As copywriters, our reputation can rest on our understanding of language. On which turn of phrase will get a response from the reader but at a more basic level, which words are actually right to use.
This week I want to tackle some of the clangers in copywriting. The most commonly misused and misspelled words that make us do a double take during proofing and run through our rules to make sure we’ve selected the right word.
Practise vs Practice
This is definitely a word I have to consider before I write it and the difference between these two versions is the difference between the verb (practise) and the noun (practice).
To see them used will probably make more sense.
If you will practise your copywriting, you will be repeating an activity until you improve. (verb)
If you are visiting your doctor’s practice, you’re talking about a place (noun).
This verb / noun scenario also applies to:
License vs Licence where the verb talks about licensing a venue while the noun talked about a physical licence, like a driver’s licence
Advice vs Advise where advice is your oh so helpful opinion (noun) and advise is the act of giving that opinion out (verb).
I got a great tip on Facebook which was Soccer practiSe… follow the esses to action!
Affect vs Effect
This is another combo that always stops me in my tracks. Once again it’s the difference between a noun (effect) and a verb (affect). This is how I remember them:
If it’s something you’re going to do, use “affect.” If it’s something you’ve already done, use “effect.”
Discrete vs Discreet
These two words aren’t ones I used very often but I do a quick check before I do use them, just to make sure I’ve got the right word.
Discrete is something that’s independent, like a unit of measure that has a start and end point.
Discreet is being a bit more careful than usual so you don’t cause embarrassment.
Complementary vs Complimentary
Once again, two very different meanings but the spelling is so similar that I usually pause to check which one I mean.
Complementary is when you combine a few associated things to create something better
Complimentary refers to the nice things you say to partner when they’ve got new duds on (or it’s the freebie you get in your show bag 😉 ).
I like compliments! PS That’s my hint, not an invitation although compliments are always welcome.
Stationary vs Stationery
My neighbour recently told me that he’d noticed a cupboard at his kid’s school labelled “Stationary”. He added that he’d never seen the cabinet move so they were technically right. If that doesn’t make sense, read on!
Stationary is the state of stillness like zen meditation… or a cabinet
Stationery is the pens, paper and other interesting things you find at Officeworks.
I remember the difference by thinking ‘e’ is for the envelope!
Enquiry vs Inquiry
Now this one is actually a UK/US difference but British English does actually use the words differently as well.
Enquiry is a question.
Inquiry is an official investigation
And to finish, some old favourites that we all get wrong every now and then. To explain They’re vs Their, You’re vs Your and It’s vs Its I thought I would like to a cartoon by Oatmeal which explains them perfectly!
Are there any words that make you stop and think? Do you have any rules, rhymes or hints you can share?
Belinda (AKA The Copy Detective)