Common Errors in English Usage Part 1
As promised, this is the first of our “Common Errors in English Usage” series. The definition of errors can be very complicated and controversial, hence we will not elaborate on this technical term. Rather, we are more concerned with some usual deviations from the standard use of English, especially by ESL students. In this part, we’re looking at the errors in word usage.
ADVANCE vs. ADVANCED
When you hear about something in advance, you get notice or information ahead of time. Advance also means to move forward or to make progress. Advance can also function as adjective, as in the case of “an advance payment”, which means payment made ahead of time/before hand.
When you say something is advanced, it means “complex or sophisticated” and should not be confused with the past tense form of “advance”.
Note: We often see advertisements use “Advance Level”, which should be “Advanced Level”.
A, B and C are called letters of the alphabet, NOT alphabets. Alphabet is a character set that includes letters and is used to write a language.
AWHILE vs. A WHILE
When “awhile” is spelled as a single word, it is an adverb meaning “for a time” (“stay awhile”); but when “while” is the object of a prepositional phrase, like “Lend me your monkey wrench for a while” the “while” must be separated from the “a.” (But if the preposition “for” were lacking in this sentence, “awhile” could be used in this way: “Lend me your monkey wrench awhile.”)
BACKUP vs. BACK UP
To “back up” is an activity; “back up your computer regularly”; “back up the truck to the garden plot and unload the compost.”
A “backup” is a thing: “keep your backup copies in a safe place.” Other examples: a traffic backup, sewage backup, backup plan, backup forces.
COMPLEMENT vs. COMPLIMENT
Most of the time the word people intend is “compliment”: nice things said about someone or praise.
Complement, on the other hands, means supplement each other or making something complete.
e.g. vs. i.e.
“e.g.” is the short form for exempli gratia, and means “for example”. “i.e.” is the short form for id est, and means “that is”. Use “e.g.” when you want to give an example (or several examples) of something just mentioned. Use “i.e.” when you wish to explain briefly or to clarify what you just said, or say the same thing in other words.
PRINCIPLE Vs. PRINCIPAL
A principle is a formulation regarded as a basis for thought or action. For example, the principles of liberty.
A principal is the person you see in schools, who leads the school administration. As an adjective, “principal” means “foremost, first, primary, main”, as in “the principal reason I am here is …” or “the principal cause of this phenomenon is …”
LOSE Vs. LOOSE
Contrary to normal rules of English, the single ’s’ in loose is pronounced like an ’s’ – as in wearing trousers that are too loose. Lose on the other hand, relates to loss – for example: “I hope we don’t lose this game”. A good way to remember this is that in the word “lose” you have lost the second ‘o’ from loose.
BORED Vs. BORING
Students often use “I was very boring at the party”. It should be “I was very bored at the party”. Adjectives that end with -ed talk about one’s own feelings, whereas adjectives that end with -ing talk about a person, a thing or a situation that causes one’s feelings. Examples: The movie was boring (so I felt bored). My boyfriend has a very annoying habit (so I am annoyed).
IRREGARDLESS Vs. REGARDLESS
Irregardless is an informal term, which is technically incorrect. The suffix “-less” in regardless has already indicated the meaning of “without”. By adding “ir-” as prefix (means “not”), it creates a “double negative”, which shows the opposite meaning instead.
We’ll explore more errors in Part 2. If you would like to contribute, please email us.