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Using These 10 Words Incorrectly Reflects Poorly on You

When communicating in business writing or speaking, using the right word helps get your point across. Using the wrong word can backfire, either causing confusion or making you look bad to important clients or superiors.

Make your business message work – and make a good impression – by using these 10 words correctly and avoiding a potentially embarrassing mistake.

Principle vs. principal. Remember the phrase, “Your principal is your pal?” If that helps you remember the correct use of these tricky words, keep it in mind. When the word ends in “pal,” it refers to someone or something of utmost importance, such as a principal client or principal in a firm. This also is the version that refers to the money owed on a loan (as in principal and interest), something always of utmost importance. Principles also are important, but the term refers to something more philosophical or fundamental. “Our organization was founded on the principles of honesty, integrity and the firm belief the customer comes first.”

Mute and moot. Something is a moot point (as in unimportant, and pronounced like the sound a cow makes). Mute is what you do to your television when the phone rings.

Insure vs. ensure. This is one of the most misunderstood of words. Insure is pretty much restricted to the business of insurance, or when compensation is involved. “We insure your home in the event of a natural disaster.” Otherwise, use ensure whenever you mean “make sure.”

Every day or everyday. Everyday is an adjective, used to describe something as commonplace, so it needs a noun to follow. “These are my everyday walking shoes.” Every day stands alone and means something happens every day. “I wear these same shoes on my lunchtime walks every day.”

Less or fewer. This is a little more difficult to remember, but generally fewer is used for items you can count, and less for items more difficult to quantify. For example, “It takes less time to conduct the meeting if we involve fewer managers.”

If English is not your native language learn more about using words or idiomatic expressions correctly with our Business English Essentials program. See a complete list of 75 words often used incorrectly in this article on ( by Jeff Haden.

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