Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Misused Words

Photo nostalgia - would you believe the solemn "boy" in the middle is the Girl Scout Pageant 1st Runner-up - below?
(And thank you, Dr. Seuss!)

Riley, September 2014
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I wince every time I hear people who should know better - TV news anchors, for example - misuse certain "soundalike" words. I have the same reaction when I read books where authors have put similar errors into print. Yes, we've all had occasions when our brains are thinking one word and our fingers type another, but here we go again, folks. Edit, edit, edit! For a TV announcer the moment is fleeting. For an author those words lie there forever, kicking and screaming against all proper English language usage.

And then, alas, there are the mistakes because the author simply doesn't know any better. Sigh. Those are a lot harder to fix, for the simple reason, no matter how many times you read them, you don't know you've made a mistake. So I jotted down some of the "soundalikes" I see or hear abused most frequently, and then I went through a formal list and picked the ones that jumped out at me as those I've seen misused most in books I've read. 

Words most frequently misused:

imminent - something that is about to happen. The storm is imminent.
eminent - distinguished.  Dr. Elias Swellhead, the eminent professor of physics 

here - a geographical location - wherever you are at the moment
hear - the physical act of hearing a sound, as in the expression, "Hear, hear," presumed to be a shortening of the ancient town cryer's call, "Hear ye, hear ye."

farther - a measurement of physical distance - an inch, a foot, a mile, etc. New York City is farther from Miami than from Philadelphia.
further - distance that cannot be measured in physical inches. He did not pursue his studies any further. John's finished model could not possibly be any further from his original drawing.

it's - if you cannot substitute "it is" for this contraction, then it's wrong! The ONLY time you may use "it's" (with an apostrophe) is when you are saying "it is."  It's a beautiful day today.
its - this is a possessive. (Referring to a box): I have no idea of its contents.  (Referring to the moon): Its surface is sharply clear tonight.

foreword - the introduction to a book, most often a work of non-fiction
forward - to move, or look, ahead  The soldiers marched forward.  Miss Dawes is a remarkably forward-looking teacher.

lay - to put something down  Past tense: laid
lie - to put yourself down (recline)  Past tense: lay*
   *and therein lies some of the confusion!

Present tense: I lay the book on the table. Past tense: I laid the book on the table.

Present tense: I wanted to lie down, but the dog was in the middle of the bed.
Past tense: I lay down on top of the dog.

Special addendum:
Though not soundalikes, I see the verb "may" mangled so frequently I want to include it here. (And, yes, I checked a recent dictionary to make sure usage hadn't changed since I first learned the rules way back in the Dark Ages.)
may - PRESENT tense
might - PAST tense

So, unless you're writing a book in Present Tense - common in today's YA - you use "might." "May" can, however, be used in dialogue. For example: "Mama, may I go riding in the park today?" Yet countless times - mostly in the last five years - I have edited or read books that were entirely in past tense but switched to "may" instead of "might" at inopportune moments. So, FIXIT, please!

More tricky words coming up at a later date.

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FYI, I will be presenting my 2-hour workshop, "A Wise Author's Approach to Writing a Book," for the Southwest Florida Romance Writers on Saturday, October 18, 1-3. Guests are welcome. For the SWFRW website, click here.

Thanks for stopping by.


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here. 


  1. One little oops, Grace. It's "foreword" for a book intro. Although all the forewords I've seen have many more than one word. It just shows how tricky those homophones are!

  2. Which definitely proves the point of how easy it is to err. Fixed it immediately but still blushing. Thanks, Judith.