As in all things, pobody’s nerfect... er... nobody’s perfect in the process of writing. But it is important to strive to be accurate, to use correct spelling and to fix typographical errors, and to use the correct words and phrases for what is intended.
These are lessons I’ve learned along the way related to the use of words and phrases. I hope they help you in your writing.
1. Alternate – alternative. Alternate, used as a noun, means something used when the first item is not available. e.g. The book I wanted from the library wasn’t available, so I found an alternate. Alternative is used when there is more than one option. I don’t like French fries, so I ordered salad as the alternative. Also, see this explanation.
2. Immigrant – emigrant. An immigrant is a person who comes to a country. An emigrant comes from one country to another one. Here’s another explanation.
3. Accept – except. Think of the word ‘acceptance’ when you consider using the word ‘accept’. It means to welcome someone or something, such as accepting an invitation or an award, for example. Think of the word ‘exception’ when you consider using the word ‘except’. Except is used to differentiate one item from all the rest. e.g. All the towels were blue, except for one that was white.
4. Affect – effect. ‘Affect’ is most commonly used as a verb – to affect something – while ‘effect’ is most commonly used as a noun – the effect of what happened. Here’s an Oxford blog link to give further explanations and examples. When you affect something, you effect a change, says this blog.
5. More than – over. Less than – under. When discussing a quantity, such as 10 carrots compared to seven carrots, the correct phrases are ‘more than’ and ‘less than’. When discussing an object’s relation to another, use ‘over’ and ‘under’. Think of these words as short forms of ‘over top’ and ‘underneath’. ‘The bridge is over the water. There are more than a dozen fish in the water. I placed my shoes under the table. There are less than three shoes under the table.’
6. Ensure – insure. To ensure is to make certain. To insure is to guard against financially. For some great examples and the addition of the word ‘assure’ as well, see this link.
One of my journalism instructors taught me this: If in doubt, leave it out.
I’ll add to that: If unsure, look it up. I know it doesn’t rhyme, but it makes sense. Use a dictionary, a thesaurus, or the Internet (find a reputable site) to make sure you are using the right words when you write. You see what I did there – right and write?
Okay. Good writing, everyone!