Will the right word please stand up? (part 1)

For all those who have been waiting for another Grouchy Grammarian post, enjoy! Today I’m going to address some common misusages, specifically words that get mistaken for each other.

Tenet/tenant

A tenet is a point of doctrine, policy, or belief.

It was a firm tenet of her personal creed always to use the right word.

A tenant is a person who rents a living or working space.

The tenants next door persisted in practicing clogging in the middle of the night.


Taut/taunt/taught

Taut means stretched tight with little or no slack.

The editor’s taut nerves could not endure another case of taunt being used instead of taut.

To taunt is to mock or tease.

The unfinished manuscript of her novel seemed to taunt her as her days slipped away in busy work.

Taught is the past tense of teach.

She had always been taught never to split an infinitive.

 

Insure/ensure/assure

To insure is to guarantee lives or property against loss: to procure or provide insurance.

Lucretia insured her husband’s life for one million dollars before she poisoned him.

To ensure is to guarantee a certain result.

She mixed arsenic, cyanide, and strychnine to ensure a fatal dose.

To assure is to give a verbal guarantee that something will or won’t, or has or hasn’t, happened.

Lucretia assured the police that she had loved her husband dearly and had nothing to do with his death.

(An assurance, as you see, need not necessarily be true.)

 

Affect/effect

This one is particularly tricky because both words can be used either as nouns or verbs.

To affect (verb) is to have some kind of influence on.

Her esteem for her friends was not affected by their poor grammar.

To effect (verb) is to cause.

She hoped her blog would help to effect an improvement in her friends’ speech.

Affect (noun) is a technical psychological term for mood or emotion (psychologists, please forgive my sloppy definition).

The bipolar patient’s affect varied between manic and depressive.

Effect (noun) is the result of a cause.

She hoped the effect of this post would not be to make readers tear their hair out.

And here’s the really confusing part: One could rephrase the definition of affect (verb) thus:

To affect is to have an effect on.

I am not making this up.

Do you have pet peeves among word confusions of this sort, or are you confused about any similar sets of words yourself? Leave them in the comments and I’ll address them in part 2.

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3 comments on “Will the right word please stand up? (part 1)

  1. Charise says:

    I felt pretty good till you got to affect-effect. Those still trip me up if I’m not careful. I also struggle with its and it’s. I know there is a difference but can never remember the rule.

  2. erin says:

    Thank you for this… I have such a hard time with affect/effect it’s not even funny. And, ensure/assure can be a bit tricky, too. This is why we writers need editors!

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