Spelling, Vocabulary, and Confusing Words

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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.


QUOTATION, QUOTE

To purists, quote is a verb only. When we quote, we repeat or reproduce someone's exact words.

The correct term for quoted material is a quotation. In casual usage, a quotation is often called a "quote," but quote as a noun is still not acceptable in formal writing.


RACK, WRACK

As a verb, rack means "to afflict," "oppress," "torment."

To wrack is to cause the ruin of.

A lot of people mistakenly write things like "nerve-wracking" and "I wracked my brains." Drop the w in both cases. Both expressions derive from that device in the torture hall of fame called the rack.


RAISE, RAZE

Raise: to lift up.

Raze: to take down.


RAP, WRAP

Rap: a sharp blow; a type of music (nouns); to strike sharply (verb).

Wrap: to enclose in a covering.


REAL, REEL

Real: actual, authentic.

Reel: a spool (noun); to stumble; falter (verbs).


REASON BEING IS

One hears this odd phrase frequently, in statements like The economy is in trouble; the reason being is profligate spending.

Make it either the reason being profligate spending or the reason is profligate spending.


REASON IS BECAUSE

The reason is because we spend too much. Make it The reason is that we spend too much. Saying the reason is makes because unnecessary.


REEK, WREAK

Reek: to smell bad.

Wreak: to inflict.


REFER

See allude, elude, refer.


REGARDLESS

See irregardless.


REIGN, REIN

Reign: period in power (noun); to be in power (verb).

Rein: a strap to control horses (noun); to control or guide (verb).


RELISH IN

Jones is relishing in his new role as financial adviser. The sentence mistakes relish for revel. Either Jones relishes his role or he revels in his role.


RENOWN

Ansel Adams is renown for his timeless photographs. Make that renowned. This widespread gaffe results from thinking renown is akin to known, probably because they share those last four letters.


REST, WREST

Rest: to relax.

Wrest: to take forcibly.


REST, AS THEY SAY, IS HISTORY

The rest, as they say, is history is a cringe-inducing cliché. Not The rest is history, which has its place—it's that pseudo-sagacious as they say which really rankles. How to explain the enduring appeal of something so tired, weak, and breathtakingly unoriginal?


RESTAURATEUR

Note the spelling: no n.


RETCH, WRETCH

Retch: to heave.

Wretch: a lowly being; a scoundrel.


RETICENT

Reticent means "uncommunicative, reserved, silent." But many people wrongly use it to mean "reluctant": I was reticent to spend so much on a football game. No, you were reticent when you didn't protest the ticket price.


REVEREND

In formal writing, there's no such thing as "a reverend." The word is an honorific used before a pastor's name: the Reverend Josiah Blank. Important: the is mandatory. Also note the phrase must be followed by the person's full name—to say "Reverend Blank" is wrong twice.


REVIEW, REVUE

Review: an examination or criticism (noun); to assess, to analyze (verbs).

Revue: a variety show.


RIFF, RIFT

Riff: a brief musical phrase; pithy or flippant wordplay.

Rift: a crack; a disagreement.


RIGHT, RITE, WRITE

Right: an entitlement (noun); correct, opposite of left, opposite of wrong (adjectives).

Rite: a ritual; a ceremony.

Write: to compose letters or words.


RING, WRING

Ring: the sound of a bell; jewelry worn around a finger.

Wring: to twist.


ROAD, RODE, ROWED

Road: a street; a path; a highway.

Rode: past tense of ride.

Rowed: past tense of row.


ROLE, ROLL

Role: a position; a part in a play or film.

Roll: a baked food; a flowing movement (nouns); to rotate; to flow with a current (verbs).


RYE, WRY

Rye: a grain.

Wry: mocking; ironic; droll.


Misused Words

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