As a copywriter, it's reasonable for people to assume that I have a fairly solid grasp of the English language. And, when it comes to spelling, grammar and my overall understanding, I think that I do reasonably well.
But I'm not perfect.
This post looks at some words that don't come naturally to me, or more specifically, pairs of similar words. Each of the list below has caught me out at some stage.
Some I know, but take me a moment to confirm in my own mind that I'm right. There are also a couple that are complete mental blocks and cause me to doubt myself again and again.
As there are only eight pairs here, clearly this list isn't exclusive. It's more a sample of my confusion.
This is possibly the pairing here that I am most comfortable with. Altogether being the adverb meaning 'completely' or 'entirely', with 'all together' referring to items or people being together.
The second-half was altogether different from the first 45 minutes.
The family were all together for Christmas.
Here, I'm not so sure of myself. Usually, affect is a verb, meaning 'to influence or make a difference to.' Effect can be a noun or verb, but is more commonly used as the former, as in 'a result or an influence.'
The heavy rain will affect my holiday.
He was still feeling the effects of his night out.
Can't is a contraction of cannot. Can't is most commonly used for informal writing. Can not is is written less often. It appears mostly when can precedes a phrase that starts with not.
I can't believe it's not butter.
He stated that he cannot accept the proposal.
Running can not only improve physical health, but also mental health.
Compliment is 'to show admiration or praise for someone or something.' Complement is when 'two separate items look or work better because they are together.'
I must compliment you for all your hard work.
The wine complements the meal perfectly.
Then there's complimentary, as in 'free of charge.'
The young fan was delighted with his complementary ticket for the match.
'It's' is always short for 'it is' or, in informal speech, for 'it has.' 'Its', means 'belonging to.'
It's going to start raining any minute now.
It's got leather seats.
The mother looked after its young.
Is one a shortened version of the other? Is one more formal? This is a pairing that trips me up.
The answer to both of the questions above is 'no.' Both are equally acceptable, they are just different ways to spell the same word. Ok?
Let's is another example of a contraction, this time of 'let us.' Lets is the third person singular present tense form of let – no, that doesn't mean much to me either. I prefer the examples.
Let's just stay in.
She lets her children play outside for longer in summer.
Who's is a contraction of 'who is' or 'who has.' Whose is a possessive, meaning 'of whom' or 'belonging to who.'
Who's up for a few beers and a curry?
I'm not sure whose parents arrived first.
I'm sure everyone has words or phrases that test them. These are some of mine.