The large number of common homonyms, or sound-alike words, in our everyday usage are what makes English so tricky to learn as a second language. But even those of us who claim it as our native language get confused. Authors must learn how to recognize and use them properly.
Consider whether or not you want to use the word “ensure.” This word is so commonly abused that many native speakers don’t know which word to use in what context.
Three words could work, and they are quite similar to each other. Even worse, they have similar but different meanings. This is when we go to the dictionary for a little research. All you have to do is use the dictionary that comes with your word processing program. (In Word, you type the word, right click on it, and when the menu opens, click on ‘look up.’)
Assure: promise, as in I assure you the house is clean.
Ensure: confirm, as in Ensure that you have set the burglar alarm before going on a long trip.
Insure: protect with an insurance policy, as in Insure your home for your peace of mind.
One of the worst failings for new authors is the word “it.” If problems appear in a manuscript, this word will likely be a major culprit. In my own work, I try to do a global search for every instance, and make sure the word is correctly used:
- The texture of the wall—it’s rough. (It is rough.)
- I scratched myself on its surface. (The wall’s surface.)
Its… it’s… which is what and when to use it?
The trouble here can be found in the apostrophe. In most English words an apostrophe indicates possession, but once in a while, it indicates a contraction.
- It’s is the contraction of “it is” and sometimes “it has.”
- Its denotes possession: It owns it
Some words jump right out at you as a reader:
But others are more sneaky:
Accept and except are so frequently confused and misused in our modern dialect that, if you doubt yourself, it is best to simply look it up. If you search for these now, you will save your editor having to do this for you, and your edit will be much more productive.