Writing Power is proud to present the following compendium of tips on proper usage. This is a list of some of the most commonly misused words and phrases in the English language. In order to compile it, I consulted some of my favorite writing handbooks: Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference, John Trimble’s Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.
back up, backup: The former is a verb; the latter isn’t. You should back up your computer files. If you get into a fight, I will back you up. Backup can be a noun or an adjective, as in I made a backup of my files. I used to be a backup singer for Dionne Warwick.
bad, badly: Confusion over these words is the flipside of the good/well controversy. In general, bad is an adjective while badly is an adverb. There are a few twists to this one, though, which I explained in detail in my Good Well Ugly post.
being as, being that: Both of these phrases are the kind of vague jargon-speak that has infected our culture. Neither is useful. Substitute “because,” or restructure the sentence.
beside, besides: Another instance in which one letter makes all the difference. Both words are prepositions. Beside means “next to.” Who left the keys beside the window? Besides means “other than” or “in addition to.” Who besides me would be dumb enough to do that?
between, among: These words have basically the same function. The difference? Number. You use between with two things, among with three or more.
bring, take: Another often-confused pair of words with a simple usage distinction – s direction. Bring moves toward the subject; take moves away. I’ll bring the tape with me tomorrow, and you can take it home with you.
I will add to this usage dictionary a bit at a time, working through the alphabet. In the meantime, if you have any usage questions that you’d like me to research, just leave me a note in the comments.
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