Common Errors in English by Paul Brians


What is an error in English?

The concept of language errors is a fuzzy one. I'll leave to linguists
the technical definitions. Here we're concerned only with deviations
from the standard use of English as judged by sophisticated users such
as professional writers, editors, teachers, and literate executives and
personnel officers. The aim of this site is to help you avoid low
grades, lost employment opportunities, lost business, and titters of
amusement at the way you write or speak.

But isn't one person's mistake another's standard usage?

Often enough, but if your standard usage causes other people to consider
you stupid or ignorant, you may want to consider changing it. You have
the right to express yourself in any manner you please, but if you wish
to communicate effectively you should use nonstandard English only when
you intend to rather than fall into it because you don't know any
better.

Browse the glossary using this index

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A

Dr. Ali H. Abureesh

ABJECT

by Dr. Ali Abureesh - Monday, 1 Rajab 1428, 12:32 AM
 
"Abject" is always negative. You can't experience "abject joy" unless
you're being deliberately paradoxical.

 
Dr. Ali H. Abureesh

ABOUT

by Dr. Ali Abureesh - Monday, 1 Rajab 1428, 12:32 AM
 
"This isn't about you." What a great rebuke! But conservatives sniff at
this sort of abstract use of "about," as in "I'm all about good taste"
or "successful truffle-making is about temperature control"; so it's
better to avoid it in very formal English.
 
Dr. Ali H. Abureesh

ABSORBTION / ABSORPTION

by Dr. Ali Abureesh - Monday, 1 Rajab 1428, 12:32 AM
 

ABSORBTION / ABSORPTION

Although it's "absorbed" and "absorbing" the correct spelling of the
noun is "absorption."

 
Dr. Ali H. Abureesh

ACCEPT / EXCEPT

by Dr. Ali Abureesh - Monday, 1 Rajab 1428, 12:32 AM
 

ACCEPT / EXCEPT

If you offer me Godiva chocolates I will gladly accept them--except for
the candied violet ones.
Just remember that the "X" in "except" excludes things--they tend to stand out, be different.
In contrast, just look at those two cozy "Cs" snuggling up together. Very accepting. And be careful; when typing "except" it often comes out "expect."

 
Dr. Ali H. Abureesh

ACCESS / GET ACCESS TO

by Dr. Ali Abureesh - Monday, 1 Rajab 1428, 12:32 AM
 
ACCESS / GET ACCESS TO

"Access" is one of many nouns that's been turned into a verb in recent
years. Conservatives object to phrases like "you can access your account
online." Substitute "use," "reach," or "get access to" if you want to
please them.
 
Dr. Ali H. Abureesh

ACCIDENTLY / ACCIDENTALLY

by Dr. Ali Abureesh - Monday, 1 Rajab 1428, 12:32 AM
 

ACCIDENTLY / ACCIDENTALLY

You can remember this one by remembering how to spell "accidental."
There are quite a few words with -ally suffixes (like "incidentally")
which are not to be confused with words that have "-ly" suffixes (like
"independently"). "Incidental" is a word, but "independental" is not.

 
Dr. Ali H. Abureesh

ACTUAL FACT / ACTUALLY

by Dr. Ali Abureesh - Monday, 1 Rajab 1428, 12:32 AM
 
ACTUAL FACT / ACTUALLY

"In actual fact" is an unnecessarily complicated way of saying
"actually."
 
Dr. Ali H. Abureesh

ADD / AD

by Dr. Ali Abureesh - Monday, 1 Rajab 1428, 12:32 AM
 
ADD / AD

"Advertisement" is abbreviated "ad," not "add."
 
Dr. Ali H. Abureesh

ADVANCE / ADVANCED

by Dr. Ali Abureesh - Monday, 7 Ramaḍān 1429, 1:53 AM
 

ADVANCE / ADVANCED

When you hear about something in advance, earlier than other people, you
get advance notice or information.

 "Advanced" means "complex, sophisticated" and doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the revealing of secrets.

 
Dr. Ali H. Abureesh

ADVICE / ADVISE

by Dr. Ali Abureesh - Monday, 7 Ramaḍān 1429, 1:57 AM
 

ADVICE / ADVISE

"Advice" is the noun, "advise" the verb.

When Ahmad advises people, he gives them advice.

 

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