• Lucy Jackman

10 words that fool us all



I confess I’m a grammar geek.

I believe proofreaders and communications teams were put on this planet to rid the world of poor grammar.

I love the website Grammarly.com and I’m a devoted follower of their twitter feed (@grammarly if you’re interested). I often find myself nodding in agreement as they highlight common misuses of grammar, giggle at their puns, and quite frequently I learn something new. So why not give them a follow today and join in the fun!

Whatever type of material I’m proofreading, be it a book, a website or a brochure, incorrect words just seem to stare me in the face. But I know it’s not always that straightforward for everyone, otherwise why would the world have invented the proofreader?

So this week I’m doing my bit to help rid the world of poor grammar. Here are five pairs of words many of us can be fooled by - and some handy rules to remember how to use them correctly:

1. Ensure v. Insure

To ensure is to make sure of something - ‘He tried the door handle again to ensure it was locked’.

Insure is used in a financial context e.g. to insure your house against damage.

Tip: You insure things ‘in’ the home.

2. Stationary v. Stationery

This is one of my favourites and I have an easy-to-remember rule to help.

Stationary means not moving e.g. a parked car is stationary.

Tip: Parked and stationary both contain ‘ar’.

Stationery is the noun to describe office supplies e.g. ruler, eraser, jotter.

Tip: All the above words contain ‘er’, just like stationery.

3. Effect v. Affect

Effect is a noun meaning outcome, consequence or appearance, e.g. the petition had no effect on the final decision.

Tip: If you can substitute outcome, consequence or appearance into your sentence then effect is probably the right word to use.

Affect is a verb meaning to transform or to change, e.g. the bang on the head affected his memory.

Tip: Again, if you can replace affect with either of these two alternatives then affect is the correct verb to use.

4. Loose v. Lose

Loose means not tight or free from constraint.

To lose is to fail or misplace something.

Tip: A fun way to remember this is that loose rhymes with moose - imagine a field of moose on the loose running wild and free!

5. Practice v. Practise

This can often be a tricky one, particularly if you’ve got Word set to US language, as practise is not used in America.

In the UK, practice is a noun which also means preparation or lessons e.g. do your piano practice!

Tip: Try substituting the word preparation or lessons into your sentence. If one of them fits then practice is the correct word to use.

Practise is a verb meaning ‘to prepare’ e.g. I am practising the recipe for the Great British Bake-off.

Tip: Try and replace practise with prepare or practising with preparing. If your sentence makes sense then you've got the right verb.

If you take away just one of these tips then I shall be a happy lady. Equally, if you have any grammar questions or have a proofreading challenge for me, then just drop me a line! And if you’re wondering what I’m doing tonight…

I will be stationary in the kitchen, practising my recipe to ensure it has a positive effect on the judges so I don't lose. Just saying.

#proofreading #grammar

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