Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Moor Word Usage Errors

There are a lot of word usage errors out there, largely due to the fact that many English words look/sound similar to each other. (If you haven't seen my other post on usage/spelling mistakes, check it out.) I thought I would do another post on these tricksy little fellows. Be sure to watch out for these mistakes in your own writing!

Materiel / Material:

Materiel with an ‘e’ is pronounced with the same inflection as personnel.  It’s a military term, and it refers to physical things such as rations and ammunition and the like. So, what do you need in warfare? You need both personnel and materiel.  Materiel is a non-quantitative noun like corn or wheat – so you can’t pluralize it. 

Material with an ‘a,’ on the other hand, is the word you’re most familiar with. It can mean fabric or whatever something is made out of. You’ve probably heard the expression “raw materials,” meaning the basic components of something before it’s made or assembled.

To remember the difference, link materiel with an ‘e’ to the word personnel, and link material with an ‘a’ to ‘raw,’ which also has an ‘a.’

Lightning / lightening

Lightning is that stuff that strikes down from the sky and causes thunder.

Lightening, with an ‘e’ in there, is the participle (or the gerund, depending on context) of ‘to lighten.’ When something lightens, it gets lighter – so hair lightener makes you hair lighter.  What are you doing when you’re using lightener to make your hair lighter? You are lightening your hair. Or, if something is heavy and you want lighten the load to make it lighter, you are lightening the load.

To remember the difference, link the ‘e’ in ‘lighten’ with the ‘e’ in ‘lighter.’  If there isn’t an ‘e’ in the word, get ready for the thunderclaps.  For example: after the dark clouds of a lightning storm, you can see the sky lightening.

Site / sight

Site refers to a location. A construction site is a place where construction happens. Somebody might say, “This is the site of the battle of Gettysburg.”

Sight can mean many things, but it all has to do with seeing.  Somebody who is sighted is not blind.  If something is within sight, you can see it. If you are looking at something through crosshairs, you are using a sight. This is what people mean when they say, “target sighted.”  Since sights are something that is common on guns, you can link the ‘g’ in sight with the ‘g’ in gun.  Just remember that sight can mean all those other things that have to do with seeing as well.

The expression “shot on sight” has to do with shooting somebody the minute you see them. I once mistakenly believed that the expression was “shot on site,” thinking that it meant you shot them right there on the spot.  If you have trouble remembering which, try to think of the phrase “If somebody is shot on sight, they die right there on the site.” This should help you remember that ‘site’ has to do with location, whereas the expression has to do with seeing.

Pore / pour
Pore has two meanings.  One is a noun, meaning a tiny little hole.  You’re probably already familiar with this meaning. You’ll see skin products that promise to clarify your pores, and when your pores get clogged, you get a blackhead or pimple. Something full of holes, like a sponge or pumice, is porous. The second meaning is a verb, and it means to examine something very closely.  If you ever hear somebody say, “I was poring over the dictionary,” it means they were looking very closely at the dictionary.  To remember this, link the ‘e’ in pore with the ‘e’ in examine.  Then, remember that you can also examine the pores on your face.

Pour, on the other hand, is when you transfer something between containers. If you pour something out, you are emptying the container of whatever substance was in there.  Of course, if has to be a substance that can flow, so usually this is liquid. When you pour a glass of water, you pour water from the pitcher into the glass. To remember this, imagine that the ‘u’ in pour is a little glass of water.

Awe / Aw

Awe is an experience of wonder, generally with an implication of speechlessness or the inability to put it into words.  It is the root of words like awestruck and awesome. Awesome has lost a little of its original meaning – we just use it to mean ‘cool’ or ‘neat,’ but it once meant that something’s substance was awe-inspiring. There are a couple of ways to remember this, most of which include linking ‘awe’ with a word you’re familiar with, such as awesome. Or, if you like, you can link the ‘e’ at the end of awe with the ‘e’ at the beginning of experience, since awe is a feeling or experience.

Aw is an interjection used to express delight or dismay. “Aw, that’s so cool!” “Aw, that’s sad.” “Aw, that’s adorable!” “Aw, that’s terrible!” And so on. The correct spelling is with one ‘w,’ but we frequently append more ‘w’s to indicate how drawn out the interjection is: “Awwww, do I have to?”  It does not have an ‘e.’ To remember this, imagine that it’s one of the drawn out ‘aw’s, with lots of ‘w’s. Just remember that the ‘correct’ spelling only has one.

Awe-full / awful

This one is similar to awe/aw, and you can pretty much use the same tricks to remember it. Awe-full is hyphenated (this is important) and it means that something is full of awe or awe-inspiring (sort of like awesome). Note that it has the actual word ‘full,’ complete with two ‘l’s.

Awful, on the other hand, means that something is terrible. Remember that ‘aw’ can be used to express dismay? Well, imagine that the ‘aw’ in awful is that kind of dismayed aw, and that the whole thing is so full of dismay that it’s just terrible. It only has one ‘l,’ just like the word ‘beautiful’ or ‘frightful.’ This is because it is a compound word, whereas awe-full is a hyphenated word.

Alright / all right

These basically mean the same thing, and you may use them interchangeably. However, one is considered more formal. According to

“The form alright as a one-word spelling of the phrase all right in all of its senses probably arose by analogy with such words as already and altogether. Although alright is a common spelling in written dialogue and in other types of informal writing, all right is used in more formal, edited writing.”

I prefer to use ‘all right’ in every situation except for when it’s used as a sentence lead-in. “Alright, is everybody all right?” However, this is a personal preference. Just remember that in polished writing, such as an essay, you should use the full form of all right.

Of course, the most delightful way to use alright is in the phrase, “Alright-y then.”  This phrase is best accompanied by an eye roll or a look of disbelief.

Alot /a lot

Alot is NOT A WORD. For more information about the infamous alot, check out this post from Hyperbole and a Half. (This post is totally SFW, but some of the other posts have quite a bit of language.)

A lot, on the other hand, consists of two words: ‘a’ and ‘lot.’ You know what this means, but I see a lot of people who turn these two words into one compound word. Put a space between these words. To help you remember, go check out the post at Hyperbole and a Half. Not only will it help you get this set in your memory, it’s just plain funny.

What are some usage errors that you catch yourself making? Share any thoughts in the comments. 

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