Use these words correctly and your schooled readers will think you’re a genius.
Age — aged — at the age of.
— I outdid a water skier aged 24 for the trophy. (NOT: a skier age 24.)
— I didn’t plan to retire at the age of 65. (NOT: at age 65.)
NOTE: Elliptical references to age — for example, at age 65 — should not be used except in technical writing such as human resource manuals.
— See the chart on page 64 for the schedule of retirement benefits for employees who retire at age 65.
All of. Of is not needed after all unless the following word is a pronoun.
— All the team members ski for Mastercraft.
— All of us have had our ACLs torn at one time or another.
All right. Like all wrong, the expression all right should be spelled as two words. (While some dictionaries list alright without comment, this spelling is not generally accepted as correct.)
Amount — number. Use amount for things in bulk, as in “a large amount of lumber.” Use number for individual items, as in “a large number of inquiries.”
Appraise — apprise.
— We would like to appraise (set a value on) Mr. Southworth’s estate.
— I will apprise (inform) you of any new developments.
Between — among. Ordinarily, use between when referring to two persons or things and among when referring to more than two persons or things.
— The territory is divided evenly between the two sales representatives.
— The profits are to be evenly divided among the three partners.
Bad — badly. Use the adjective bad (not the adverb badly) after the verb feel or look.
— I feel bad (not badly) about the crash.
BUT: He was hurt badly.
NOTE: The only way you can “feel badly” is to have your fingertips damaged somehow.
Biannual — biennial — semiannual. Biannual and semiannual both mean “occurring twice a year.” Biennial means “occurring every two years.” Because of the possible confusion between biannual and biennial, use semiannual when you want to describe something that occurs twice a year.
PREFERRED: our semiannual waterski tournament
CLEARER THAN: our biannual waterski tournament
If you think your readers could misconstrue biennial, avoid the term and use every two years instead.
Biweekly — bimonthly. These two words do not mean the same thing. Moreover, bimonthly has two quite different meanings, which could confuse your readers! Biweekly means every two weeks. Bimonthly means “occurring every two months” or “occurring twice a month.” (Yes, you can look it up!)
Could not care less. To say that you “could not care less” means that you do not care at all. To say that you “could care less” implies that your ability to care has not yet reached rock bottom, so you do care at least a little bit. This is an often-mangled phrase. When people say “I could care less,” they are usually intending to convey their utter disregard for the subject. =more on this=
Latter — last. Latter refers to the second of two persons or things mentioned. When more than two are mentioned, use last.
— July and August are good vacation months, but the latter is more popular.
— June, July, and August are good vacation months, but the last is the most popular.
Lay — lie.
Lay (principal parts: lay, laid, laid, laying) means “to put” or “to place.” This verb requires an object to complete its meaning.
— Please lay the nitroglycerin on the counter with extreme care.
— I laid the poster right on your desk.
— I had laid two other flyers there yesterday.
— He is always laying the blame on his assistants.
— The dress was laid in the box. (A passive instruction implying that someone laid the dress in the box.)
Lie (principal parts: lie, lay, lain, lying) means “to recline, rest, or stay” or “to take a position of rest.” It refers to a person or thing as either assuming or being in a reclining position. This verb cannot take an object.
— Now he lies in bed most of the day.
— The slalom course lay before him as he skied westward into the sunset.
— This letter has lain unanswered for two weeks!
— Today’s contestant list is lying on the judge’s table.
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