Thursday, March 15, 2012

More Words That Are Easy to Mix Up

Maybe it’s because I visit forums too much, but I see words used wrong all. the. time.

Hm. I’m thinking there shouldn’t be a “maybe” in that sentence. Anyway, while using words in an incorrect, yet socially accepted manner isn’t a bad thing, although it might push people’s editorial Berserk Buttons. Will misusing them cause dismissal by an agent/editor/publisher? Probably not. But then, what do I know? It’s not like I’ve been published.

This is one of those that’s easy to confuse because of similar spellings rather than misinterpretation. Perpetrate is to act, while to perpetuate is to continue forever. But switch that u for an r and boom! Wrong word.

I have to admit: this one drives me crazy. And I have no idea why. I guess I’m annoying like that. But hopefully means “in a manner full of hope” and people tend to use it in sentences like “Hopefully no one figures out I’m slowly poisoning them with arsenic.” If you put in a synonym like confidently, surely or optimistically, the sentence descends into meaninglessness. It would be more correct to say “with luck” or “I hope”. Then I can sleep at night because a word wasn’t misused.

I’m actually much better at using this word than I used to be. The rule that helped me is that you yourself lie down, but you lay something else down. This is really confusing because the past tense of lie is, wait for it, lay. Yes, “An hour ago, he lay down and went to sleep” is correct, at least in the past tense. Note that this is only for the recline sense of lie. For the untruth sense, of course this rule doesn’t apply because that would make things slightly easier.

I’m sure we could go to the Online Etymology Dictionary and find out that these two words are related. However, as they are used today in the English language, they are slightly different. Perverse is more doing something that is wrong on purpose, like saying “I’m going to lay down” when you’ve just read the above paragraph. If any of you are parents of teenagers, think of pretty much anything they’ve said to you ever. Perverted on the other hand has a more negative connotation. Perverse may be willful wrongness, but perverted is completely twisted against all that we know is right.

Obviously, people don’t confuse these two subjects. They do, however, confuse the spelling. I check my manuscripts for each of these because at least once per book I’ve messed them up. I blame my left middle finger. It should know that being shocked isn’t caused by lightening but it presses that “e” anyway.

Overall, this probably doesn’t matter much. Language evolves the way it wants to. Or rather, the way we want it to. Maybe I should start driving a word differently and see if it catches on.


  1. I think it matters. In fact I've been pursing this hilarious site called and often the agent who runs the blog take note of how someone uses a word especially there/their. Anyway, it's good to know the difference :)

  2. Effect/affect. I've tried all the tricks for remembering which is which, but I still have to reconfigure the sentence to skip the word entirely!

  3. This stuff drives me bonkers. I think that "Chasing Cars" song by Snow Patrol probably set the whole world back on the "lay/lie" distinction forever.

    The most teeth-grinding errors I've seen lately are people typing "per say" (not ironically), as opposed to "per se" - it is a Latin term meaning "in itself."

    When I was teaching I saw quite a few students using "for all intensive purposes." Yikers. It was clear they'd used the phrase but never seen it written down: "for all intents and purposes."

  4. I can't do lie/lay. Or affect/effect. But I guess knowing that you don't know how to use them is better than blindly using them incorrectly.

  5. Glad someone else gets it. These kinds of things drive me nuts.

    If you want an extreme example of incorrect language, a dear friend of mine types "oh most" instead of "almost" in her emails & texts. *face palm* But on the more advanced side, "affect/effect", "less/fewer", and "farther/further" are other pet peeves.

  6. I can't believe people mix up perpetrate and perpetuate. haha. I'm probably guilty of the lie/lay one, here and there. and definitely 'hopefully' I must have misused at least a few times.

  7. There's also that prayer thingy, "And now I lay me down to sleep" ;) Or maybe I'm just seeing that written incorrectly?

  8. There's also lead, as in to direct, as opposed to lead, which is that material that's somewhat harmful if ingested...

  9. Love your reminders on easily made mistakes. I'm from the 4th campaign letting you know you've been chosen to receive the Sunshine Award. Drop on over and collect it and after you've finished your part, pay it forward. It's a great way for us to get to know each other. Thanks


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