Words to watch

A or An

Use “a” and “an” as they would be said.

an 18% increase
a NATO paper
a UK organisation
an IT solution

Use “a” for words beginning with “h” when the “h” is pronounced.

a historian
an hour

Accept or except

“Accept” means to agree to receive or do.

I accept your terms.

“Except” means not including.

Bring everything except the tent.

Advice or advise

“Advice” means recommendations about what to do.

The advice was very useful.

“Advise” means to recommend something.

I advised him to call the police.

Affect or effect

“Affect” means to influence or to adopt.

The war affected him greatly.

“Effect” means to accomplish the result of an action.

The overall effect was stunning.

Altogether or all together

“Altogether” means completely.

There were six altogether.

“All together” means everyone in one place.

We were all together in the living room.

Because, due to and since

The words “due to” and “since” shouldn’t be used in place of “because”. “Owing to” can replace “because of”.

It was wet inside owing to the window being open

Not

it was due to the rain
it has been wet inside since she opened the window

Due to

“Due to” can be used to mean either “owed to” or “scheduled to”.

the money that is due to her from an inheritance
the train is due to arrive at 8:45pm

Since

“Since” is usually used in the past tense.

They have known each other since 1982
Mother and I haven’t spoken since the fall of Tobruk

“Since” can be used in the present tense when it refers to the current situation.

Since he went to university, he thinks he knows everything

Between or among

Use “between” when referring to two subjects.

We divided the money between John and Michael

Use “among” when referring to more than two subjects. Don’t use “amongst”.

Example

We shared the sweets among Sarah, Lucy and Clare

Complement or compliment

“Complement” is that which completes or fills up something.

A full complement of staff.

“Compliment” is an expression of admiration or praise.

He complimented my choice of outfit.

Complementary or complimentary

“Complementary” is completing or making up a whole.

The complementary staff.

“Complimentary” means given free of charge.

Here are the complimentary peanuts.

Dependant (noun) or dependent (adjective)

“Dependant” means someone who relies on another for support, financial or otherwise.

I have six dependants

“Dependent” means depending, relying, contingent or relative.

The trip is dependent on the weather

Expenditure

‘The act of spending’ or ‘money spent’. An item cannot have expenditure, it can only have money spent on it.

Fewer or less

Use “less” with nouns that can’t be counted or don’t have a plural.

less praise
less rain

In sentences with “than”, use “less” with numbers on their own:

The price fell from £18 to less than £12

Use “less” when referring to measurements or time:

Companies less than 5 years old are creating jobs
Per capita income is less than $50 per year
Heath Square is less than 4 miles away

Use “fewer” with nouns in the plural.

fewer than 20 employees
fewer people

Don’t use “over” and “under” for quantities. Use less than and fewer than, or more than.

more than 6%

Functionality

The capacity to be functional or practical; purpose. Also means ‘a specific application of a computer program’.

Hopefully

“Hopefully” means “full of hope”. Instead, use “it is hoped that” or “we hope”.

However

“However” has two meanings: “nevertheless” and “no matter how”. If you use “however” at the beginning of a sentence to mean “nevertheless”, it must be followed by a comma.

The data are usually consistent. However, rounding can cause differences.

If you use “however” to mean “no matter how”, a comma is not required.

However many times I write this, it’s never easy.

Don’t use “however” as a substitute for “but”.

It’s raining today, however we hope it will be dry tomorrow.

-ise and -ize

Use “-ise”, not “-ize” as a word ending. The Oxford English Dictionary uses “-ize”, please ignore this.

organise
prioritise

Illegitimate births

Use “born outside marriage”.

Imply or infer

“Imply” is to insinuate, signify or hint

The statistician implied the crime levels had gone down.

“Infer” is to draw a conclusion from something.

From the statistics we infer that the crime levels have gone down.

Important or interesting

If something is important or interesting, you should also say why and to whom.

The crime statistics are important to the police in each area, as they can use them for employment estimates.

Licence (noun) or license (verb)

“Licence” means being allowed or given leave. A patent or grant of permission.

The police asked to see my licence.

“License” means to give permission or allow.

The premises is licensed for alcohol.

Like

Use “such as”, not “like”

stylistic devices such as bold and italic.

Mitigate

To appease, to make something more easily borne or to lessen the severity, violence or evil of something.

Of, from, with and to

Compared with and compared to

Use “compared with” when pointing out the similarities and differences of subjects.

full-time workers in England earned £316 per week compared with only £284 per week in Wales.

Use “compared to” when pointing out similarities.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Use “in comparison with” and never “in comparison to”.

Consists of and comprises

Use “consists of” or “comprises” but never use “comprises of”.

The pudding consists of cream, berries and meringue

The pudding comprises cream, berries and meringue

Different from/than/to

Use “different from”, “different to” and “different than”.

Example

It is different from the original version
It is different to the original version
It is different than the original version

Similar to

Use “similar to”, and never use “with” or “as”.

It is similar to the original version.

Practice (noun) or practise (verb)

“Practice” is the application or use of an idea, belief, or method

The practice of hanging was outlawed.

“Practise” means to perform an activity or exercise

I am practising my juggling.

Principal or principle

“Principal” means:

  • Adjective = taking the first place.
  • Noun = the head of a college or university.

The principal idea for school closure. The principal closed the school.

“Principle” means a law or premise.

The school was closed on principle.

Program or programme

Write “computer program” but every other type uses the extra “-me” spelling.

television programme
theatre programme

Recession

In the UK, “recession” refers to two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth in GDP or output. If you are unsure if this applies to the period you are writing about, use the term “economic downturn”.

Stationary or stationery

“Stationary” means not moving

The train was stationary.

“Stationery” means writing or office materials

The pen is in the stationery cupboard.

That or which

“That” is used for part of a sentence that restricts another part.

The statistics that show the decline are invaluable.

“Which” is used for part of a sentence that doesn’t restrict another part.

The statistics, which were produced this week, show that there has been a decline.

www, internet and online

“web”, “world wide web”, “www”, “internet” and “online” are always lower case. “Online” is always written as one word.

web
world wide web
www
website
homepage
web page