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Boy sits on a buoy?

Don’t rely on your spell checker. Even if there are no language differences, it won’t always catch your errors.

Both “the buoy is floating” and “the boy is floating” are correct, but they mean different things. Of course, if you live in the USA you pronounce buoy as boo-ey so this pair of words doesn’t seem quite so similar as it does to those of us who prounce it the same way as boy.

boy: a male child
The boy was excited about his birthday.

buoy: a floating device that marks significant spots in water
The boats kept outside of the circle of buoys during the race.

Set your sights to the details

Although we may use the word sight a lot more often than site or cite, it is worth knowing the difference between them!

Cite: to mention or quote a document or legal result.
He cited Judge Brown’s findings from case 32.

Site: a relevant place or piece of ground. It includes a construction site (where building works are taking place), a sacred site (a place of significant meaning to some people) and a crime site (the area where an activity took place, in this case an illegal activity).
They chose the best site for their sleeping tent.

Sight: the ability to see and what is seen.
Sight is one of the five senses.
It was a magnificent sight from the lookout.

Site is easy to remember if you think of a site being a place where you can sit.

Take my advice…

There are many pairs of words that sound or look very similar, but they can mean very different things. There is no easy way around these words, you have to learn them as you can’t rely on spell checkers and the like to pick them up every time.

One such pair of words is advice/advise.

Advice: Opinion given or offered as to action, counsel; information given. (noun)
As a business coach, I sometimes give advice to my clients.

Advise: Offer advice; recommend. (verb)
I advise you to wear a hat when walking in the desert.

So I advise you to take care with words. And my advice is to learn the correct use of each word.
How can you remember which is which?

“I give you advice and I give you ice” will help you remember which word is the noun.

* Definitions from the Concise Oxford Dictionary

Copping some flak?

Next time you are complaining about the stirring of your mates or the complaints of your Boss, you can say you are copping some flak and feel like you are being shot at! But be careful you don’t write you are copping some flack as that may be wildly misinterpreted!

Flack: (noun) press agent or publicist
The movie star relied on her flack to manage the press conference.
Flack: (verb) to act as a PR or press agent

Flak: (noun) anti-aircraft artillery or bursting of shells fired from anti-aircraft artillery;over the top and/or aggressive criticism; opposition, disagreement. {Flak is derived from the German name of aircraft defence gun –  Flieger Abwehr Kanone}
The politician was copping some flak over voting against his party on the carbon tax issue. 

Simply remember that a PR agent always adds a little extra – like the letter c in flack!

How tolerant are you?

The definition of tolerant is to be accepting of things and perhaps able to endure unpleasant things. However, to be not tolerant can be expressed two ways depending on the specific lack of tolerance being discussed.

Intolerant: Not accepting, allowing or enduring something/someone to exist without interfering, complaining or hindering.
A racist person is intolerant of other races living in their country.

Intolerable: A situation that can’t be endured or continued. 
After time a worker may find it intolerable to work 100 hour weeks and be criticised by their boss.

Think of the two words like this: He is not able to tolerate a situation but the ant chooses to be intolerant.

A principled principal?

Another pair of words that I frequently see misused is principle and principal…

Principle – a belief or moral that governs behaviour and decisions; a fundamental truth
On principle, John refused to watch the parade.

Principal – first or leading rank (e.g. a School Principal); initial sum of money before interest and fees
As Principal of the local school, Mary was well respected by the parents.

The most common uses of these words are often confused and used incorrectly. The easiest way to remember which is which is to think of your pal being a principal.

The better part of discretion?

Here is a pair of words that sound exactly the same but have quite different meanings – yet I’m not sure any people realise there are two words instead of one with different uses.

discrete – distinct, separate, individual, referring to numbers
It was a series of discrete performances across the country.

discreet – tactful, subtle, unobtrusive
Her boss was very discreet about her illness.

To help remember which word is which, see how the t separates the es in discrete.

Monday meanings…

There are pairs of words that are frequently misused. However much they sound the same, using the wrong word can totally change the meaning of your sentence.

And you can’t rely on your spell checker to find these errors for you.

A good, old fashioned dictionary is the best way to make sure you are using the correct word in any situation. If you don’t have a dictionary at home, and the old school one probably doesn’t count, I would strongly suggest you get one so you can avoid unnecessary errors in your writing.

As I still see many of these words used incorrectly, I am going to show the different meanings as a blog category – and I’ll post one every Monday.

Please let me know if there are any particular words you aren’t sure of and I’ll include them, too.

Correcting spelling, yes or no?

I have just been asked if it is rude to correct the spelling of comments added to your blog. An interesting question!

Like so many things, there is no clear answer about what is the ‘right thing’ to do.

I don’t think it is a valuable use of time to check every incoming comment for correct spelling and grammar, but really obvious errors are a bit different. One on hand, it is the person making the comments who will be seen to have bad spelling, not you, so it won’t affect your professional standing.

On the other hand, if the error annoys you or will detract from the message, it is very tempting to fix the error yourself.

If the comment is mostly well written and spelt correctly, I would be inclined to correct any typos or spelling errors. The person who wrote it probably would prefer to appear competent and may be kicking themselves for the error anyway!

If the comment is full of spelling mistakes that aren’t just typos, it is trickier. My instinct is to not have bad English in my blog, even bits not written by me! Someone who can’t spell well may not even notice you correcting their work, and others wouldn’t care either way – but I suspect some people would be offended to find you had corrected their words, especially if the errors were consistent (I’m particularly thinking of people who use SMS shorthand instead of proper spelling.)

Unless you know the person making the spelling mistakes and want to help them and/or know they would appreciate it, I would avoid changing their spelling. It’s harsh, but if they don’t care enough to get things right, it is their reputation they are damaging, not yours.

Of course, your response to their comment needs to be spelt perfectly and sometimes may be able to serve as a lesson in correct spelling!

there, their or they’re?

With one exception*, my writing articles and blog entries assume some basic knowledge – if you are writing for business purposes, I assume you know the obvious rules of capital letters to start sentences, common spelling rules and the idea of paragraphs.

So I have never written about there/their/they’re – until now!

I have seen these words misused a number of times recently, and getting an email today from someone who calls herself a writer with the sentence “Their are some great news items ” was the last straw for me! (How can they own ‘are some great news’?)

If this is obvious to you, I apologise! If it isn’t, I hope this helps and I apologise for not helping you sooner!

There, they’re or their?

All 3 words sound exactly the same, but have totally different meanings and uses. Using the wrong word can make a sentence very confusing or just make the writer look silly – neither is what you want in your business (or other!) writing.

They’re is short for they are – so it is used as “They’re running late today”

There is not here – so it is used as “We will go there tomorrow”

Their shows they own something – it is used as “John and Betty will bring their car, too”

Imagine the following sentence with the wrong there/they’re/their spellings…

“They’re bringing their own car so we will meet them there.”

Use your words wisely!

* the exception is this article on basic grammar rules which I wrote to help a trainer with a communications module he was teaching.