Sunday, June 24, 2007

Usage: Words Often Confused. A.

Question: How can I straighten out words that are frequently confused?

Answer: In this issue of "Q & A on Writing," I distinguish between "adverse/averse"; "allude/refer"; "alumna/alumni"; "among/between"; "amount/number"; "anxious/eager"; "appraise/apprise"; "as/like." [Note: the blog format does not hyphenate correctly. I can't do anything about it. RayS.]

With each item, I attach a "scale of distraction," a measure of how much readers are bothered by the mistake.

* Who cares?
** Some people you respect will be distracted by the mistake.
*** Many educated people will be distracted by the mistake.

"Adverse" = opposed; "averse" = unwilling, reluctant. (**)

"allude" = refer to something not directly stated; "refer" = stated directly. (***) [Note: sportscasters are particularly vulnerable to this one. RayS.]

"alumna" = female; "alumni" = male; "alumnae" = plural, female; "alumni" = plural, male; mixed groups = refer to "graduates." (**)

"among" = many; "between" = two. (***)

"amount" = mass or bulk; "number" = individual, i.e., "number of people." (***)

"anxious" = uneasy, worried; "eager" = enthusiastic for. (**)

"appraise" = evaluate; "apprise" = notify. (**)

"as" = followed by a clause ("as he said...."); "like" = followed by a noun ("spoken like a trooper"). (***)

Note: The preceding usage items were taken from a variety of resources, including dictionaries and style manuals. For me, the best style manual for desk-top reference is The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly. Times Books. 1990. Items in capitalization, usage and punctuation are alphabetized and easy to find, and the explanations are clear and concise.

All the best. RayS.

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