I NEED TO BE honest; I was a little nervous about how readers were going to respond to the original article, “How to NOT Sound or Write like an Idiot in a Professional Setting
.” The last thing I wanted to do was sound like a closed-minded, intolerant jerk. I merely wanted to site the sometimes-cloudy difference between right and wrong when it comes to certain commonly misused words and phrases. Honestly, I learned several of those by misusing them myself, only to be chuckled at and corrected by whoever happened to be standing around at the time. Nobody’s perfect, but the nice part about Expert Business Advice is that we’re all here to humbly help each other succeed in business.
Luckily, however, not only was the article well-received (whew!), but readers responded with several of their own examples of botched words and expressions that they had heard around the office that I hadn’t included in the original article. As such, I decided to produce a sequel to my original article, “How to NOT Sound or Write like an Idiot in a Professional Setting.”
Mispronunciations & Multiple Words that Sound Alike and are Often Misused:
All together / Altogether: All together is applied to people or things that are being treated as a group. “I put the socks and boxers all together in the drawer.” All together is the form that must be used if the sentence can be reworded so that all and together are separated by other words: “I put all the socks and underwear together in the drawer.” Altogether is used to mean entirely: “I am altogether pleased to be getting this promotion.”
Alternately / Alternatively: Alternately is an adverb that means in turn; one after the other: “We alternately do the dishes every day.” Alternatively is an adverb that means on the other hand; one or the other: “You can choose an expensive car or, alternatively, you can buy a more affordable car and a boat.”
Biannually / Semiannually: Biannually is an adjective that means every two years: “I submitted my name for the biannual political election.” Semiannually is an adjective that means happening twice a year: “We have semiannual corporate retreats in June and December.” This is something every businessperson should know, especially if you’re negotiating compound interest.
Cite / Site: Cite is a verb that means to quote as an authority or example: “I cited several reputable sources in my study of clown suicides.” It also means to recognize formally: “The Army Officer was cited for service to the country.” It can also mean to summon before a court of law: “Last year, the CEO was cited for ethical violations.” Site is a noun meaning location: “They are breaking ground tomorrow on the new building site.”
Comprise / Compose: According to the traditional rule, the whole comprises the parts, and the parts compose the whole. Thus, the team comprises ten players, whereas ten players compose (or make up) the team. It is also correct to say that the team is composed (not comprised) of ten players.
Concurrent / Consecutive: Concurrent is an adjective that means simultaneous or happening at the same time as something else: “The concurrent injuries of several players crippled the team’s success.” Consecutive means successive or following one after the other: “The team had five consecutive injuries in one season.”
Connote / Denote: Connote is a verb that means to imply or suggest: “The word ‘stupid’ connotes ignorance and unintelligence.” Denote is a verb that means to indicate or refer to specifically: “The symbol ‘®’ denotes a registered trademark.”
Council / Councilor / Counsel / Counselor: A councilor is a member of a council, which is an assembly called together for discussion or deliberation. A counselor is one who gives counsel, which is advice or guidance. More specifically, a counselor can be an attorney or a supervisor at camp.
Disinterested / Uninterested: Disinterested is an adjective that means unbiased or impartial: “We told the disinterested principal that we didn’t deserve detention.” Uninterested is an adjective that means not interested or indifferent: “They seemed uninterested in our product.”
Figuratively / Literally: Figuratively is an adverb that means metaphorically or symbolically: “Discovering the rubber snake, they figuratively jumped out of their skin.” Literally is an adverb that means 'actually': “I'm not exaggerating when I say that mom literally bought the farm.” It also means according to the exact meaning of the words: “I translated the Russian passage literally.” Fun fact: Literally is the most misused word in the English language.
Flammable / Inflammable: These two words are actually synonyms, both meaning easily set on fire. "The highly flammable (inflammable) Velcro™ was stored safely away from the candles." If you mean not flammable, use ‘nonflammable.’
Hanged / Hung: This is a big one. Hanged is the past tense and past participle of hang when the meaning is to execute by suspending by the neck: “They hanged the woman for witchcraft.” “The convicted thief was hanged at dusk.” Hung is the past tense and participle of hang when the meaning is to suspend from above with no support from below: “I hung the slacks in the closet.” “The sheet was hung out on the clothesline.”
Historic / Historical: In general usage, historic refers to what is important in history, while historical applies more broadly to whatever existed in the past, whether it was important or not: “a historic relinquishing of command between the generals;” “historical buildings are being refurbished near my house.”
Laboratory / Lavatory: A laboratory is a place where scientists conduct experiments and other scientific business. A lavatory is a bathroom, typically found on an airplane, where people conduct, well, other business.
Stationary / Stationery: Stationary
is an adjective that means fixed or unmoving: “They sailed around the stationary rocks in the bay.” Stationery
is a noun that means writing materials: “We printed the letters on company stationery.”