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12.03 Words commonly misused or confused

accuracy, precision

Accuracy is a measure of how closely a fact or value approaches the true value and the degree to which something is free of error. Precision is a measure of the fineness of a value. Thus, 6.0201 is more precise than 6.02, but it may not be more accurate (if one of the last two digits is incorrect).

affect, effect

Affect, as a verb, usually means influence.

  • Budgetary constraints have seriously affected our grants and contributions program.

As a verb, effect means bring about; as a noun, it means result, impact.

  • Can you effect those changes by the end of the first quarter?
  • The Supreme Court ruling will have a lasting effect on official languages services.

allusion, illusion

An allusion is an indirect reference; illusion applies to something appearing to be true or real, but actually not existing or being quite different from what it seems.

  • His allusion to the previous tenant was out of place.
  • Danby’s paintings create a striking illusion of reality.

alternate(ly), alternative(ly)

The primary meaning of alternate is by turns, first one then the other, or every other one; alternative refers to one of two or possibly more choices. The same distinction applies to the adverbial forms. Note, however, that alternate can also be used with the meaning of alternative.

amount, number

Use amount for something considered as a mass or total; use number with people and things that can be counted.

  • A large amount of grain is handled at Thunder Bay.
  • A large number of people had no electrical power during the ice storm.

anyone, any one

Anyone (everyone, someone) can be used only to refer to people. Any one (every one, some one) is the correct form when referring to things. However, any one, etc. must also be used with people when the meaning is any single individual.

  • Anyone can apply.
  • We cannot rely on any one unit to handle the entire program.

appraise, apprise

Appraise means set a value on; apprise means make aware of.

  • I have had my house appraised by an evaluator.
  • All parties were fully apprised of the state of the negotiations.

approve, approve of

Approve means to sanction or to ratify; approve of means to think well of.

  • Treasury Board has approved the expenditure reduction plan.
  • The Deputy Minister approved of Szabo’s bold initiative.

apt, liable, likely

Apt means having a tendency (to) because of the subject’s character or suitability; liable expresses legal responsibility or the probability that the subject will suffer or be exposed to something undesirable; likely simply means that something is probable or likely to happen.

  • We are apt to believe what we want to believe.
  • This land is apt for dairy farming.
  • The company is liable to pay compensation in the event of work accidents.
  • Children are liable to contract measles.
  • The departmental reorganization is likely to occur before June.

as far as

This construction must be completed with a finite verb.

  • As far as she is concerned, we do not need to discuss the matter further.

assume, presume

The material following assume expresses a theory or even a hypothesis, whereas the words following presume express what the subject believes to be the case for want of proof to the contrary.

  • For the sake of argument, let us assume that our budget will be increased by 10%.
  • I presume that the hardware store will sponsor our baseball team again.

Presume can be replaced more readily by assume than the other way round.

assure, ensure, insure

To assure is to guarantee (a thing to a person) and to remove doubt, uncertainty or worry from a person’s mind. The primary meaning of ensure is to make sure or certain. Insure is related to insurance.

  • Thanks to the new regulations, the employees’ job security was assured.
  • Register this letter to ensure that it reaches its destination.

attentiveness, attention

Attentiveness is the quality or state of being attentive or considerate. Attention refers to the ability to concentrate or the action or faculty of attending to a matter.

  • The innkeeper’s attentiveness to his guests’ comfort was much appreciated.
  • Thank you for your attention to this matter.
  • Please pay attention to my instructions.
  • In spite of the noise at the video arcade, Drew’s attention was riveted on her video game.

beside, besides

Beside is a preposition normally meaning by the side of or next to. Besides is an adverb meaning moreover or a preposition meaning in addition to.

  • The Girl Guides camped beside the lake.
  • As the eldest child, Mary inherited the family farm. Besides, she was the only one who had attended Ontario Agricultural College.
  • I must get another job besides this one to make ends meet.

biannual, biennial, semi-annual

Semi-annual means occurring every six months or twice a year. Biannual means occurring twice a year. Biennial means occurring every two years or lasting for two years (biennial plants).

both . . . and

The material following and should correspond syntactically to the material following both.

  • Both his wife and his son took the drama class.


  • Both his wife and son took the drama class.
  • Anissa enjoyed camping both in the mountains and on the prairies.

Do not write "Both . . . , as well as . . . ."

by (a specified time)

In expressions of time, by means not later than or at or before a specified time. Thus, by June 25 means on or before June 25, not just before June 25.

characteristic, distinctive, typical

A characteristic quality is one that distinguishes and identifies. A distinctive feature denotes an attribute that sets a thing or person apart from a type or group. Typical relates to the characteristics peculiar to the type, class, species or group to which a thing or person belongs.

  • The Deputy Minister always included that characteristic flourish at the end of her memorandums.
  • The unit has a distinctive approach to training and development.
  • The weather was typical of an October day in Ottawa: cool, clear and colourful.

cite, quote

To cite something is to mention it or repeat it as proof of what is being said. To cite a person is to summon him or her before a court of law. To quote is to repeat something verbatim.

classic, classical

As adjectives, the words are partly interchangeable. Nevertheless, classic should be used when the meaning is a famous or supreme example of its type, while classical is preferred in reference to ancient Greek and Roman culture or to any music composed in a traditional, serious style.

  • It was a classic case of mistaken identity.
  • He was an outstanding performer of classical Hindu music.

common, mutual

Common means belonging to many or to all. Mutual means reciprocal.

  • Misspelling is a common problem.
  • The couple’s trust and respect were mutual.

Avoid using mutual redundantly, as in "Canada and Mexico entered into a mutual agreement."

compare, contrast

Use compare when bringing out likenesses or similarities (with the preposition to) and when examining two or more objects to find likenesses or differences (with the preposition with). Use contrast to point out differences.

  • One could compare the leaderless team to a ship without a rudder.
  • Upon comparing her work plan with that of her colleague, she found that they were very similar.
  • In contrast to my statement, his is brief.

compliment, complement

A compliment expresses praise, admiration or flattery. Things that are complementary may be different, but together they form a complete unit or supplement one other.

  • The director complimented his team on a job well done.
  • The information provided complements the data already on file.

comprise, constitute, compose

Comprise means consist of. Avoid the expression is comprised of. Constitute and compose mean make up, account for, form.

  • The opera comprises five acts.
  • The population of Ontario constitutes over 35% of the population of Canada.
  • Before amalgamation, five small communities composed (made up) the city of Kanata.

See also include, comprise.

concern, concerned

To concern can mean relate to, involve the interests of and make anxious. One can be concerned for, about, over, at, by and with something. One can also be concerned that something might happen.

  • The book is concerned with social issues.
  • The parents were concerned about their children’s progress at school.

Care should be taken when using concern with the last-mentioned meaning of to cause anxiety or uneasiness in. Often this usage can cause ambiguity, as in the following examples:

  • Not all employees were concerned (affected) by the cutbacks in positions.
  • The country’s deficit concerns most Canadians.

continual, continuous

While the distinction between these words can sometimes become blurred, the rule is that continual implies a close recurrence in time or a rapid succession of events. Continuous means uninterrupted in time or sequence.

  • The new chief’s continual praise had a positive effect on the staff.
  • The continuous beat of the long drum solo captivated the audience.

council, counsel

A council is a governing or consultative body (city council, council of grand chiefs, student council) made up of councillors. Sometimes council is used synonymously with board (e.g., Council of Egg Marketing Authorities). Counsel pertains to advice and guidance, especially in law (counsel for the defence). In a formal context, counsel is provided by counsellors.

decision (make/take a)

Although attempts are sometimes made to distinguish between to make and to take a decision, or to reject one in favour of the other, most modern dictionaries use them interchangeably in the sense of  to decide about something.

  • She has made a sound investment decision.
  • The decision to launch the attack was taken by the Cabinet.


  • decision making not decision taking

defective, deficient

Defective is that which is wanting in quality; deficient is that which is wanting in quantity.

  • Sixteen of the machines were found to be defective and were scrapped.
  • The test showed that the patients were deficient in vitamin C.

dependant, dependent

Dependant is the noun, dependent the adjective.

  • A wage earner with dependants is fully entitled to this deduction.
  • Many students are dependent on public transportation to get to school.

different, various

The meanings of these words overlap to a large extent, but they cannot be used interchangeably in all contexts. As a general rule, different implies separateness or contrariness, while various stresses number and diversity of sorts or kinds.

  • The various/different ingredients were all mixed together.
  • Various people commented on his appearance.

disinterested, uninterested

Disinterested means unbiased, while uninterested means not interested in.

  • Legal Services were asked to give a disinterested opinion.
  • Jake and Elwood loved the blues and were uninterested in music that excited other teenagers.


Grammatically, each must be treated as a singular and be used with a singular verb.

  • Each of you now realizes the consequences.
  • Each province administers its education system.

When the notion of plurality is pre-eminent, however, a plural verb is appropriate.

  • Canada and the U.S.A. each have claims to a larger share of the salmon catch.

economic, economical

Economic relates to the economy, whereas economical refers to someone who is thrifty or to something that is efficient or avoids waste:

  • Another economic crisis is looming in the West.
  • Henry’s movements are economical of time and energy.
  • Small cars are economical to run.

effective, efficient

Effective refers to producing the desired result (effective ways of combatting pollution). It can also have the meanings of in force (a law) and actual (the effective leader was the commander of the armed forces). Efficient refers to the skilful use of time and energy to produce desired results with little effort.

  • Despite no previous experience, the Minister proved highly effective in his new job.
  • Owing to increased energy costs and competition, car engines have become more efficient.

either . . . or, neither . . . nor

The constructions either. . . or and neither . . . nor should be used to co-ordinate two words, phrases or clauses. Note that the constructions following these correlatives should be parallel and that the verb agrees in number with the nearer subject.

  • Either they go or I go.
  • Either Mary or her brothers are to receive the prize.
  • Neither Nova Scotia nor New Brunswick is involved in the project.
  • I communicated with him neither by telephone nor by letter.

emigrate, immigrate, migrate

To emigrate is to leave a country or region to settle in another. To immigrate is to enter and settle in a country or region. To migrate means to move from one place to another (this can be seasonal and can apply to both people and animals). When deciding between immigrate and emigrate, the speaker’s perspective determines the choice of word.

  • A large number of Italians emigrated after the Second World War.
  • The number of immigrants to Canada has remained constant in recent years.
  • Many Canadians have migrated from eastern Canada to British Columbia in recent years.


This word should not be followed by as.

  • Her plan is equally (or just as) good.


Exercise caution in using phrases such as as a matter of fact, in fact, the fact is and actually. They are often just an artificial means of assuring the reader that the writer is dealing with facts rather than theories and hypotheses, and may therefore be omitted in the interest of conciseness.

fewer, lesser, less

Fewer is used when referring to number; lesser and less are used for quantity, amount, size or number when the number is thought of as an amount.

  • We have bought fewer computers this year than last.
  • The lesser of two evils.
  • You will be assigned less work this week.
  • He had less than $100 in his pocket.

figuratively, literally, virtually

These words are often wrongly used to convey the opposite of their real meaning. Figuratively means not literally, not really; literally means really, actually; virtually means almost entirely, for all practical purposes. Thus, the statement, "He was literally bowled over," is nonsensical. In the sentence, "The sinking of the Titanic was a virtual disaster," the adjective is gratuitous and even detracts from the magnitude of the disaster.

financial, fiscal

Although to some extent synonymous, financial has a broader meaning and refers to money matters or transactions on a large scale. Fiscal applies usually to public revenues.

  • The company’s financial outlook showed some improvement.
  • The government has implemented a program of fiscal restraint.

flaunt, flout

Flaunt means display boastfully, whereas flout means treat with contemptuous disregard.

  • He insisted on flaunting his expertise.
  • Students who flout the rules will be suspended from school.

flounder, founder

As a verb,  flounder means struggle awkwardly without making progress. Founder means fill with water and sink (ship), fail (plans, etc.), break down or go lame (horse).

  • The program was floundering and clearly needed strong direction.
  • The project foundered (failed) owing to lack of funds.
  • Many ships have foundered near Sable Island.

forego, forgo

Forego means to go before or precede. It usually occurs in the forms foregoing and foregone. It also means to abstain from, go without, relinquish, and in this sense has the variant spelling forgo.

  • The party’s election was a foregone conclusion.
  • The ranchers were prepared to forego (forgo) their grazing privileges to protect an endangered habitat.

former, latter

Former and latter refer to only two items. For a group of more than two, use first (or first-mentioned) and last (or last-named) to indicate order.

gender, sex

In recent years the use of gender has been broadened from the designation of grammatical categories to cover uses formerly limited to the word sex. However, the two words are not interchangeable. Sex should be used in reference to biological categories and sexually motivated phenomena or behaviour, whereas gender should be used for social or cultural categories.

  • The effectiveness of the drug is partly dependent on the patient’s sex.
  • The tests determined the baby’s sex before birth.
  • In certain societies gender roles are more clearly defined.
  • The gender gap in remuneration is being steadily narrowed.

goods, good

Is the singular permissible in reference to products, wares and merchandise? In general contexts, the plural goods should be used or a singular noun such as product substituted. However, in specialized contexts the singular is sometimes used for convenience’s sake, as in "the tax applies to any good or service purchased in Canada."

healthful, healthy

Healthful means conducive to health; healthy means possessing health.

  • Healthy people have a healthful diet.

historical, historic

Historical is used in the general sense of related to history or having existed. Historic is preferred for something famous or important in history.

  • The discovery was of great historical interest.
  • Laura Secord was a historical character.
  • The historic victory by Donovan Bailey was the highlight of the 1996 season.

hung, hanged

When referring to capital punishment, use hanged. In all other contexts use hung.

i.e., e.g., etc.

The abbreviation i.e. means that is and introduces a definition; e.g. means for example. Do not use e.g. (or for example or a synonym such as including) and etc. in the same sentence, since etc. would be redundant.


  • The Minister received the representatives of many African countries, e.g., Angola, Mali, Tanzania, Zaire, Zimbabwe, etc.


  • The Minister received the representatives of many African countries, e.g., Angola, Mali, Tanzania, Zaire and Zimbabwe.

or better still

  • The Minister received the representatives of many African countries, including Angola, Mali, Tanzania, Zaire and Zimbabwe.

imply, infer

Imply refers to meaning intended by the speaker, whereas infer refers to meaning understood by the receiver of a message.

  • A writer or speaker implies. A reader or listener infers.
  • What did the official imply by that statement?
  • What should we infer from her statement?

include, comprise

Include implies only part of a whole; comprise implies all.

  • The 10-member working group includes two Palestinian representatives.
  • Water comprises hydrogen and oxygen.

in regards to

The correct idiom is in or with regard to (singular). Note also without regard to and as regards.

inside of, off of, outside of

The of in each of these expressions is superfluous.


See assure.

intense, intensive

Intense means existing in a high degree, strong, extreme; intensive means highly concentrated, thorough.

  • He experienced intense pain.
  • Intensive study of the problem should yield results.


This is non-standard usage. Write regardless.

its, it’s

Its is the possessive form of it. It’s is a contraction of it is or it has.

  • The committee amended its terms of reference.
  • It’s a girl!
  • It’s been years since I’ve seen a Lake Huron sunset.

lay, lie

Lay (past tense laid) always takes an object. Lie (past tense lay) does not take an object.

  • The contractor will lay the foundations for the apartment building next week.
  • She laid the book on its side.
  • Let us lie in the shade of these trees.
  • The soldiers lay on the ground waiting for the signal to move forward.

lead, led

Lead is a present tense form of the verb to lead. Led is the past tense of the same verb, which is often misspelled with ea.

  • Lead the way, captain!
  • Surin led from start to finish to win the gold medal.

least, less

It is incorrect to use least when comparing only two persons or things.

  • He is the less (not least) effective of the two programmers.
  • Singh was the least nervous of the three candidates.

legible, readable

These terms can both mean capable of being deciphered or read with ease. Readable also means interesting to read.

  • The candidate’s examination paper was barely legible.
  • I found Richler’s latest book very readable.

loan, lend

The traditional distinction is that loan is used principally as a noun, whereas lend is invariably a verb. Although this distinction is being blurred in current Canadian usage, it should be observed in formal writing.

  • Could I have the loan of your car for the weekend?
  • I wonder if you could also lend (not loan) me $200.

luxuriant, luxurious

Luxuriant refers to abundant growth; luxurious concerns luxury.

  • The camp was surrounded by luxuriant vegetation.
  • The president’s room was full of luxurious furniture.

matériel, material

The term matériel (with or without the accent) is used for the equipment, apparatus and supplies of an organization (as distinct from personnel), especially in the military. In all other contexts, material is used.

media, medium

Although usage is evolving, in the context of modern communications use media as the plural and medium as the singular.

  • The story was given prominent coverage in the media.
  • I went to a school where English was the medium of instruction.

militate, mitigate

Militate means act, work, operate (in favour of or against); mitigate means reduce the severity of. Note that mitigate takes no preposition.

  • All these facts militate against renewal of the contract.
  • The government’s policies are designed to mitigate the effects of unemployment.

need, needs

Both needs and need are used as the third person singular of the verb to need, but in different contexts. Needs is the usual form in affirmative statements, either with noun objects or with to and an infinitive. Need is sometimes used as an auxiliary, followed by the infinitive without to, in negative statements and in questions. In formal English need may be used even when the negation is merely suggested by a word like only.

  • She needs more input from her colleagues before writing the project summary.
  • He needs to practise his public speaking.
  • Your inoculation need not be given today.
  • Need your husband come to the theatre with us?
  • The department need identify itself only in the letterhead.


Avoid using this prefix to create new words when a suitable opposite already exists.

  • inaudible not nonaudible
  • disagreement not nonconcurrence
  • temporary not nonpermanent

non-, un-

Un- has a negative connotation and means the opposite of, whereas non- means other than. Thus, non-scientific means not connected with science, while unscientific means lacking scientific rigour. Compare also un-Christian conduct and non-Christian religions; un-Canadian and non-Canadian; unserviceable (so worn that it can no longer be brought back into service) and non-serviceable (not meant to be serviced).

one of those who

Use a plural verb after one of those who.

  • She is one of those (people) who always offer their assistance in a crisis.

on the part of

On the part of is often an awkward way of saying by or among.

  • A greater effort by (on the part of) your staff is required.

peculiar to, particular to

The phrase peculiar to means characteristic of and has nothing to do with being peculiar or strange. Particular to is incorrect usage.

  • Some plant species are peculiar to the Prairies.

practicable, practical

Practicable means that which can be done, which is feasible; practical means having to do with action or practice, fit for actual practice, and is the opposite of theoretical. Thus, it may be practicable to come to work in a dogsled, but it is not practical.

preceding, previous, prior

Preceding refers to what comes immediately before. Previous and prior, which are synonymous, mean existing or occurring (some time) before something else. Prior can also imply priority, as in a prior engagement.

  • The preceding clause spells out the conditions of the loan.
  • She has a child from a previous marriage.
  • Unfortunately, the president cannot accept your invitation because he has a prior engagement.


The prefix is redundant. Planning is the correct term.

principal, principle

Principal can be an adjective meaning chief or leading; it can also be a noun meaning chief person or original sum of money (as in a loan). Principle can be used only as a noun, meaning universal law or rule of conduct.

  • The principal element in the group’s plan was surprise.
  • The freedom to choose is a principle of democracy.

procedure, process

The words are not interchangeable. A procedure is a set way of doing something. It stresses the method or routine followed. A process is a series of progressive and interdependent steps carried out to obtain a particular result.

  • A procedure exists for having complaints investigated.
  • The article describes the process for producing methane from pig manure.

proportional(ly), proportionate(ly)

In current usage the two words mean the same thing and are largely interchangeable. Proportional(ly) is more common, especially in set phrases such as proportional parts, proportional representation, proportional tax.

raise, rise

As a verb, raise takes an object, whereas rise does not.

  • They raise cattle for a living.
  • It is expected that the temperature will rise to 33°C.

Note their principal parts: raise, raised, has raised; rise, rose, has risen.

reason is because

A sentence beginning "The reason . . . is (was)" should be followed by a noun, a noun phrase, or a noun clause usually introduced by that.

  • The reason the trip was cancelled was a lack of funds.
  • The reason for the success of the project was that the financial requirements had been correctly estimated.

refer, refer back

The word back is superfluous after refer.

relation, relationship

Although largely synonymous, the two words are not interchangeable. Both express the idea of a connection between things or persons. Relationship tends to be preferred for human connections, relation for more abstract connections.

  • She replied that the reporter’s article on organized crime bore no relation to reality.
  • What is your relationship to the patient?
  • The government’s relations with the unions have stabilized.
  • Sociologists believe there is a relation (or relationship) between unemployment and crime.


A requisition is a formal demand for the use of a vehicle, supplies or premises, especially in a military context. As a verb, requisition is transitive and should not be followed by for.

  • The clerk requisitioned supplies.


  • The clerk made a requisition for supplies.

reserve, reservation

Indian reserve is used in Canada; Indian reservation is used in the United States.


Use the adjective responsible only with persons or corporate entities, not with things.

  • The company was not responsible for the explosion.
  • The supervisors must assume responsibility for their units’ performance.


  • A gas leak caused the explosion.


As a noun, sanction has two almost directly opposed meanings. It can mean official approval or authority as well as a penalty to enforce behaviour. As a verb, it can only mean to authorize or to legitimize.

  • In some societies, social pressure operates as the principal sanction.
  • The Minister sanctioned the job-creation initiative.

seasonal, seasonable

Seasonal means of or occurring in a particular season; seasonable means normal for the time of year or timely. The corresponding adverbs are seasonally and seasonably.

  • Employment figures are always seasonally adjusted.
  • The weather is seasonable for this time of year.

sensual, sensuous

Sensual means pertaining to the gratification of physical appetites as ends in themselves. Sensuous means pertaining to the senses, involving aesthetic pleasure.

  • Is modern society to blame for our preoccupation with sensual pleasures?
  • A sensuous appreciation of nature is obvious in the work of the Group of Seven.

serve, service

Apart from specialized uses in finance and animal breeding, service is used mainly in the sense of to repair or maintain. The more general term—especially when used in relation to people—is serve.

  • We have our car serviced every six months.
  • This school board serves the Metropolitan Toronto area.

set, sit

These two verbs are rarely interchangeable. Set usually requires an object, whereas sit does not.

  • Please set the box on the table.
  • That solution does not sit well with me.

However, there are some exceptions: cement sets (no object) and one sits an exam (object).

stationary, stationery

If something is stationary, it is fixed or unmoving. Stationery is material used for writing, including paper, cards and envelopes.

  • A cold front is stationary over Manitoba.
  • The office keeps its stationery in a locked cupboard.

subject to, subjected to

Subject to, an expression widely used in administrative writing, is an adjectival or adverbial phrase meaning under the control of, bound by, likely to have, depending on. Subjected to is the past tense or past participle of the verb to subject to, which means to cause to undergo something, to bring under the control of.

  • The new policy is subject to approval by the Deputy Minister.
  • The conquered territories were subjected to martial law.

tendency, trend

A tendency is a leaning or inclination to do something. A trend is the prevailing direction or course of something or the current fashion.

  • Homeowners have a tendency to underestimate the cost of renovations.
  • There is a trend toward the basics in education.

these kind, those kind, these sort, those sort

Kind and sort are singular; these and those are plural. Write this (that) kind, these (those) kinds, this (that) sort and these (those) sorts. Another solution can be to rephrase your sentence.

till, until

Till and until are interchangeable as prepositions and as conjunctions, although the latter is somewhat more formal. Avoid ’til and up until.

try and, try to

Although both expressions are idiomatic, they are not always interchangeable. Try to is more appropriate to formal writing.


This is an absolute. Do not write very unique or rather unique. Similarly, many other absolute adjectives (perfect, empty, circular, perpendicular, right, eternal and so on), when used in their strict sense, should not be modified by a comparative or superlative adverb. Note that unique is preceded by the indefinite article a (not an).

United States

The United States takes a singular verb, since the term designates a single country rather than a collection of states. The Netherlands and the United Nations are also treated as singular nouns.

  • The United States is a signatory to the agreement.
  • In what year was the Netherlands liberated?


Although many legitimate phrasal verbs include the adverb up, avoid the following, which are inappropriate in formal writing: choose up, finish up, listen up, practise up and wait up.

utilize, use

The proper meaning of utilize is to put to (unexpected) practical use or to make use of in a profitable way. Utilize and utilization should not be used as pompous substitutes for use, as in "The incumbent will be expected to utilize a word processor."

  • The reorganization enabled the company to utilize its resources more efficiently.
  • I did not use all the supplies you left me.

was, were (if I, he, she, etc.)

When expressing hypothetical conditions or conditions contrary to fact, use were.

He behaves as though he were a millionaire.

  • If I were you, I would not go.


  • If she was there, I did not see her.

The last is a statement of a possible state of affairs relating to the past, and does not involve a hypothetical condition contrary to fact.

where . . . at

This phrase (as in Where are we at?) is colloquial and should not be used in writing.

who, whom

The former is the subject of a verb, the latter the object. Although this distinction is widely disregarded in spoken English and informal written English, it should be observed in formal writing.

  • Who will be selected?
  • Whom will she hire?
  • It does not matter whom we select.
  • Tell me who was hired.

who’s, whose

The form who’s is a contraction of who is. Whose is the possessive form of who.


This is widely misused in constructions such as "If I would earn an ‘A’ in the exam, I would be happy." The sentence expresses a hypothetical, though possible, condition and calls for the past tense, should or were to, in place of the first would.

  • If you were in trouble, I would (should) help you.


  • If you would be in trouble, I would help you.

  • If I had known, I would (should) have come.


  • If I would have known, I would have come.