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.


TACK, TACT

Tack and tact are commonly confused when discussing strategy.

A tack is a course of action.

Tact is discretion.

We decided to try a new tack is correct, but "a new tact" is what a lot of people say, mistakenly thinking "tact" is short for tactic.


TAIL, TALE

Tail: the hindmost animal appendage.

Tale: a story.


TAKE

See bring, take.


TAUGHT, TAUT

Taught: trained; educated.

Taut: stiff; tightly stretched.


TEAM, TEEM

Team: a group with the same goal (noun); to form a squad (verb).

Teem: to swarm.


TEMBLOR

Although it produces tremors and makes the ground tremble, an earthquake is a temblor, not a "tremblor."


TENANT, TENET

A tenant is someone who pays rent to use or occupy a property. But "tenant" is often mistakenly used in place of tenet, a fundamental belief or principle held true by a group or organization.


THAN, THEN

Than is used for comparison.

Then means "next," "after that."


THAT

See who, which, that.


THEIR, THERE, THEY'RE

Their: belonging to them.

There: in that place.

They're: contraction of they are.

They're in their car over there.


THOSE KIND OF

Instead of "those kind of things," say either those kinds of things or things of that kind. Better yet: things like that.


TILL, 'TIL

Always use till. You won't find a reference book anywhere that recommends 'til. Writer John B. Bremner declares brusquely, "Either till or until, but not 'til."

It's natural to assume that 'til is a contraction of until. However, till predates until by several centuries.


TO, TOO, TWO

To: in the direction of; toward.

Too: also; excessively.

Two: the number after one.


TORT, TORTE

Tort: a breach of contract.

Torte: a rich cake made with little or no flour.


TORTUOUS, TORTUROUS

Tortuous: winding; twisting: a tortuous trail.

Torturous: painful; causing suffering: held under torturous conditions.


TOTALLY

Not to be used arbitrarily. How is totally convinced different from convinced?


TOWARD, TOWARDS

The Associated Press Stylebook insists on toward, but both are acceptable and mean the same thing.


TRANSPIRE

The celebrity issued a statement through his attorney that he was "sorry and saddened over what transpired." This usage of transpire, though common, is incorrect. The word doesn't mean "occur" or "happen." Something that transpires is revealed or becomes known over time. The Oxford online dictionary gives this example: "It transpired that millions of dollars of debt had been hidden in a complex web of transactions."


TREMBLOR

See temblor.


TROOP, TROUPE

Troop: a body of soldiers.

Troupe: a group of traveling performers.

Mike is a real trouper. Many would spell it "trooper." But a trooper is either a cop or a soldier in the cavalry, whereas a trouper, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is "a reliable, uncomplaining, often hard-working person."


TRULY

Note the spelling: no e.

This word is often just window dressing. How is I truly believe different from I believe?


TURBID, TURGID

Turbid means "muddy," or "unclear," literally and figuratively. Both a river and a poem may properly be called turbid.

Turgid means "swollen," literally and figuratively. One may suffer physically from a turgid limb, or mentally from a turgid (i.e., pompous and bombastic) speech.


Misused Words

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