COMMON USAGE PROBLEMS
This list identifies words and constructions that sometimes require attention in writing projects. Some of the entries are pairs of words that are quite different in meaning yet similar enough in spelling to be confused (e.g. principal, principle). Some are nonstandard usages (e.g. alright) and informal constructions (e.g. being as=because) that are not acceptable in formal writing.
accept, except To accept is "To agree to something or to receive something willingly." To except is "to exclude or omit." As a preposition, except means "but" or "excluding."
advice, advise You advise someone. What you give that person is advice.
affect, effect Affect is a verb meaning either "to influence" or "to pretend." Effect as a verb means "to accomplish or to produce as a result." As a noun, effect means "result."
a lot This little expression causes a lot of trouble. It is two words, not one. The misspelling "alot" is nonstandard. The verb to partition is to "allot."
all right The misspelling "alright" is nonstandard usage. The two words are separate.
allusion, illusion Allusion is a reference to something literary or historical with which the reader is presumably familiar. An illusion is a false, misleading, or overly optimistic idea.
already, all ready Already is an adverb meaning "even now" or "previously." All ready is an adjective phrase meaning "completely prepared." (We are already late. We are all ready for the tournament.)
alter, altar Alter means change ("My instructor wants me to alter the format of my paper") and an altar is a religious object ("I was married at the altar of my church").
altogether, all together Altogether means "entirely" or "on the whole." All together means that all parts of a group are considered together. (This news story is altogether false. [entirely] A tug of war is won by a team pulling all together.)
among, between Between expresses the joining or separation of two people or things. Among refers to a group of three or more.
Nonstandard: We shared the pie between the three of us.
Standard: We shared the pie among the three of us.
anxious, eager Anxious should not be used in college writing to mean "eager," as in "Gretel is anxious to see her gift." Eager is the preferred word in this context.
awful, awfully The real objection to awful is that it is worked to death. Instead of being reserved for situations in which it means "awe inspiring," it is used excessively as a utility word. Use both awful and awfully sparingly.
bad, badly The ordinary uses of bad as an adjective cause no difficulty. As a predicate adjective ("An hour after dinner, I began to feel bad.), it is sometimes confused with the adverb badly. After the verbs look, feel, and seem, the adjective is preferred. Say: "It looks bad for our side," "I feel bad about the quarrel," "Our predicament seemed bad this morning." But do not use bad when an adverb is required, as in "He played badly," "a badly torn suit."
being as, because The use of being as for "because" or "since" in such sentences as "Being as I am an American, I believe in democracy" is nonstandard. Say "Because I am an American, I believe in democracy."
between you and I Both pronouns are objects of the preposition between and so should be in the objective case: "Between you and me."