Common Word-Choice Errors

Saturday, April 30, 2022


By Bobbie Christmas 

Q: What are the most common errors you find in manuscripts you edit?
A: I find and correct errors in word choice, punctuation, spelling, grammar, and more, so the answer is far too long to address in full here. My Purge Your Prose of Problems reference book (available only through my website, cites more than seven hundred errors I’ve spotted repeatedly in manuscripts I’ve edited. Here I’ll address a few specific word choices that confuse many writers. 
Compliment as a verb means to flatter. (I complimented her on her dress.) 
Compliment as a noun means an admiring remark. (She smiled at the compliment.)
Complement as a verb means to complete. (The mask complemented her costume.)
Complement as a noun means something that completes or makes perfect. (The written report was the perfect complement to her business proposal.) 
Ensure means to make sure. (I took a course in CPR to ensure I could help my husband if he had a heart attack.)
Insure means to cover with insurance. (The policy insured my house, but not my car.) 
Affect is a verb that most commonly is used in the sense of to influence. (He learned how smoking affects his health.) 
Affect can also mean to feign for effect. (She affected an English accent to impress her future boss.) 
Effect, however, can be either a verb or a noun. 
As a verb effect means to bring about or execute. (The layoffs were designed to effect savings.) 
As a noun effect means something brought about by a cause or an agent; a result. (The new carpet had a dramatic effect on the room.) 
Use extreme caution when choosing between affect and effect. “These measures may affect savings” implies that the measures may reduce savings that have already been realized, whereas “These measures may effect savings” implies that the measures will save money. 
Many Americans get the spelling of acknowledgment wrong because Brits spell it with an extra e, but Americans should not. If publishing in America, spell acknowledgment with no e after the g. 
Incite is a verb that means to cause someone to act in an angry, harmful, or violent way. (She intended to incite a riot with her comments.) 
Insight is a noun that means the ability to understand people and situations in a very clear way. (After listening, she had more insight into his character.) 
Sight refers to a view, picture, or display. (The sight of the sun rising filled her with excitement.) 
Site refers to a location or position. (The building site was near a river.)
Lead (pronounced “leed”) is a verb. (She always leads the parade.)
Led (pronounced “led”) is the past tense of to lead. (She led the parade last Saturday.)
Lead (pronounced “led”) is a noun. (Car batteries contain lead.) 
As a last but vital entry, many folks get nauseous and nauseated confused. 
Nauseate and nauseated are verbs that mean to feel or cause to feel nausea, loathing, or disgust. (The smell nauseated the workers.)
Nauseous, however is an adjective that mean causing nausea or sickening. (A nauseous odor rose from the decomposing body.)
If you write that a character was nauseous, it means the person was making other people sick. Nauseated suggests a condition induced by an external cause. By contrast, nauseous is an adjective that refers to a state whose cause may be unknown. (He became nauseated when he looked at the nauseous color of her gown.)
Caution: If you say, “I feel nauseous,” it means you are making other people sick. The correct word choice is nauseated. “I feel nauseated.” Choosing the wrong word may make your editor nauseated. 
Bobbie Christmas is a book editor, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications. She will answer your questions too. Send them to or Read Bobbie’s Zebra Communications blog at


Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I am nauseated that I was using nauseous incorrectly.
Recently I have also seen shutter used instead of shudder.

Anonymous said...


Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top