How Not To Confuse These Commonly Confused Words

Nov 4, 2015 | Editing And Editors, Grammar and Usage

Commonly Confused Words

Updated 7/9/19

English is a notoriously complex language that’s constantly evolving—and constantly driving us all crazy. Like prank-playing “almost identical” twins, some pairs of words are easily confused by even the most erudite grammar gurus among us. Fortunately, Writer’s Relief knows there are ways to tell these linguistic tricksters apart.

Commonly Confused Words You Can Easily Mix Up

Fewer or Less?

Many people assume these two terms are interchangeable. While both words refer to “amount,” each is doing so differently. Generally, “fewer” refers to number, while “less” refers to degree or quality. So you use “fewer” when you’re talking about something you can count, and “less” when what you’re quantifying is more abstract.

Because she slept for fewer hours than usual, Shannon had less energy for baking crumpets.

A helpful way to remember the difference is to follow the rule of thumb recommended by the The Chicago Manual of Style: Singular nouns use “less”; plural nouns use “fewer.”

Hours are plural: Fewer hours

Energy is singular: Less energy

Compliment or Complement?

What a difference one little letter can make! A compliment is a flattering statement about someone or something. “Complement” means that something goes well with something else.

Moira complimented the chef on how well her dishes complemented each other.

In this example, the chef’s dishes are definitely not praising each other, unless this is a scene from a surrealist novel or a Disney movie—so we would use “complement” with an “e.”

Here’s an easy-to-remember tip: “Complement” with an “e” means “make more complete”…and both “complement” and “complete” are spelled with “e.”

I.e. or E.g.?

These two look so similar, it’s no wonder writers are confused! But “i.e.” and “e.g.” have different meanings. “I.e.” is the abbreviation for the phrase “id est,” which is Latin for “that is.” Use “i.e.” to clarify a statement, or to say “in other words.”

Carol is a bibliophile (i.e., she loves books).

“E.g.” is the abbreviation for the Latin phrase “exempli gratia,” which means “for example.” So “e.g.” should be used when you want to give an example of something.

Erinn seems like a nice, quiet person, yet she is quite fond of authors who write horror (e.g., Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe).

Now, you may ask yourself, Is there a simple way to remember the difference between i.e. and e.g.?

Yes! Here’s a great way to remember the difference between “i.e.” and “e.g.” Think of the letters “e.g.” as standing for “example(s) given,” and the letters “i.e.” for “in essence” or “in explanation.”

Hopefully, these tips will lead to fewer mix-ups, and you’ll receive many compliments for your grammar skills (i.e., your knowledgeable use of words).

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Which pairs of words do you feel are most easily confused?



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