Tricky Words

Alumni  |  Alumni Abbreviations  |  Collective Nouns  |  Passive Voice |  That/Which  |  Commonly Misused Words  |  Commonly Misspelled Words

 

Alumni

This word construction is taken directly from its Latin origins. Therefore, the noun forms are gender specific: “alumna” refers to one woman; “alumnae” refers to women; “alumnus” refers to one man; “alumni” refers to men or men and women. It’s rare to see the feminine plural form, “alumnae.” Most often the form “alumni” is used for any group of graduates. Also, “alumnus” can refer to anyone who attended a school, not just one who graduated.

University of Texas at Austin alumni are most commonly known as Texas Exes. The university’s alumni association, the Ex-Students’ Association, prefers to be known as the Texas Exes.

Right:

The Distinguished Alumnus Award is given annually by the Texas Exes.

 

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Alumni Abbreviations

Identify past and current students by using the abbreviation for the alum’s academic degree with the last two digits of the graduation year. It is important that the apostrophe points in the correct direction: down and to the left.

Right:

Karen Elliott House, B.J. ’70, was recently named publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

Right:

Bill Moyers, B.A. ’56, participated in the university’s centennial celebration.

If a person received more than one degree from The University of Texas at Austin, use both years and put a comma between them.

Right:

Patricia Ohlendorf, B.A. ’74, J.D. ’77, is the university’s vice president for institutional relations and legal affairs.

Consistency is the key as to the method of indicating the alum’s year of graduation. The choice is yours as to using parens or commas and the use of spaces. Pick one and use consistently throughout your publication.

 

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Collective Nouns

The collective nouns “faculty” and “staff” are singular nouns. If you wish to use a plural construction, use “members of the faculty/staff” or “faculty/staff members.”

Right:

The faculty is represented by the Faculty Council.

Right:

Members of the faculty are dedicated researchers and teachers.

Right:

Staff members disagree among themselves about the best benefits options.

Right:

The University of Texas at Austin staff numbers about 18,000.

 

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Passive Voice

Avoid using the passive voice, which can contribute to imprecise, weak or wordy prose.

Think about this sentence: “Jane’s classes were taught in the morning.” Taught by whom? Is Jane a teacher or a student? An active construction would clarify the sentence: “Professor Smith taught Jane’s morning classes.”

When a passive construction makes an appearance in an early draft, think about the sentence. Try to alter the construction and choose an active verb. Concise sentences with active verbs and a few, carefully selected modifiers communicate most clearly to the reader.

Passive:

The program is activated with a key by the engineer.

Active:

The engineer activates the program with a key.

Sometimes passive voice is a better choice. For example, when the recipient of an award is more important than the awarding body, it’s better to keep this information in the lead of the sentence: “Marcia Gay Harden was selected as the 2001 commencement speaker for the College of Fine Arts.”

 

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That/Which

These words cause so much confusion that they deserve a section of their own. “That” and “which” often are used incorrectly in clauses.

When referring to a human being (or an animal with a name), any clause should be introduced by the word “who” or “whom.”

When referring to an object or nameless animal with an essential clause—one that cannot be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence—use the word “that” to introduce the clause. Essential clauses do not need commas.

When referring to an object or nameless animal with a non-essential clause—one that can be eliminated from the sentence without changing the basic meaning—use the word “which” to introduce the clause. If non-essential clauses appear in the middle of sentences, they may need to be set off by commas.

A simple test: Once your sentence is written, try reading it without the clause. If the sentence still means about the same thing, your clause should be introduced by “which.” If taking out the clause changes the meaning drastically, it should be introduced by “that.”

Right:

The club meeting, which was held at Little City, was cancelled.

Meaning:

The club meeting was cancelled. (We must already know which club meeting it is.)

Right:

The club meeting that was held at Little City was cancelled.

Meaning:

The only meeting being held at Little City was cancelled. (Another way to think of essential clauses—you don’t really need the word “that.”)

Better:

The club meeting held at Little City was cancelled.

 

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Commonly Misused Words

adverse/averse:

“Adverse” means unfavorable. “Averse” means reluctant.

adviser/advisor

“Adviser” is preferred although both are correct.

affect/effect

“To affect” means (1) to influence, change or produce an effect; (2) to like to do, wear or use; or (3) to pretend. “To effect” means to accomplish, complete, cause, make possible or carry out. If you’re looking for a noun, you’re probably looking for “effect.” If you’re using a verb, you’re safest with “affect.”

afterward

not afterwards

all right

not alright

allude/refer

“To allude” means to speak of without mentioning. “To refer” means to speak of directly.

allusion/illusion

An “allusion” is an indirect reference. An “illusion” is a false impression or image.

alumna/ae

An alumna is one woman. Alumnae are women.

alumni/us

Alumni are men or men and women. An alumnus is one man.

around/about

“Around” should refer to a physical proximity or surrounding (I’ll look for you around the front of Walter Webb Hall). “About” indicates an approximation (Let’s have lunch about 11:30 a.m.).

beside/besides

Use “beside” to mean (1) at the side of (sit beside me); (2) to compare with (beside other studies); or (3) apart from (that’s beside the point). Use “besides” to mean (1) furthermore (besides, I said so); (2) in addition to (and elm and maple trees besides); or (3) otherwise (there’s no one here besides Bill and me).

between/among

Use “between” to show a relationship between two objects only. Use “among” when it’s more than two.

“Between” takes an objective pronoun — me, her, him. “Between you and me” is OK. “Between you and I” is not.

biannual/biennial

“Biannual” is twice a year. “Biennial” is every two years.

complement/compliment

“Complement” is something that supplements. “Compliment” is praise or the expression of courtesy.

compose/comprise/constitute

“Compose” is to create or put together. “Comprise” is to contain, to include all or embrace. “Constitute” is to make up, to be the elements of.

Examples:

The whole comprises the parts. The parts constitute the whole. The whole is composed of parts.

 

The department comprises 12 people. Twelve people constitute the department. The department is composed of 12 people.

continual/continuous

“Continual” is a steady repetition. “Continuous” is uninterrupted.

criteria

plural (more than one criterion, which is a quality, a value or a standard of judgment)

curricula

plural (more than one curriculum, which is a program of academic courses or learning activities—the College of Natural Sciences curricula)

curricular

adjective (College of Natural Sciences’ curricular philosophy)

curriculum

singular (the Chemistry curriculum)

data

plural noun, usually takes a plural verb; if used as a collective noun, when the group or quantity is regarded as a noun, it takes a singular verb (the data is sound).

daylight-saving time

not daylight-savings time

different from

not different than

disinterested/uninterested

“Disinterested” means impartial. “Uninterested” means someone lacks interest.

dissociate

not disassociate

entitled/titled

“Entitled” means having the right to something (she is entitled to the inheritance). Use “titled” to introduce the name of a publication, speech, musical piece (the piece is titled “Love and Illusion”).

farther/further

“Farther” refers to physical distance. “Further” refers to an extension of time or degree.

fewer/less

In general, use “fewer” for individual items that can be counted. Use “less” for bulk or quantity that is measured (not counted). “Fewer” usually takes a plural noun; “less” usually takes a singular noun.

half-mast/half-staff

To use “half-mast,” you must be referring to a flag on a ship or at a naval station. A flag anywhere else is at “half-staff.”

historic/historical

“Historic” means important. “Historical” refers to any event in the past.

hopefully

Try to avoid this one unless you’re describing the way someone spoke, appeared or acted. Traditionally it means "in a hopeful manner," although in modern colloquial use it can mean "it is hoped" or "we hope." The Associated Press has recently allowed this use of "hopefully," although we still find it grating. It's better to rephrase.

Right:

I hope we can go.

Wrong:

Hopefully, we can go.

Wrong:

Hopefully, the report will address that issue.

Right:

It is hoped the report will address that issue.

Right:

She eyed the interview list hopefully.

important/importantly

“Importantly” is incorrect unless it is an adverb.

Right:

He strutted importantly through the castle.

Right:

More important, he said, the quality of the program must not suffer.

imply/infer

“Imply” means to suggest or indicate indirectly. To “infer” is to conclude or decide from something known or assumed.

In general, if you imply something, you’re sending out a message. If you infer something, you’re interpreting a message.

in regard to

not in regards to

“As regards” or “regarding” may also be used.

insure/ensure

“Insure” means to establish a contract for insurance of some type. “Ensure” means to guarantee.

General rule? Use “ensure.”

irregardless

The word is “regardless.” “Irregardless”? No such word.

-ize

Do not coin verbs with this suffix, and do not use already coined words such as “finalize” (use “end” or “conclude”) or “utilize” (use “use”).

lay/lie

“Lay” means to place or deposit, and requires a direct object (forms: lay, laid, laid, laying). “Lie” means to be in a reclining position or to be situated. It does not take an object (forms: lie, lay, lain, lying).

lectern/podium

You stand on a podium and behind a lectern.

let/leave

To “let alone” means to leave something undisturbed. To “leave alone” means to depart from or cause to be in solitude.

like/as

Use “like” to compare nouns and pronouns. Use “as” to introduce clauses and phrases.

literally/figuratively

“Literally” means in an exact sense. “Figuratively” means in a comparative sense. The AP Stylebook recently changed its rules to allow "literally" as a synomym for "figuratively," but we still avoid it.

Right:

The furnace literally exploded.

Wrong:

He was so furious he literally exploded.

located

 

In most cases, you’ll find you don’t really need this word. Instead of “The store is located in the Texas Union,” you can simply write “The store is in the Texas Union.” Instead of “Where are you located at?” (which is the worst construction of all), write “Where are you?”

many/much

In general, use “many” for individual items that can be counted. Use “much” for bulk or quantity that is measured.

midnight/noon

Use instead of 12 a.m. or 12 p.m. Do not put a “12” in front of either one.

me/myself

Avoid using “myself.” In most constructions, it’s the objective pronoun you really want.

Right:

It’s between you and me.

Wrong:

You can tell your supervisor or myself.

more than/over

Use “more than” when you mean in excess of; use “over” when referring to physical placement of an object, an ending or extent of authority.

 

 

This is an exception to a March 2014 AP Stylebook rule change allowing the use of "over" to mean "more than."

Right:

More than 25 professors participated.

Wrong:

The university has over 50 buildings.

nor

Use this word anytime you use “neither.”

oral/verbal

“Oral” refers to spoken words. “Verbal” can refer to either spoken or written words, but most often connotes the process of reducing ideas to writing.

partially/partly

These two are not interchangeable. “Partially” is used to mean to a certain degree when speaking of a condition or state. “Partly” implies the idea of a part, usually of a physical object, as distinct from the whole.

Right:

I’m partially convinced.

Wrong:

The building is partially completed.

Right:

The building is in a state of partial completion.

Right:

The building is partly completed.

 

past experience

What other kind of experience is there? Just use “experience” alone.

peddle/pedal

To “peddle” is to sell. To “pedal” is to use pedals, as on a bicycle.

people/persons

Use “person” when speaking of an individual. The word “people,” rather than “persons,” is preferred for plural uses.

pom-pom/pompon

“Pom-pom” is a rapidly firing weapon. A cheerleader’s prop is correctly called a “pompon.”

premier/premiere

“Premier” is first in status or importance, chief, or a prime minister or chief executive. “Premiere” is a first performance.

presently/currently

Many writers use these terms as if they were synonymous. But “presently” means in a little while, soon. “Currently” means now. In most cases you can do just fine without using “currently.” For example, “we are currently revising the plan” works better when simply stated, “we are revising the plan.”

pretense/pretext

“Pretense” is a false show or unsupported claim to some distinction or accomplishment. “Pretext” is a false reason or motive put forth to hide the real one, an excuse or a cover-up.

principal/principle

“Principal” as a noun is a chief person or thing; as an adjective, it means first in importance. “Principle” is a noun meaning a fundamental truth, doctrine or law; a guiding rule or code of conduct; a method of operation.

rebut/refute

To “rebut” is to argue to the contrary. To “refute” is to win the argument.

regardless

“Regardless” is a word. “Irregardless” is not a word.

shall/will

“Shall” is used for the first-person future tense and expresses the speaker’s belief regarding his or her future action or state.

If “will” is used for first-person future, it expresses his or her determination or consent. At other times, “will” is used for the second- and third-person future tense.

student body

Use “student” or “students” instead.

that/which

See That/Which

theater/theatre

The preferred word in the United States is “theater,” unless the British spelling is part of a proper name, as in “B. Iden Payne Theatre” or “Lab Theatre.”

toward/towards

“Toward” is correct. “Towards” is not.

unique

Commonly overused, this word literally means one of a kind, without equal. “Unique” should never be modified by “truly,” “rather” or “very.” Something is either unique or it’s not.

use/utilize

Use “use.” “Utilize” is the awkward verb form of the obsolete adjective “utile.” Why bother?

who/whom

We rarely see the word “whom” in writing. But if your sentence has an objective clause referring to a person or animal with a proper name, you’re being ungrammatical if you don’t use whom.

The word “who” substitutes for the subjective pronouns he, she or they; “whom” must be used in the sense of him, her or them. If you don’t want to use “whom,” restructure your sentence. Don’t just stick in “who” when it is incorrect.

-wise

Do not use this suffix to coin words like “weatherwise.”

Xerox/photocopy

A trademark for a brand of photocopy machine should never be used as a noun or verb.

 

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Commonly Misspelled Words

This is just a small sampling to get you thinking. When in doubt, use a computer spelling program or look it up (or both).

accommodate

acknowledgment

aesthetics (not esthetics)

antiquated

bandanna

canister

catalog (not catalogue)

commitment

conscience

consensus

counselor

deductible

dissension

drunkenness

ecstasy

embarrass

exhilarate

foreword

harass

hors d’oeuvres

inadvertent

indispensable

inoculate

insistent

irresistible

judgment

knowledgeable

liaison

memento

nickel

occurred

occurrence

perseverance

prerogative

privilege

proceed

sponsor

supposedly (not supposably)

tyrannous

undoubtedly (not undoubtably)

vacuum

vilify

 

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