rules of language

Homonyms and Frequently Misunderstood Words for Content Creators

content creationBecause we found our list of commonly mistaken words for content creators so much fun, we decided to continue the trends with another list. This time, we have a list of homonyms and frequently misunderstood words. These are words that many people often confuse or about which they ask for clarification. This is by no means an exhaustive list and it’s not expected that every single one of these be memorized. The entire point of this list is to increase awareness of these common mix-ups and to be more mindful of them in the future.

Accept – to receive.

Except – to exclude.


Adverse –(adj.) moving in the opposite direction, in opposition to.

Averse – (adj.) opposed to or unwilling to.


Affect – (n.) best to avoid; means to describe an emotion or psychological phenomena. (v.) to influence; (ex.) The long holiday weekend affected our call volume for the month.

Effect – (n.) means result; (ex.) The effect from last Tuesday’s Power Lunch was outstanding. (v.) to cause; (ex.) Lew Levey effected many changes during his tenure as CEO of Computime.


Among – involves more than two entities or items being compared or discussed; (ex.) There have been complaints among the Accounting, Sales, and Warehouse departments.

Between – involves only two; (ex.) There was a meeting yesterday between the team coaches and the call center representatives.


Anxious – nervous or apprehensive; think of being filled with anxiety.

Eager – enthusiastic, excited about an event or the current situation.


Begs the question – to evade the issue by using an example or response that proves your side of the argument. Does NOT mean that the problem requires (begs) a question to be raised.


Biannual – twice a year.

Biennial – every other year.


Biweekly – every other week.

Semiweekly – twice a week.


Can – (v.) implies ability to perform a task or to fulfill an obligation.

May – (v.) implies permission to perform a task or to fulfill an obligation.


Compliment – praise; (ex.) Nicole did a great job organizing the photo shoot.

Complement – that which completes or help supplement something.


Compose – to create, invent, or put together.

Comprise – includes or contains what is needed.

Constitute – a good alternative to the first two if neither of them fit; (ex.) The departments of accounting, sales, warehouse, and post sales support constitute Computime.


Demolish, Destroy – Both mean to do away with something completely. Something cannot be partially demolished or destroyed. It is also redundant to say totally demolished or totally destroyed.


Discreet – to be careful, cautious, to behave appropriately.

Discrete – distinctly separate, detached and apart from each other.

(This distinction applies also to indiscreet/indiscrete).


Disinterested – means impartial.

Uninterested – means to lack interest. You want a disinterested judge at your trial, not an uninterested one.


Each other, one another – Two people look at each other. More than two people look at one another. Either may be used when the number is indefinite; (ex.) We help each other. We help one another.


Either – means or the other, not both; (ex.) You may place your lunch in either refrigerator in the break room, is correct. There’s a projector in either of the conference rooms, is incorrect. To correct, say there’s a projector in each of the conference rooms.


Either or, neither nor – The nouns that follow these words do not constitute a compound subject; they are alternate subjects and require a verb that agrees with the nearer subject; (ex.) Neither they nor he is going. Neither he nor they are going.


Enormity – NOT something that is merely large, but something of great and monstrous wickedness. (ex.) The enormity of Keith breaking the dial record for the day, is wrong. But, the enormity of the events on Sept. 11, is correct.


Ensure – means to guarantee, to confirm.

Insure – use only in references to insurance or insurance companies.


Farther – a measurable distance; (ex.) The drive to Computime was farther from my house than I thought.

Further – a more figurative or metaphorical distance of time or degree; (ex.) I asked Alex to conduct further research into the use of Snapstream.


Fewer – use for individual items, items that can be counted; (ex.) We had fewer people attend training this month compared with last month.

Less- use for bulk or quantity; (ex.) We had less coffee than yesterday.


Flier – preferred term for an aviator or a pamphlet.

Flyer – the proper name of some trains or buses, or means an object that actually flies.


Forego – to precede or to go before.

Forgo – to do without.


Historic – a unique moment in history that stands out in the flow of events.

Historical – pretty much anything that happened a long time ago.


Imply – Writers or speakers imply in the words they use.

Infer – Readers or listeners infer something from the words.


In – indicates location; (ex.) The CEO is in his office.

Into – indicates motion; (ex.) The CEO just walked into his office.


Ingenious – clever, creative, or imaginative.

Ingenuous – innocent, unaffected, natural.


Nauseated – feeling ill or sick to one’s stomach.

Nauseous – capable of making others feel ill or sick to the stomach.


Passed – (v.) past participle of pass; (ex.) The opportunity had passed.

Past – (adj.) (ex.) I’ve been working at CMS Solutions for the past two years.


Principal – (n. or adj.) someone or something of high importance or of first rank.

Principle – (n.) a basic truth, belief, or standard of conduct.


Rack - (v.) to arrange on a rack or to torture .

Rack - (n.) applies to various types of shelves or framework.

Wrack  - (v.) same meaning as “rack”, but latter is preferred.

Wrack - (n.) ruin or destruction, typically used in the phrase “wrack and ruin”.


Rifle – (v.) to plunder or to steal.

Riffle – (v.) to leaf rapidly through a book or pile of papers.


Shall – use to express determination; (ex.) We shall break our sales goals this year.

Will – for second and third constructions, unless determination is stressed; (ex.) You will break your sales goals this year.

Either word is acceptable when using first-person constructions that don’t emphasize determination; (ex.) We shall attend a trade show this year. We will attend a trade show this year.


Unique – one of a kind, so it’s not correct to use a degree or modifier for this word (such as very or incredibly).

Additional Commonly Troublesome Words for Content Creators

content creationSeveral weeks ago, HubSpot came out with a great internet writing style guide, something that every person who writes for a living, or creates marketing content as part of their job, should print out and have handy at the desk. Although this ebook, and the list of commonly troublesome words, are incredibly helpful, they are not exhaustive. There are a few words and guidelines that this style guide missed, and we would like to cover those here. These words and guidelines have come from our own experiences working with clients and in the world of words:

abbreviations/acronyms - In most cases, abbreviations need to be spelled out upon first reference. Every reference after that can use the abbreviation. Here's an example of how this would work:

"There is a conference this weekend for small and medium-sized businesses in the area. However, SMBs who need help with their marketing would benefit the most."

There are some abbreviations and acronyms that are exceptions to this rule, simply because nearly everyone knows what they mean. These would include AAA, AARP, AIDS, HIV, PTA, and VIP.

Adviser – NOT advisor

Afterward – NOT afterwards

a.m., p.m. – always lowercase with periods. Avoid the redundant 10 a.m. this morning. For 12 p.m. and 12 a.m., use noon and midnight respectively to avoid confusion.

Anybody, any body, anyone, any one – One word for an indefinite reference; (ex.) Is anyone attending the open house? Two words when the emphasis is one singling out one element of a group; (ex.) Would any one in the program like to do this project?

Back up (v.), Backup (n.)

Backward – NOT backwards

Blog (n., adj., v.): Preferred to weblog. (lowercase) - It should also be noted that a specific blog entry is called a blog article or blog post. Many say "blog," when they mean "blog posts." A blog is the collection of these entries, or the site where all the entries can be found. If you want someone to write 10 entires, say "10 blog posts" or "blog articles", not "10 blogs".

Broadcast – the past tense is also broadcast, not broadcasted.

Build up (v.), Buildup (n.)

Call up (v.), Call-up (n. and adj.)



Change up (v.), Change-up (n. and adj.)

Cut back (v.), Cutback (n. and adj.)

Cut off (v.), Cutoff (n.)

Data processing (n. and adj.) - Do not hyphenate the adjective.

Dependent (n. and adj.) - NOT dependant



Drop out (v.), Dropout (n.)

Far-flung (adj.)

Far-off (adj.)

Far-ranging (adj.)

Follow up (v.), Follow-up (n. and adj.)

Forward – NOT forwards



Hang, hanged, hung  – one hangs a picture, a criminal, or oneself (that’s gory). Use “hanged” when referring to executions or suicides, “hung” for all other actions

Hold up (v.), Holdup (n. and adj.)

Irregardless – A double negative, thus, incorrect. Regardless is correct.

Lay/lie – Lay is the action word and takes a direct object. Laid is the form for its past tense and its past participle. Its present participle is laying; (ex.) I will lay the cake on the table. I laid the cake on the table. I’m laying the cake on the table.

Lie indicates a state of reclining along a horizontal plane and does not take a direct object. Its past tense is lay and its past participle is lain. Its present participle is laying; (ex.) He lies down for the reflexology session. He has lain down for the reflexology session. He is lying down for the reflexology session.

When lie means to make an untrue statement, the forms are lie, lied, and lying.

Lectern, podium, pulpit, rostrum – A speaker stands behind a lectern, on a podium or rostrum, or in a pulpit.


Likable – NOT likeable

Login, logon, logoff (n.)

Log in, log on, log off (v.)


No one

Off of – the “of” is unnecessary; (ex.) The cup fell off the table.

One time/one-time – He called them one time. They were a one-time client.

Pile up (v.), Pileup (n.)


Prove, proved, proving – Use “proven” only as an adjective (ex.) a proven strategy.

Put out (v.), Putout (n.)

Rip off (v.), Rip-off (n.)

Roll call (n.), Roll-call (adj.)

Screen saver – note that it’s two words



Show off (v.), Showoff (n.)

Shut down (v.), Shutdown (n.)

Shut off (v.), Shut-off (n.)

Shut out (v.), Shutout (n.)

Spill, spilled, spilling – NOT spilt for the past tense

Stand out (v.), Standout (n. and adj.)

Take off (v.), Takeoff (n.)

Take out (v.), Takeout (n. and adj.)

Take over (v.), Takeover (n. and adj.)

Their, there, they’re – “Their” is a possessive pronoun; (ex.) The signature pads are in their warehouse. “There” is an adverb indicating direction; (ex.) We are shipping the pads there today. It’s also a pronoun for impersonal constructions; (ex.) There are no pads left in the warehouse. “They’re” is a contraction of “they are”.

Tie in (v.), Tie-in (n.)

Tie, tied, tying

Tie up (v.), Tie-up (n. and adj.)

Trade in (v.), Trade-in (n. and adj.)

Trademarks - We've already written a blog post on this, so we're not going to discuss this here. To note, a trademark should only be used when its certain that the specific brand or product is used or references. These words are not to be used a generic terms, and the generic terms are provided in each entry. This is not an exhaustive list, so if uncertain if a word could be a trademark, it’s best to look it up.

Trade off (v.), Trade-off (n. and adj.)

Upside down (adv.), Upside-down (adj.)

Upward – NOT upwards

Voice mail – note that it’s two words

Who, whom – Who is the pronoun used for references to human beings and to animals with a name. Grammatically the subject, it is never the object of a sentence, clause or phrase; (ex.) The candidates who attended the group interview left a great impression. Who attended the group interview?

Whom is used when someone is the object of a verb or preposition; (ex.) The candidate to whom a job offer was extended accepted the offer. Whom do you wish to see?

Word processing – do not hyphenate


Work force



Why We Need to Keep the Old Rules of Language in Content Marketing

old rules of languageDaniel Ford in Business2Community argued in this content marketing blog post that we could use some grammar and spelling independence; that we need new spelling and grammar rules with the advent of technology and social media. I completely disagree. I think the advent of technology and social media is all the more reason to adhere to the old rules of language, and to keep them as a standard in determining good content and good communication.

Before you can break the rules, you must know what the rules are first. Sure, social media is fun. Sure, a few spelling errors in a company email may not be indicative of a person's professionalism . Sure, academics may get uptight about it. But, why are the old rules of language being broken? Is it for the sake of more convenient and effective communication, or because we don't know the correct spelling of the word, or the correct placement of the comma in the first place? Just because technology makes it easier to throw the rules out the window doesn't mean we shouldn't learn them in the first place, and shouldn't learn when it's appropriate to adhere to these rules.

The advent of technology and social media has led to the decentralization of news and communication. With technology and social media, just about anyone can start a blog, report on the latest natural disaster, and find a platform for his or her perspective or opinion. With this decentralization comes an ever stronger need for the centralization of standard and rules i.e spelling and grammar, not the need for a whole new set of rules. Yes, communication and language changes with time, and I grant that texting and social media status updates are somehow turning the English language into coloquialism, but that doesn't mean that coloquialism ought to be the standard by any means. Before you can break the rules, you must know the rules first. Otherwise, you're simply demonstrating that you don't know the rules, and have no interest in mastering these rules. Just because coloquialism is understandable, and the trend, doesn't mean it ought to be the way we all communicate from here on out in every medium possible.

There's a reason why these old rules are still around, and that they still mean something today: everyone understands them. Everyone knows that if you follow these rules, you are communicating clearly and effectively. These rules have been substantiated and verified over time. If we throw out these rules, where will the new ones come from? If we throw out these rules, how we will determine who is a good writer, who has presented their ideas the best? We'll be left with an idiocracy where we can't move beyond misspellings, abbreviations, and jumbled punctuation.