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Since my last post on Copywriting Tips, I’ve taken notes while reading emails and blogs. Here are some of the crazy points of confusion I’ve found.

Dependent vs Dependant

Dependent is an adjective, meaning relying on someone or something. “He’s 45 and still totally dependent on his mother.”

A dependant (that’s a noun, folks) is a person who relies someone else. “She has just one dependant: her 45-year-old boy.”

Note carefully: despite what you’ll read in countless online dating profiles, there is no such word as independant. It’s independent. Arrggh!

Effect vs Affect

Most people get this wrong, because the distinction is quite subtle…

An effect is the result of something. “The financial meltdown had an adverse effect on employment rates.”

In normal usage, affect is a verb, meaning to influence something. “The meltdown may affect my employment rate.”

Confusing matters, affect also has a meaning in psychology.* It refers to the experience of emotion, or the visible signs of emotion.

Disinterested vs Uninterested

Disinterested means unbiased or impartial, and is usually a good thing. “A judge must be disinterested.”

Uninterested means not caring or paying attention. “Strange, but the hot girl seemed uninterested in my advances.”

Imply vs Infer

To imply is to hint at or suggest. “Are you implying that I’ve gained weight?”

To infer is to deduce. “Given that your belt no longer fits, I must infer that you’ve gained weight.”

Fewer vs Less

Use fewer when you’re discussing countable things. “Fewer people survived this year’s Christmas party.”

Use less for things you can’t really count. “There’s less traffic on Robson Street since the DUI laws got stricter.”

Number vs Amount

Use number when discussing countable things. “A smaller number of people passed out at the Christmas party this year.”

Use amount for un-countable things. “That dog must have been really thirsty: he drank a ridiculous amount of beer.”

Between vs Among

Use between when there are just two things or people involved. “The candies were divided between the two kids.”

Use among when there are more than two things or people involved. “The booze was distributed among the adult guests.”

Moot vs Mute

Mute means silent or hushed. “I didn’t want to incriminate myself, so I remained mute.”

Moot means academic, or just for the sake of argument. “If I could do it over again, would I have had that last margarita? Well… it’s a moot point.”

Never say, “It’s a mute point.” (I think there was a Seinfeld on this. Jerry also covered the egregious “Statue of Limitations”.**)

Principal vs Principle

Principal means first or most important. “Tequila is the principal ingredient in a margarita.” (The head of a school is also known as the Principal. You can remember this because she’s your pal.)

A principle is a rule or concept. (This is easy to remember too, because both principle and rule end in “le”.) “Have you read about the Principle of Reciprocation?”

I’m sure there are lots more. Please feel free to chime in with your pet peeves.

* Bloody psychologists. They’ve done so much damage to the English language. I’ll never forgive them for introducing conceptualize and conceptualization as synonyms for the much simpler but less impressive-sounding conceive and concept. Advertising folk are equally guilty. Like the unknown Madison Avenue bastard that introduced moisturize when we already had moisten.

** It’s statute, not statue! Arrggh.


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