There are a number of words that are frequently confused by people. In this post I hope to clarify nine of these pairs.
Bought and Brought.
Brought is the past tense of ‘to bring’ and means to fetch something.
e.g. The dog brought the ball back to me.
Bought is the past tense of ‘to buy’ and means to purchase something.
e.g. When I went to town I bought a new blouse.
The mistake is always using brought for bought and never the other way round.
Fewer and Less
This is a very common one. So many people will talk about ‘There were less people at the match than last week.’
It should be ‘There were fewer people at the match than last week.’
Less is used for things that you measure (like weight, temperature, volume,etc)
Fewer is used for things you count (like people, goals, items in a basket at the checkout, etc)
A simple rule of thumb can be: If it only comes in whole numbers, then it’s fewer, but if it can be in fractions, then it’s less.
Literally and Virtually
Literally means that it actually happened.
e.g. It was literally snowing a blizzard.
In this case, there would be no visibility to speak of and snow falling as if it were in the Arctic or Antarctic with a strong wind blowing it almost horizontal.
Virtually means it is not actually that thing. It is used when a metaphor is used.
e.g. The footballer was virtually flying down the wing.
If the speaker or writer said ‘The footballer was literally flying down the wing’, that would mean that he had somehow sprouted wings!
Infer and Imply
I recently heard a broadcaster on the radio use infer when she meant imply. These people ought to know better. Most, I assume, are journalists, or at least have a ‘good’ education with a degree. They should know the difference, and if they don’t, in my opinion, should not be in the job.
Imply is what someone says when they want to suggest something without actually saying it in so many words.
e.g.‘He implied that he was going to come with us.’
Infer means that someone has drawn a conclusion from a statement.
e.g. ‘From what he said, I inferred that he was going to come with us.’
Lose and Loose.
This is one for the written word.
Lose is when you misplace something.
e.g. You are going to lose your purse if you don’t put it away.
Loose is when something comes undone.
e.g. My shoelace has come loose.
Tragedy and Travesty.
A Tragedy is something very sad.
e.g. It is a tragedy that he died so young.
A Travesty is to make something ridiculous.
e.g. The dogs runnign onto the pitch made the football match a travesty.
Effect and Affect
Effect is a noun. It is the result of something.
e,g, What is the effect of mixing red and yellow together?
Affect is a verb. It says what something does.
e.g. How did the accident affect you?
Popular and Common
This is one I heard from young people when I was teaching.
Popular means well liked by a lot of people.
e.g. Dean was always full of fun and so was very popular with his team mates.
Common means that there are a lot of them.
e.g. Herring gulls are very common in Brighton.
In this last incident, many pupils would say that the herring gulls were very popular, but if you asked the car owners of Brighton, I think you would get a very different view.
Defective and Deficient
Defective means that a thing is broken in some way.
e.g. I sent my new vacuum cleaner back because it was defective. It was failing to pick up the dirt.
Deficient means that there is something missing.
e.g. The new wardrobe I bought was deficient. There were not enough screws to put it together.