Monday, May 9, 2011

Double N, One L

The Assistant Director of Personnel at a large corporation noticed that his boss, the Director of Personnel, upon arriving at his desk each morning, unfailingly opened a drawer, took out a metal box, unlocked it, looked inside, smiled, then closed it and put it away. The Assistant Director longed to know what was in that box. Years later, the boss retired and the Assistant Director became the Director of Personnel.  He couldn’t wait to open that drawer, unlock the box, and look inside.  There he found a small slip of paper on which was written: “Two N’s, one L.”

There are many words in English, like personnel and personal, which look similar, but are spelled differently and mean different things. Guess what? They are often confused with each other.

Here’s a list of some of the most commonly confused, misspelled, and misused words. Like the man said, there is no royal road to geometry—nor to orthography.  Well, he didn’t mention orthography, but it’s equally true.  English being what it is, there is usually no way to differentiate between these similar-looking words, except to commit them to memory.  Do it.  Now.

Here are a few to get started on; you will no doubt think of many more on your own:

            Affect (v.) – cause a change in
            Effect (v.) – put into operation
                    Note: Effect can also be a noun, in which case 
                    it can mean the result of having been affected.  

            Altar (n.) – place of religious sacrifice
            Alter (v. ) – change 

            Census (n.) – a counting, usually of people
            Consensus (n.) – general agreement, usually of 
            Compliment (n.) – favorable comment
            Complement (n.) – the full number that makes 
                    something complete
            Confectionary (n.) – place where confectionery is 
                   made or sold
            Confectionery (n.) – sweet foods made in a 
                  Note: Some dictionaries will tell you that these 
                  words are  interchangeable. Do not believe them.

            Continuous (adj.) - uninterrupted
            Continual (adj.) – recurring over time in rapid 

            Council (n.) –  deliberative or advisory body           
            Counsel (n.) – advice or the adviser who gives it, 
                      specifically a lawyer 
            Consul (n.) – diplomatic or trade official in a foreign 
            Forego (v.) – come before
            Forgo (v.) – do without

            Foreword (n.) – part of a book preceding the main text
            Forward (adj.) – situated in an advance position; 
                            (v.) – promote
                            (n.) – player at the front of a team’s 
                            (adv.) – toward what is ahead
            Precede (v.) – come before
            Proceed (v.) – move along

            Prescription (n.) – order for medicine from the doctor
            Proscription (n.) – ban

            Secede (v.) – withdraw
            Succeed (v.) – do well
            Supersede (v.) – take the place of, especially if 
                  superior to
                  Note: Some dictionaries will tell you supercede is 
                  an acceptable spelling. Do not believe them.
            Stationary (adj.) – immobile
            Stationery (n.) – writing paper

            Weather (n.) – climatic (not climactic!) conditions
            Wether (n.) – castrated male sheep
            Whether (conj.) – indication of alternatives

There, now.  Don’t you feel better having learned all that?  The Bard of Buffalo Bayou certainly does; in fact he feels so much better that he decided to take a week off, write proscriptions on his stationary, forego confectionary, give council on the wether--and if at first he doesn’t secede, he’ll precede again. He is expected to return next week, but I wouldn’t count on it.

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