Spelling, Vocabulary, and Confusing Words

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Many words in English sound or look alike, causing confusion and not a few headaches. This section lists some of these words, and other troublemakers.


Naval: pertaining to ships; nautical.

Navel: belly button.


As a conjunction, neither often teams with nor: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." The rule many learned in fifth grade was, "Neither … nor, either … or, but never neither … or."

Neitheror is another once-unthinkable faux pas gaining momentum among people who ought to know better. A political adviser's resignation letter read, "This position is not a fit for me, neither personally or professionally." (Make it "either.")

A big-city newspaper editor wrote, "I neither commissioned or approved it." Even editors need editors.


See knew, new.


See all-time record.


Note the double s.

Nonplussed is widely misused as a synonym for cool or unfazed: Despite his anxiety, he appeared nonplussed. Clearly, the writer meant nonchalant. nonplussed means the opposite: "confused," "thrown off." His strange behavior left her nonplussed.


See neither … or.


See just.


A critic wrote: "Burgess gained notoriety with his wildly popular children's books." Another oft-abused word, notoriety has somehow become a good thing. But can't you hear the notorious in notoriety? There are all kinds of fame; notoriety is one of the bad kinds, just down the pike from infamy. This is a word best reserved for describing the world's scoundrels.


See amount, number.

Misused Words

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