Easily Confused Words

by , under Grammar

Some low-frequency words are easy to confuse, especially if they sound similar. Here are some examples of words people mix up, with definitions to help you keep distinctions clear. 

Alternate vs. Alternative

INCORRECT:  The low-carb pizza is a healthier alternate.
CORRECT:  The low-carb pizza is a healthier alternative.

ExplanationAlternate means “to occur in turn repeatedly.” Alternative means “available as another possibility or choice.”

Amiable vs. Amicable

INCORRECT:  The children were amicable and had an amiable discussion after their parents agreed upon an amiable property settlement.
CORRECT:  The children were amiable and had an amicable discussion after their parents agreed upon an amicable property settlement. 

Explanation:  Amiable refers to having a friendly manner. Amicable refers to relations between people having a spirit of friendliness.

Among vs. Between

INCORRECT:  The fashion model could not decide among the two skirts.
CORRECT:  The fashion model could not decide between the two skirts. 

Explanation:  Use “between” for choices involving only two items. Use “among” for choices involving more than two items.

Award vs. Reward

INCORRECT: I was rewarded a trophy.
CORRECT:  I was rewarded with a trophy  
CORRECT:  I was awarded a trophy

EXPLANATION: We award a prize to someone, but you reward someone for something.

Notice that the gift comes directly after verb “award” (They award a trophy to the winner) whereas the person receiving the gift comes comes directly after the verb “reward” (They reward employees for their effort.)

Awhile vs. a while

INCORRECTAwhile ago, I had the opportunity to become an actor.
CORRECTA while ago, I had the opportunity to become an actor.

Explanation:  “A while” is a noun meaning “a short period of time.” For example, you could say, “It has been a while since I worked there.” “Awhile” is an adverb meaning “for a short period of time.” Use it to modify verbs like this: “Let’s sit awhile.”

If you are not sure if you need the noun or the adverb, try substituting another adverb like this: “Let’s sit briefly.” If it doesn’t make grammatical sense with the substituted adverb, then you need the noun form instead. For example, you can’t say. “It has been briefly since I worked there.”

Most vs. Must

INCORRECT:  That most have been the happiest day of my life.
CORRECT:  That must have been the happiest day of my life.

Explanation:  Use “most” to say the “greatest in amount or degree.” Use “must” to express the opinion that something is logically very likely.

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