I like Jason Mraz’s song “I’m Yours,” but there’s one line in it that drives me crazy.
Mraz sings “And it’s our God-forsaken right to be loved loved loved loved loved.” Think about that for a minute. It doesn’t make any sense. I think what he means to say is “It’s our God-given right to be loved . . .” But then, as Jim says, that wouldn’t meter as well.
Sometimes when they’re writing, people use the wrong word. Maybe they don’t know any better, but sometimes they just don’t stop and think about what they’ve actually written.
One of the most common mistakes we editors see is the confusion between “affect” and “effect.” “Affect” is a verb. Use it like this in a sentence:
I wonder if the team’s devastating loss will affect the quarterback’s confidence.
The smoke in the air from the wildfires affects his allergies.
“Effect,” on the other hand, is a noun.
The effect of smoke in the air from wildfires can be red eyes and increased sinus trouble.
Christine read the bottle carefully to determine if the medication could cause dire side effects.
Here’s one that I have trouble with myself: stationary and stationery. Stationary — spelled with an a — is an adjective meaning “unmoving” — either literally or figuratively.
Marian tried to lead the donkey out of the pen, but he was the most stationary animal she’d ever encountered.
His opinion on immigration was stationary.
Stationery — spelled with an e — is the paper you use to write a letter — or any other similar or related office products.
Donna shopped at Office Depot for most of her stationery needs.
I donated the remaining boxes of stationery to the residents of the nearby retirement village.
I read somewhere recently that someone had been paid a complement. Yikes. The word “complement” — with an e — means to go well with, to accentuate another thing or person, as in the following examples:
This cabernet will be a wonderful complement to your meal.
The modern chair accented with chrome was the perfect complement to Janice’s edgy apartment.
If you’re talking about someone offering praise or flattery, use “compliment,” with an i.
Sharon asked the waiter to bring the chef to her table so she could compliment him in person on his hollandaise sauce.
Telling Zak that he’s just like his father is not a compliment.
Finally, the most commonly confused words: loose and lose. We see these two misused all the time. I think people really do know the difference. They just write quickly and don’t read their copy carefully enough to realize what they’ve actually written.
Just to clarify, however: “loose” is an adjective. It describes something.
The lug nuts on this tire are loose.
The rider stopped his horse so he could tighten his saddle’s loose cinch.
You cannot “loose” something unless you’re talking about untying the strings of a corset (or something similar) and then to be correct, you should say “loosen.” You can say “The singer really let loose on the final chorus” or “The shooter is still on the loose.” Those are also acceptable uses of the word.
But you don’t “loose” your car keys. You “lose” them. “Lose” is the verb that means to misplace something or become unable to find it.
I can’t stand it when I lose my reading glasses.
If she doesn’t maintain a GPA of 3.6 or higher, Emily will lose her scholarship.
Before I step off my soapbox, I have one more tip: as I was writing this, I typed the word “compliment” in my explanation of how to use the word correctly, and my computer’s automatic spellcheck immediately changed the word to “complement.” (This may account for some of the mistakes we’ve seen.) Be sure not to rely solely on your spellcheck — very often it’s not as smart as it thinks it is!