonprofit 

O

on-campus movies (adjective)
There are movies on campus each week. (preposition and noun)

P

part-time job (adjective)
percent
playoffs
postdoctoral
postgraduate
pre-application
preschool

R

re-evaluate
reinforce 

S

semicolon

T

time-sharing (all computer-related uses)

V

vice president

W

world-renowned school (adjective)
The school is world renowned.