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Words often confused

“In American English, ‘insure’ has come to mean to protect against liability. You insure your car or home. ‘Ensure’ means to guarantee or make certain.”

— John Edmonds

affect, effect
“Effect” is usually a noun. The effect was nearly fatal. “Affect” is usually a verb or verbal derivative. The medication might affect your judgment. No one was seriously affected. Apply the medicine to the affected area. When “effect” is a verb, it means to bring about. The teacher strike effected change.

anymore, any more
“Anymore” is an adverb: The house is not there anymore. “Any more” is an adjective plus a pronoun. I went to buy apples, but there weren’t any more left.

anytime, any time
“Anytime” is an adverb: Call me anytime. “Any time” is an adjective plus a noun. I’d love to go, but I don't have any time.

careen, career
Careen means to lean sideways or to lurch from side to side. Career means to move at full speed or to rush wildly. Usually when we say a car “careened” off the road, we mean it careered off the road.

ensure, insure
In American English, “insure” has come to mean to protect against liability. You insure your car or home. “Ensure” means to guarantee or make certain. Use a dictionary to ensure that you have chosen the right word. The British still use “insure” to mean “ensure,” but the Associated Press style manual says “insure” is only for references to insurance policies.

episode, incident
An incident is simply something that happens, an occurrence (a crime, an accident, a UFO landing). An episode is an event that is part of a larger one or that is one of a series of connected events. If a guy robs a liquor store or tries to abduct a child, it’s usually just an incident, not an episode. Episodes are for television series, novels or stage works or for periods or events in history (an episode in a war).

everyday, every day
“Everyday” is an adjective meaning daily or ordinary. These are my everyday boots. This was not your everyday bank heist. “Every day” is an adjective plus a noun. I think about you every day.

forgo, forego
“Forego” means to precede. In its proper usage, it is rare in print these days, which means writers who use it usually mean “forgo,” to go without. We will have to forgo this luxury. (Mnemonic device: Forgo forgoes the e).

sometime, some time
“Sometime” is an adverb or adjective. Let’s talk about it sometime. She was my sometime friend. “Some time” is an adjective plus a noun. It’s gonna take some time this time ... (bonus points if you recognize that tune).

whatnot, what not
A whatnot is a piece of furniture. “What not” means “so forth” or “what have you.” We packed rope, water, tools and what not.

Any other words confuse you? Contact Word Polish to suggest additions to the list.

Copyright John Edmonds/WordPolish. Reprinted with permission.


About the Author
John Edmonds has more than 10 years of experience in editing for authors, scholars, newspapers and Web sites. Since 1997, he has been a copy editor at the Anchorage Daily News, where he is the newsroom grammarian and arbiter of style. He also runs a freelance editing business, Wordpolish.com. Update 12/8/05 - Though no longer in Alaska, John Edmonds remains an honorary AlaskaWriter, and may still be reached through his Web site, WordPolish.com.

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>> Lesley Thomas
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