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.
See parody, satire.
Saver: someone or something that saves or conserves.
Savor: to appreciate.
Scent: an aroma; a fragrance.
Sent: taken; moved.
SECONDLY, THIRDLY, FOURTHLY
As noted earlier, few people say "firstly," and fewer yet say "fifthly," "sixthly," "seventeenthly," etc. Many adverbs do not end in -ly. It makes more sense to use second, third, and fourth rather than secondly, thirdly, and fourthly.
See biannual, biennial, semiannual.
Sensual: relating to sexual pleasure.
Sensuous: relating to or affecting the physical senses.
Serf: a slave.
See cereal, serial.
Set: to place something somewhere.
Sit: to take a seat.
SEW, SO, SOW
Sew: to stitch.
So: as a result; in the manner indicated.
Sow: to scatter or plant seed.
Shear: to cut; to clip.
Sheer: pure; steep; translucent.
This is found only in a direct quotation (note the brackets). An editor inserts [sic] directly after a word or sentence to notify readers that something is off or incorrect, but is being reproduced exactly as it originally appeared.
See cite, sight, site.
It's not the same as simple. It means "oversimplified," as in Your simplistic argument leaves out too many facts.
At a memorial service, a well-meaning soul remembered a renowned artist as "a simplistic man." Some occasions are too solemn for foolish language lapses. Trying to express something commendable, the speaker instead said the dear departed had been a simpleton.
See because, since.
See cite, sight, site.
Despite its popularity, the slash (/), technically known as a virgule, is frowned on by purists. Other than to indicate dates (9/11/2001) or separate lines of poetry ("Celery, raw / Develops the jaw"), it has few defensible uses in formal writing.
Usually a hyphen, or in some cases the word or, will suffice. Instead of writing the novelist/poet Eve Jones, make it the novelist-poet Eve Jones. Rather than available to any man/woman who is qualified, make it any man or woman.
"The virgule is a mark that doesn't appear much in first-rate writing," says Bryan A. Garner in A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. "Use it as a last resort."
Sleight: dexterity; skill.
Slight: slender; of little substance.
Many think snuck is the past tense of sneak, but it's not, at least not yet. The past tense of sneak is sneaked.
See sew, so, sow.
Soar: to fly high.
Sore: painful; in pain.
Sole: the bottom of a foot; a type of fish (nouns); single; solitary (adjectives).
Soul: essence; the spirit apart from the body.
Some: an unspecified number.
Sum: the total from adding numbers.
Son: male offspring.
Sun: the star that is the central body of our solar system.
See sew, so, sow.
Staid: solemn; serious.
Stayed: remained; waited.
Stair: a step.
Stare: to gaze intently.
Stake: a wager; an investment; a pole.
Steak: a cut of meat.
Stationary: in one place; inactive.
Stationery: writing paper.
Steal: to rob.
Steel: an iron alloy (noun); to toughen (verb).
Step: a stair (noun); to move by lifting the foot (verb).
Steppe: vast grassland.
It started out as stamping grounds, which is still preferred by most dictionaries.
Words like straitjacket and strait-laced are frequently misspelled using straight, which is incorrect, but understandable. Wouldn't a "straightjacket" be just the thing to straighten you up and straighten you out? Doesn't "straight-laced" aptly describe a person of refinement (the lace part) who lives the "straight life"? This is why some authorities accept straight-laced as an alternative spelling. But a strait is a narrow channel, and it is that sense of "confinement with little room to maneuver" that generated these terms.
Note the second a in stratagem.
Both words refer to plans of action. But stratagem denotes trickery. It is a scheme to deceive or outwit.
See some, sum.
See son, sun.
Sundae: ice cream with syrup.
Sunday: a day of the week.
See prone, supine.
Never "suppose to." Don't drop the d in usages like You're supposed to be here.
See serf, surf.
See empathy, sympathy.