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Five Misused Word Pairs

Some words suffer misuse, abuse and confusion on a regular basis. The longer it’s been since English composition class, the harder it is to remember the rules that guide their use. Or maybe it’s that one letter in the middle that ties up our brains. Here’s a review of misuse and correct use for five favorites:

1. Between/among: Just between you and I, this pair of words is among the most misused by business writers. Just remember that between refers to comparisons of only two, as in my example above. Among refers to a larger group. For example, he is the most qualified among all of the applicants. The only exception to the rule is when you discuss a reciprocal relationship: “An agreement was reached between the four partners to avoid misuse of words in all future correspondence.”

2. Cite/site: When you cite this blog post, be sure to mention the web site on which is appeared. Cite is a verb that means to refer to or quote a reference or expert. Site is a noun that means a location, such as a building site. If it helps you remember, use web site as an example of a location online.

3. Allude/elude: “When my child who is away at college told me about her evening out with friends, she only alluded to her late-night adventure, at which she barely eluded arrest by local police.” Allude means to indirectly or casually mention something (not to refer to it directly). Elude is to avoid a situation or to escape something.

4. Complement/compliment: It will complement your writing skills to correctly use all words, which might bring forth a compliment from an important executive within your company. To complement is to round out or make whole, such as when a coworker says: “That scarf is a perfect complement to your outfit.” You also could consider the coworker’s comment a compliment, which is praise or admiration. This would be especially true if your coworker added, “You have such a great fashion sense.” When writing, however, remember to use complement when referring to products that go together.

5. Ensure/insure/assure. This pair has a bonus. We wanted to ensure that you really got the point. Many readers cringe when they see “insure” used for both “ensure” and “assure.” The word insure is a term specifically meant to cover, if you’ll excuse the pun, indemnifying and safeguarding of property, lives, etc. Ensure is the term most often confused with insure. Ensure means to make certain, as I used in that first sentence. I’m not guaranteeing this for you with a written policy, but I want to make certain that you stop mixing these words up! Assure is more of a feeling word, meant to offer certainty, but usually as a comfort or support. “I want to assure you that I have taken the time to learn how to use words appropriately and will communicate more effectively from this day forth.”

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