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Web writing guide: commonly confused words and phrases

Proofread your text before publishing it. Relying on a spell-check tool can be risky—for example, it will not distinguish between words such as "here" and "hear."

Word

Definition/Use

Example

affect (v)

influence

The number of users affects the response time.

effect (v)

bring about, cause

To effect a change, cut down the number of users

effect (n)

result

The effect of too many users is slow response time.

 

 

 

all

acceptable in all cases except with a personal pronoun

All the settings have defaults.

all of

used only with a personal pronoun

All of them are listed in Appendix A.

 

 

 

already

beforehand

The writer had already started the outline.

all ready

completely ready

The system will be all ready for testing.

all right

satisfactory (adj)

certainly (adv)

All right is correct. Alright is not correct.

 

 

 

among

three or more items considered collectively

It’s difficult to choose among the many content management systems.

between

two or more items considered individually

We’re deciding between Houston, Paris, and Tokyo for the conference.

 

 

 

amount

used with collective and mass nouns

Equipping a training center costs a large amount of money.

number

used with countable nouns

They bought a large number of computers for the training center.

 

 

 

assure

set a person’s mind at rest

We assured them that the project was on track.

ensure

make certain

The procedures were tested thoroughly to ensure that they were correct.

insure

protect with insurance

In most states, cars must be insured before they are registered.

 

 

 

because

show a cause-effect relationship

The project was finished on time because everyone met the schedule deadlines.

since

from then until now

There have been three people in this position since last spring.

 

 

 

can

know how to, be able to

The server can support up to 45 servers.

may

have permission to, be possible to

You may start working on the project now.

might

be possible to (less certain than “may”)

We might finish the project on schedule.

 

 

 

comprise

contain

A jury comprises 12 people.

compose

create by joining

A jury is composed of 12 people.

constitute

make up, form

Twelve people constitute a jury.

 

 

 

discrete

individually distinct, not continuous

Conversion consists of five discrete steps.

discreet

prudent, showing good judgment

Be discreet when you call me at work.

 

 

 

farther

physical distance

Don’t place the unit farther than 10 feet from a vent.

further

in addition, to a greater degree

A further problem is the lack of funds.

 

 

 

if

in the event that

Tell me if the deadline is Friday.

when

at what time (don’t use "if and when"

Let us know when you’ll finish the draft.

whether

with alternatives, used instead of "if"

Ask whether it's due on Friday or Monday.

 

 

 

imply

suggest

He implied that I didn’t understand.

infer

draws a conclusion

From user questions, the staff inferred that the manual was wrong.

 

 

 

its

possessive form of the pronoun "it"

The printer needs to have its toner cartridge replaced.

it’s

contraction meaning "it is"

It’s time to replace the toner cartridge.

 

 

 

lay

put or set down

Never lay the cartridge on its side.

lie

be at rest, assume a horizontal position

Al’s dog lies under his chair at work.

 

 

 

less

used with collective nouns

We need less staff on this project.

fewer

used with countable nouns

We need fewer managers on this project.

 

 

 

precede

come before

The Internet preceded the World Wide Web

proceed

continue, go on

Proceed to the next lesson.

 

 

 

press

put force on

Press the Reset button to start again.

type

press a character key on a keyboard

Type the letter A.

click

position the mouse pointer; then press and release the mouse button once.

Do not use "click on."

Acceptable for writing instructions, but not as a way to describe a web link; use descriptive text instead.

Don’t: Click here for Orientation information
Do: You will also need orientation information

Do: Click the Cut button. (an instruction)

hit

strike with force

Don’t hit the keys on the calculator.

 

 

 

principal

most important

The principal topics are written.

principle

rule

Follow the principles of good writing.

 

 

 

regardless

correct

The meeting will continue, regardless of the forecast.

irregardless

incorrect

(Do not use.)

 

 

 

take

to convey, away from

The train will take you to the city.

bring

to convey, toward

The bus will bring you here.

 

 

 

that

introduces a phrase essential to the meaning of the word it modifies

We purchased the software that provided the necessary formats.

which

introduces a phrase that is not essential to the meaning of the word it modifies, and so should be followed by a comma

The new software, which will be installed next week, provides the necessary features.

 

 

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