Tricky Words

Common Rules


This word construction is taken directly from its Latin origins. Therefore, the noun forms are gender specific: “alumna” refers to one woman;“alumnae” refers to women; “alumnus” refers to one man; “alumni” refers  to men or men and women. It’s rare to see the feminine plural form,“alumnae.” Most often the form “alumni” is used for any group of graduates.  Also, “alumnus” can refer to anyone who attended a school, not just one  who graduated.

Alumni Abbreviations

Identify past and current students by using the abbreviation for the alum’s academic degree with the last two digits of the graduation year. It is important that the apostrophe points in the correct direction: down and to  the left.

Right: Former State Senator David Adelman (M.P.A.’95)  serves as United States Ambassador to Singapore.   Right: Jay Bernath (MBA ’92) is president of the Georgia State University Alumni Association.

If a person received more than one degree from Georgia State University,  use both years and put a comma between them.

 Right: Randy Patterson (B.B.A. ’98, MBA ’01) is vice president of human resources at Recall, a records management company.

Collective Nouns

The collective nouns “faculty” and “staff” are singular nouns. If you wish to  use a plural construction, use “members of the faculty/staff” or “faculty/staff  members.”

Right: The staff is represented by the Staff Council.
Right: Members of the faculty are dedicated researchers and teachers.
Right: Staff members disagree among themselves about the best benefits options.
Right: Georgia State offers staff many training opportunities.

Passive Voice

Avoid using the passive voice, which can contribute to imprecise, weak or wordy prose.  Think about this sentence: “Jane’s classes were taught in the morning.”Taught by whom? Is Jane a teacher or a student? An active construction would clarify the sentence: “Professor Smith taught Jane’s morning classes.”

When a passive construction makes an appearance in an early draft, think  about the sentence. Try to alter the construction and choose an active verb.  Concise sentences with active verbs and a few carefully selected modifiers  communicate most clearly to the reader.

Passive: The program is activated with a key by the engineer.
Active: The engineer activates the program with a key.

Sometimes passive voice is a better choice. For example, when the recipient  of an award is more important than the awarding body, it’s better to keep  this information in the lead of the sentence: “Jimmy Carter was the spring  commencement speaker.”


These words cause so much confusion that they deserve a section of their  own. “That” and “which” often are used incorrectly in clauses.

When referring to a human being (or an animal with a name), any clause should be introduced by the word “who” or “whom.”

When referring to an object or nameless animal with an essential clause —  one that cannot be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence — use the word “that” to introduce the clause. Essential clauses do not  need commas.

When referring to an object or nameless animal with a non-essential clause — one that can be eliminated from the sentence without changing the  basic meaning — use the word “which” to introduce the clause. If nonessential  clauses appear in the middle of sentences, they may need to be set off by commas.

A simple test: Once your sentence is written, try reading it without the  clause. If the sentence still means about the same thing, your clause should  be introduced by “which.” If taking out the clause changes the meaning  drastically, it should be introduced by “that.”

Right: The club meeting, which was held at the University Center, was cancelled.
Meaning: The club meeting was cancelled. (We must already know which  club meeting it is.)
Right: The club meeting that was held at the University Center was cancelled.
Meaning: The only meeting being held at the University Center was cancelled. (Another way to think of essential clauses — you don’t really need the word “that.”)
Better: The club meeting held at the University Center was cancelled.

Commonly Misused Words


“Adverse” means unfavorable. “Averse” means reluctant.


“Adviser” is preferred although both are correct. Whichever you choose to  use, be consistent throughout your document. “Advisor” is acceptable for  proper name.


“To affect” means (1) to influence, change or produce an effect; (2) to like to  do, wear or use; or (3) to pretend. “To effect” means to accomplish, complete,cause, make possible or carry out. If you’re looking for a noun, you’re probably  looking for “effect.” If you’re using a verb, you’re safest with “affect.”


not afterwards

all right

not alright


“To allude” means to speak of without mentioning. “To refer” means to speak  of directly.


An “allusion” is an indirect reference. An “illusion” is a false impression or image.


An alumna is one woman. Alumnae are women.


Alumni are men or men and women. An alumnus is one man.


“Around” should refer to a physical proximity or surrounding (I’ll look for you  around the front of University Commons). “About” indicates an approximation (Let’s have lunch at about 11:30 a.m.).


Use “beside” to mean (1) at the side of (sit beside me); (2) to compare with  (beside other studies); or (3) apart from (that’s beside the point). Use “besides”to mean (1) furthermore (besides, I said so); (2) in addition to (and elm and maple  trees besides); or (3) otherwise (there’s no one here besides Bill and me).


Use “between” to show a relationship between two objects only. Use  “among” when it’s more than two.  “Between” takes an objective pronoun — me, her, him. “Between you and  me” is okay. “Between you and I” is not.


“Biannual” is twice a year. “Biennial” is every two years.


The Georgia State account name for signing into technology is a single word,without a space.


“Complement” is something that supplements. “Compliment” is praise or the  expression of courtesy.


“Compose” is to create or put together. “Comprise” is to contain, to include  all or embrace. “Constitute” is to make up, to be the elements of.


The whole comprises the parts. The parts constitute the whole. The whole is composed of parts.

The department comprises 12 people. Twelve people constitute the department. The department is composed of 12 people.


“Continual” is a steady repetition. “Continuous” is uninterrupted.


plural (more than one criterion, which is a quality, a value or a standard of judgment)


plural (more than one curriculum, which is a program of academic courses or  learning activities — the College of Education curricula)


adjective (College of Education’s curricular philosophy)


singular (the Chemistry curriculum)


plural noun, usually takes a plural verb; if used as a collective noun, when the  group or quantity is regarded as a noun, it takes a singular verb (the data is sound).

daylight-saving time

not daylight-savings time

different from

not different than


“Disinterested” means impartial. “Uninterested” means someone lacks interest.


not disassociate


“Entitled” means having the right to something (she is entitled to the inheritance).

Use “titled” to introduce the name of a publication, speech, musical piece  (the piece is titled “Love and Illusion”).


“Farther” refers to physical distance. “Further” refers to an extension of  time or degree.


In general, use “fewer” for individual items that can be counted. Use “less”  for bulk or quantity that is measured (not counted). “Fewer” usually takes a  plural noun; “less” usually takes a singular noun.


To use “half-mast,” you must be referring to a flag on a ship or at a naval  station. A flag anywhere else is at “half-staff.”


“Historic” means important. “Historical” refers to any event in the past.


Unless you’re describing the way someone spoke, appeared or acted, do not  use this one. Too many people use “hopefully,” an adverb that must modify a  verb only, as if it were a conditional phrase.

Right: I hope we can go.
Right: It is hoped the report will address that issue.
Right: She eyed the interview list hopefully.
Wrong: Hopefully, we can go.
Wrong: Hopefully, the report will address that issue.


“Importantly” is incorrect unless it is an adverb.

Right: He strutted importantly through the castle.
Right: More important, he said, the quality of the program must not suffer.


“Imply” means to suggest or indicate indirectly. To “infer” is to conclude or  decide from something known or assumed.  In general, if you imply something, you’re sending out a message. If you infer  something, you’re interpreting a message.

in regard to

not “in regards to.” “As regards” or “regarding” may also be used.


“Insure” means to establish a contract for insurance of some type. “Ensure”means to guarantee. General rule? Use “ensure.”


The word is “regardless.” “Irregardless”? No such word.


Do not coin verbs with this suffix, and do not use already coined words such  as “finalize” (use “end” or “conclude”) or “utilize” (use “use”).


“Lay” means to place or deposit, and requires a direct object (forms: lay, laid,laying). “Lie” means to be in a reclining position or to be situated. It does not  take an object (forms: lie, lay, lain, lying).


You stand on a podium and behind a lectern.


To “let alone” means to leave something undisturbed. To “leave alone” means  to depart from or cause to be in solitude.


Use “like” to compare nouns and pronouns. Use “as” to introduce clauses  and phrases.


“Literally” means in an exact sense. “Figuratively” means in a comparative sense.

Right: The furnace literally exploded.
Right: He was so furious he figuratively blew his stack.


In most cases, you’ll find you don’t really need this word. Instead of “The  Speakers Auditorium is located in the Student Center,” you can simply write  “The Speakers Auditorium is in the Student Center.” Instead of “Where are you  located at?” (which is the worst construction of all), write “Where are you?”


In general, use “many” for individual items that can be counted. Use “much”  for bulk or quantity that is measured.


Use instead of 12 a.m. or 12 p.m. Do not put a “12” in front of either one.


Avoid using “myself.” In most constructions, it’s the objective pronoun you  really want.

Right: It’s between you and me.
Wrong: You can tell your supervisor or myself.

 more than/over

Use “more than” when you mean in excess of; use “over” when referring to  physical placement of an object, an ending or extent of authority.

Right: More than 25 professors participated.
Wrong: The university has over 50 buildings.


Use this word anytime you use “neither.”


“Oral” refers to spoken words. “Verbal” can refer to either spoken or written  words, but most often connotes the process of reducing ideas to writing.

PantherCard and PantherCash

These important resources are both written without spaces between  capitalized terms.


These two are not interchangeable. “Partially” is used to mean to a certain  degree when speaking of a condition or state. “Partly” implies the idea of a  part, usually of a physical object, as distinct from the whole.

Right: I’m partially convinced.
Wrong: The building is partially completed.
Right: The building is in a state of partial completion.
Right: The building is partly completed.

past experience

What other kind of experience is there? Just use “experience” alone.


To “peddle” is to sell. To “pedal” is to use pedals, as on a bicycle.


Use “person” when speaking of an individual. The word “people,” rather than  “persons,” is preferred for plural uses.


“Pom-pom” is a rapidly firing weapon. A cheerleader’s prop is correctly  called a “pompon.”


“Premier” is first in status or importance, chief, or a prime minister or chief  executive. “Premiere” is a first performance.


Many writers use these terms as if they were synonymous. But “presently”means in a little while, soon. “Currently” means now. In most cases you can  do just fine without using “currently.” For example, “we are currently revising the plan.”


“Pretense” is a false show or unsupported claim to some distinction or accomplishment. “Pretext” is a false reason or motive put forth to hide the  real one, an excuse or a cover-up.


“Principal” as a noun is a chief person or thing; as an adjective, it means first  in importance. “Principle” is a noun meaning a fundamental truth, doctrine or  law; a guiding rule or code of conduct; a method of operation.


To “rebut” is to argue to the contrary. To “refute” is to win the argument.


“Regardless” is a word. “Irregardless” is not a word.


“Shall” is used for the first-person future tense and expresses the speaker’s  belief regarding his or her future action or state.

If “will” is used for first-person future, it expresses his or her determination  or consent. At other times, “will” is used for the second- and third-person  future tense.

student body

Use “student” or “students” instead.


See That/Which entry on page 41.


The preferred word in the United States is “theater,” unless the British spelling  is part of a proper name, as in “The Fox Theatre” or “Alliance Theatre.”


“Toward” is correct. “Towards” is not.


Commonly overused, this word literally means one of a kind, without equal.“Unique” should never be modified by “truly,” “rather” or “very.” Something  is either unique or it’s not.


Use “use.” “Utilize” is the awkward verb form of the obsolete adjective “utile.” Why bother?


We rarely see the word “whom” in writing. But if your sentence has an objective clause referring to a person or animal with a proper name, you’re  being ungrammatical if you don’t use “whom.”

The word “who” substitutes for the subjective pronouns he, she or they; “whom” must be used in the sense of him, her or them. If you don’t want to  use “whom,” restructure your sentence. Don’t just stick in “who” when it is  incorrect.


Do not use this suffix to coin words like “weatherwise.”


A trademark for a brand of photocopy machine should never be used as a  noun or verb.

Commonly Misspelled Words

This is just a small sampling to get you thinking. When in doubt, use a  computer spelling program or look it up (or both).

accommodate ecstasy liaison
acknowledgment embarrass memento
aesthetics (not
exhilarate nickel
antiquated foreword occurred
catalog (not catalogue) harass occurrence
commitment hors d’oeuvres perseverance
conscience inadvertent prerogative
consensus indispensable privilege
counselor inoculate proceed
deductible insistent sponsor
dissension irresistible tyrannous
drunkenness judgment vacuum
knowledgeable vilify

Foreign Words

Some foreign words and abbreviations have been accepted universally into  the English language: bon voyage; versus, vs.; et cetera, etc. They may be  used without explanation if they are clear in the context.

Many foreign words and their abbreviations are not understood universally,  although they may be used in special applications such as medical or legal  terminology. If such a word or phrase is needed in a story, place it in  quotation marks and provide an explanation: “ad astra per aspera”, a Latin  phrase meaning “to the stars through difficulty”.