When you’re typing or texting at speed, it’s easy to spell a word incorrectly. But mistakes can completely change the context of your message and often make you sound just plain silly. Make sure you sound like you know what you’re talking about by using these words correctly.

Compliment/complement

When two words sound identical, it can make it difficult to know which the right one to use is. A ‘compliment’ is an expression of admiration such as, ‘You look just perfect in that fluoro onesie.’ Equally, if you receive something ‘with our compliments’, then you can view it as a gift, with no payment required.

However, if one thing ‘complements’ another, or makes it whole (as in, ‘completes’), it means they look or work better together – as in, ‘That glass of red wine perfectly complemented his chicken nuggets.’

Slither/sliver

Snakes ‘slither’, so any menu listing a dish comes with ‘slithers’ of anything is cause for alarm. A ‘sliver’, though, is a very thin slice of something.  For example, being offered a sliver of that insanely rich chocolate cake will do you no harm whatsoever. Indeed, it would be criminal to refuse.

Loose/lose

When you diet and ‘lose’ that spare tyre, it’s gone and your pants feel ‘loose’ as a result. Getting these two words confused is really common, but an easy way to remember which means which is to say: ‘If I lose something, it’s lost’ – same number of Os and the meaning is clear.

Discreet/discrete

Another pair of pesky homophones! ‘Discrete’ means ‘separate and distinct’. So it’s correct to say, ‘They set up two discrete departments.’  However, if you’re keen to fly under the radar and act in a confidential manner, you could say ‘I pray you, Mr D’Arcy, be discreet when asking me to meet you in the stables.’ Think of being discreet as not wanting anyone to see.

Then/than

‘Than’ is a pretty unique word. It’s always, always used in a comparative context and no other word can replace it. Try substituting its use in, ‘My waist is slimmer than yours,’ and you’ll find that you simply can’t.  However, ‘then’ (which is mostly used to situate actions in time) does have alternatives such as ‘subsequently’, ‘afterwards’ and ‘later’, to name but a few. So, the rule is: if you’re comparing one thing to another, ‘than’ is your man.

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Do you make these common English mistakes? was last modified on August 14th, 2017 by Proof Communications Author
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