Spelling, Vocabulary, and Confusing Words
Many words in English sound or look alike, causing confusion and not a few headaches. This section lists some of these words, and other troublemakers.
Factious means "characterized by dissent and internal disputes." A factious group is liable to split off into factions.
Fractious means "irritable," "quarrelsome," "ill-tempered."
Faint: to go unconscious.
Feint: a distracting move meant to throw an opponent off guard (from feign).
Fair: an exhibition (noun); just, impartial (adjectives).
Fare: payment for travel (noun); to have an experience (verb); to go through something (verb): How did you fare on your test?
The general rule: farther refers to real, physical distance: Let's walk a little farther.
Further deals with degree or extent: Let's discuss this further.
When something or someone fazes you, you are disturbed or troubled: Her behavior doesn't faze me.
A phase is a period or chapter: He's going through a difficult phase right now.
Feat: an extraordinary act or accomplishment.
Feet: twelve-inch increments; appendages below the ankles.
Here's a seemingly innocent sentence: I now have two less reasons for going. Make it two fewer reasons. If you can count the commodity (two reasons), less will be wrong. You have less justification, but fewer reasons.
Exception: When the amount is one, such a sentence should read, "I now have one reason fewer" or "one less reason, but not "one fewer reason." Admittedly, this is a head-scratcher, but that's English for you.
Use less for specific measurements of money, distance, time, or weight: It costs less than a million dollars. We walked less than fifty feet. Less than thirty minutes had passed. It weighs less than five pounds. The book Modern American Usage explains why: "We take a million dollars as a sum of money, not as a number of units; fifty feet as a measure of distance, not as one foot added to forty-nine other feet; thirty minutes as a stretch of time, exactly like half an hour … and the quantitative less is therefore correct in comparisons; fewer would sound absurd."
Fir: a type of tree.
Fur: animal hair.
See secondly, thirdly, fourthly.
Flair: style; talent.
Flare: to erupt; to blaze.
Let's see: flammable means "combustible." Inflammable means "combustible." Any questions?
He was a rebel who flaunted the rules. That sentence is incorrect. Make it flouted the rules. To flout is to ignore, disregard, defy.
To flaunt is to make a big display: She flaunted her diamond necklace.
Flea: a type of insect.
Flee: to run away.
One way to avoid confusing these two verbs is to think of flounder, the fish. Something that is floundering is thrashing around helplessly, like a fish out of water.
Founder means "to fail." If a business is floundering, it is in distress but may yet be saved. If a business founders, nothing can revive it.
Flour: an edible powder prepared by grinding grains.
Flower: the bloom of a plant.
Many permissive editors allow forego in place of forgo. But forego means "to go before," "precede": A good stretching session should forego rigorous exercise.
To forgo is to abstain from, do without: If you forgo a good stretching session, you might pull a muscle.
A foreword is an introduction, usually to a book. It's sometimes confused with forward, meaning "ahead," "forth."
Fourth: coming directly after whatever is third.
Fortuitous is a chronically misunderstood word. To purists, it most emphatically does not mean "lucky" or "fortunate"; it simply means "by chance." You are fortunate if you win the lottery fortuitously, but you can also get flattened by a truck fortuitously.
Foul: tainted; sickening.
Fowl: edible bird or birds.
See factious, fractious.
A curious term for gift.
Many people take fulsome to mean "abundant" or "lavish." But be wary of writing the likes of He received a fulsome tribute or Please accept my fulsome apology. The word actually means something darker: "excessive," "fawning," even "disgusting."
Fun is a noun, not an adjective. Sentences like It was a fun time or the ghastly It was so fun have no place in serious writing.
See fir, fur.
See farther, further.