Thursday, August 16, 2012

More Words That Are Easy To Confuse

Yep, here’s another one. Because it’s fun?

Sure, why not?

I am terrible with these words. They’re so similar, the only difference being two letters switched around. Discreet is subtle, close-mouthed. Discrete is separate, different, and also a branch of mathematics. When you want to be quiet, you’re discrete. When you want to be apart, you’re discrete.

For some reason, the word secret (as in confidential) always looks like it’s spelled wrong to me. I add an e and then when editing, realize my characters don’t exude ooze to each other. However, the most frustratingly confusing part is that there is another definition of secrete, which means to conceal or hide away (they secrete you away to an undisclosed location). That does not make them easier to tell apart! Lucky for us, secret is either a noun or an adjective, while secrete is a verb. You can remember which one to use by knowing which part of speech you need.

A while/awhile
This is what happens when a word is created by combining two words, and we still use the two separate words as a common phrase. Like the above, you can remember this by knowing parts of speech. “Awhile” is an adverb: “I have awhile to write”, where awhile describes the amount of time I can write for. “A while” is a noun. You would say “I have to go write for a while” or “In a while, I’m going to start editing”. A while is often used after a preposition, like for and in, so be sure to watch for that.

Passed is past tense of pass (Yes, I’m aware three forms of the same verb are in that clause, but bear with me) while past appears as an adjective, noun, adverb and preposition (basically, every form but verb). So pay attention to how you use it. Past tense verb is always passed. Everything else is past. That sounds like a deep saying, but it’s not.

In order to gain some understanding on the who versus whom debacle, I suggest reading the Grammar Girl’s several postson the subject. I know I can’t explain it as well as she can, and it took her three posts to get all the details. Basically, who is for subjects, whom is for objects.

Bonus tip for the last one: write first person YA like I do, that way you can blame any errors on an uninformed teenager.


  1. I blame a lot more then grammar errors on my naive, uniformed teenage characters. Great post

  2. If your MC is a teenager, don't bother with whom.

    I've seen the whole past/passed thing around lately, and it confuses me. Because it's never confused me. Now effect/affect...

  3. One that totally gets my goat is:

    Calvary/cavalry ;)

  4. I've never had problems with cavalry versus calvary, but that's the military history side of me.

    I can't recall seeing the word discrete around....


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