More Misused (and Mistreated) Words

Mar 16, 2008 | Grammar and Usage, Proofreading

More Misused (and Mistreated) Words

Updated August 2023

You’ve seen our list of the top 20 misused words, as identified by our expert proofreaders at Writer’s Relief. Now read on to learn how to avoid more common spelling errors and definition confusion.

Altogether or all together
(adv): entirely, completely
all together (as a phrase): in a group

Amount or number
(n): used for a quantity that can’t be counted
number (n): used for things that can be counted

Bored or bored
bore and bored
(v): to dig or drill
bear and bore (v): to carry

Breach or breech
(n, v): a break / to break
breech (n): the rear or bottom

Clench or clinch
(v): to hold or clutch, like teeth or a fist
clinch (v): to settle decisively, as in clinching a deal, or to tightly hug, like with boxing

Demur or demure
(n, v): a protest / to protest
demure (adj): to be coy, modest

Discreet or discrete
(adj): judicious, modest
discrete (adj): separate, distinct

Enervate or energize
(adj, trans. v): lazy, lacking physical energy
energize (v): to be energetic

Gibe or jibe
(n, v): to tease, or a derisive remark
jibe (v): to agree

Inter or intern
(v): to bury
intern (v): to jail

Lead or led
(v): present tense, to guide the way
led (v): past tense

(Don’t laugh; many, many writers use “lead” for the past tense because it sounds like the other “lead,” the metal.)

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Mantel or mantle
(n): a shelf
mantle (n): a cloak, a cover

Plead or pleaded
(v): present tense, to beg
pleaded (or pled) (v): past tense (in the similar vein to lead/led)

Principal or principle
(adj, n): referring to a person or something which is of high rank
principle (n): related to a law or doctrine

Raise or rise
(v): to lift something (transitive: requires a direct object, such as He raised the blanket from the floor.)
rise (v): to put oneself in an upright position (intransitive: no direct object needed, such as He rises in the morning at six o’clock.)

Rational or rationale
(adj): reasonable or logical
rationale (n): underlying reason

Shined or shone
(v): past tense, to make something brighter, like shoes or a bald head.
shone (v): past tense of all other uses of “shine” (such as The moonlight shone over our nighttime walk last night.)

Other words you might find confusing:

Fitful. Definition: full of fits and starts. It does not mean restful or “fit” as in healthy or good. So if you’re editing or proofreading, watch for “a fitful sleep”—it is often the opposite of what the author means.

Reticent. Definition: silent, tacit, not spoken. It has nothing to do with being reluctant.

Tortuous. Definition: twisted, winding. Something tortuous MIGHT also be torturous (notice the extra “r”), but only if the torture relates to how winding or twisted the torture is, literally or figuratively.

Viscous (vis-kus). Definition: how thick, or not, a liquid is; vicious is, well, vicious (dangerously aggressive).

After you’ve written several thousand more words (and made sure they’re the RIGHT words), the next most important element of getting your completed story or novel published is submitting to the right markets! The research experts at Writer’s Relief can help you pinpoint the best literary agents or journals for your work. Learn more about our services and submit your work to our Review Board today!