Commonly Misused Words

Be mindful of the distinctions between commonly confused words.



Accept is a verb meaning “to receive.” Except means “other than” or “but for.”



Adverse means difficult or unfavorable: She forecasts adverse economic conditions. Averse means reluctant, resistant or opposed: He is averse to making a forecast.



Adviser is the preferred spelling to advisor.



Affect is a verb, meaning to produce an effect. Effect can also be a verb meaning “to bring about.”

Example: Only the president can effect such a change.



Allusion means an indirect reference: The allusion was to Fulbright's internationalism. The word illusion means an unreal or false impression: The set director created the illusion of 1930s Germany.


Alma Mater

The words are Latin and translate to "nourishing mother." Use uppercase when referring to the University’s song (The UNA Alma Mater); lowercase when using generically: The professor's alma mater is Yale.


Altar (n.)/Alter (v.)

An altar is a platform used in a religious services. To alter means to change.



Do not use amidst.



Something occurs between just two people or two groups; it happens among three or more. Do not use amongst.



Use amount with quantities that cannot be counted; use number with those that can.



Avoid using the and/or construction.



Avoid such redundancies as first anniversary or one-year anniversary. Don't use anniversary for periods less than a year.



An event is not annual until it has occurred at least two years in a row. Do not use the term first annual. Instead, note that organizers plan to stage the event annually.

Do not use the word “annual” to refer to the university’s yearbook, The Diorama.



The prefix ante- means to come before in order, rank or time: antebellum or antechamber. In general, no hyphen.


The prefix anti- means opposed or against. Hyphenate all except for the following: antibiotic, antibody, anticlimax, antidepressant, antidote, antifreeze, antigen, antihistamine, antiknock, antimatter, antimony, antiparticle, antipasto, antiperspirant, antiphon, antiseptic, antiserum, antithesis, antitoxin, antitrust, antitussive.



Anticipate means to make preparations for the advent of something; expect does not connote preparation: They expect 8,000 fans at the game. They anticipated the large crowd by providing 9,000 seats.


Anybody/Any Body/Anyone/Any One

Use one word for an indefinite reference: Anyone can enroll in the class; anybody could win. Use two words when emphasizing an individual of a group: Any one of the students may earn the top score.



Capitalize when referring to U.S. forces: Army ROTC, the U.S. Army, the Army. Do not use the abbreviation USA. Lowercase the forces of other nations: the British army.



Capitalize and italicize the names of works of art.



Do not abbreviate. Capitalize when part of a formal title before a name: Assistant Dean Mike Smith. Whenever possible, however, an appositional construction is usually easier to read: Mike Smith, the assistant dean of business.



Do not abbreviate. Capitalize when part of a formal title before a name: Associate Vice President Joy Borah. Whenever possible, however, an appositional construction is usually easier to read: Joy Borah, the associate vice president for academic affairs.



Assure means to give confidence: The professor assured the students.

Ensure means to guarantee: The team ensured victory with the extra touchdown.

Insure means to protect with financial insurance: Staff members can insure against the cost of illness through the university plan.


Awhile/A While

Awhile means "for a short time," so it is redundant to write: She lingered for awhile. Remove "for" if using awhile: She lingered awhile.

As a noun, while by itself means "an interval of time," so using "for" with it is not redundant: She lingered for a while.


Back up (v.)/Backup (n. and adj.)

Keep as two words when used as a verb: The car will back up and then stop. Use as one word as a noun or a modifier: The backup singer.



Not backwards.



One word. Front yard, however, is two words.



Do not use bad as an adverb. However, bad does not lose its adjectival status in a sentence such as I feel bad. The alternative, I feel badly, sounds as though the sense of touch is bad.


Best Seller (n.)/Best-Selling (adj.)

Examples: The book is a best seller. It landed on the best-selling list.



It means every other month. Semimonthly means twice a month.



It means every other week. Semiweekly means twice a week.



Lowercase unless it is part of a proper name.



No hyphen.



Use single "l" for most cases.



One word.



Canvas is heavy cloth. Canvass is a noun or verb denoting a survey.



In the geographic sense, the city where a seat of government is located. Do not capitalize: The capital of Alabama is Montgomery. In the financial sense, capital describes money, equipment or property used in a business.


The proper name of the government building in which the legislature meets is Capitol. Use U.S. Capitol when referring to the building in Washington, D.C., and the Alabama Capitol when referring to the building in Montgomery.



Lowercase when referring to a team captain.



Lowercase and spell out numbers less than 10: the second century, the 19th century.

For proper names, follow the organization's preference, including the university's use of proper names for the Campaign for the Twenty-First Century and the endowed titles created during that campaign: Mary Jones, holder of the Twenty-First Century Endowed Chair.



Capitalize as part of the name of an alumni chapter: Greater Kansas City Chapter, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. Alumni chapters are organized by geographic region. Alumni societies are affinity groups.

Also capitalize chapter when it is used with a numeral: She edited Chapter 1; he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Lowercase otherwise.



In general, refer to children 15 or younger by their first names on second reference. The Associated Press recommends using the last name, however, if the seriousness of the story calls for it, as in a murder case. For ages 16 and 17, use judgment, but generally use the surname unless it's a light story. Use the surname for those 18 and older. Generally, avoid the use of kids as a synonym.


Clean Up (v.)/Clean-up (n. and adj.)

Examples: He will clean up the mess. She bats clean-up.


Collective Nouns

Nouns that denote a unit take singular verbs and pronouns: class, faculty, family, group, herd, jury, orchestra, staff, team. Examples include: The faculty is meeting. The jury reached its verdict. The herd of cattle was sold.



Capitalize when it is part of the name of a specific college, such as the College of Business. Lowercase when it stands alone: The college offers nine majors.



Two objects must both be in motion before they can collide. An automobile cannot collide with a utility pole, for instance. Use strike or hit.



The word describes the informal use of language. Many colloquialisms are characteristic of informal writing and conversation and should be used advisedly: bum, phone. Others, such as ain't, are substandard and shouldn't be used.



Capitalize when referring to a specific commencement: The 2017 Commencement will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday. Capitalize the season when referring to a specific commencements: the Fall Commencement, the Spring 2015 Commencement. Lowercase when writing generally about commencements.



Generally, follow the spelling and capitalization preferred by the company: 3M Corp., Tyson Foods Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., eBay.


Use Co. or Cos. when a business uses the word at the end of its proper name: Ford Motor Co.


For a theatrical company, spell out: the Martha Graham Dance Company.



Complement is associated with two or more items that are well matched or complete a whole. Compliment means to praise or give polite flattery.



Compose means to create or put together. It commonly is used in both the active and passive voices: She composed a song. The United States is composed of 50 states.


Comprise means to contain, to include all or embrace. It is best used only in the active voice, followed by a direct object: The College of Business comprises eight departments. The track team comprises four sprinters, three middle-distance runners and two long jumpers.


Constitute, when used to mean to form or to make up, may be the best word if neither compose nor comprise seems to fit: Nine players constitute a baseball team. Four men and eight women constitute the jury.



Connote means to suggest or imply something beyond the explicit meaning: To some people, the word marriage connotes too much restriction. The word denote means to be explicit about the meaning: The word demolish denotes destruction.



Means to have general agreement.



Capitalize references to the U.S. Constitution with or without U.S. as a modifier. Also capitalize references to the Alabama Constitution, but lowercase the word constitution otherwise.



Continual means “repeated regularly and frequently.” Continuous means “extended or prolonged without interruption.”


Example:         The staff grew weary of the continual meetings.

The malfunctioning alarm made a continuous wail.



When used with a company name, abbreviate: Verizon Corp.



A council is a convening body. A counsel is someone who advises.



When used in the sense of two people, the word takes plural verbs and pronouns: The couple were married Saturday and left on their honeymoon. When used as a single unit, use a singular verb: Each couple is donating a prize for the drawing.



Data is a plural noun and should be followed by a plural verb form.

Example: The new data suggest that the theory is correct.




One word.


Degrees with Distinction

High-achieving graduates may be honored with one of three levels of distinction:

  • cum laude — "with praise"
  • magna cum laude — "with great praise"
  • summa cum laude — "with highest praise"

Because they are Latin, treat them as foreign phrases and italicize them.



Both words mean to remove completely, so a building cannot be partially demolished. Use damaged. It is also redundant to say that a building was totally destroyed.


Directions and Regions

In general, lowercase directional cues when they indicate points of the compass: north, south, southwesterly.


Capitalize directional words when they designate regions: They live on the West Coast. He teaches politics of the South. The Northeast depends on the Midwest for food. He has a Northern accent.


Lowercase when used with a nation unless part of the proper name: western Canada, Northern Ireland.


Capitalize compass points when part of a proper state name: West Virginia, North Dakota; lowercase compass points otherwise: northwest Alabama, west Texas.


Capitalize when denoting a widely known section of a state or city: Southern California, Lower East Side of New York.



Capitalize when used as a title before a person's name. Lowercase otherwise.



In general, do not describe an individual as disabled unless a person's physical or mental ability is pertinent to a story. If such a description is used, make clear what the disability is and how much the person's physical or mental performance is affected. Avoid euphemisms such as mentally challenged or descriptions that connote pity, such as afflicted with or suffering from multiple sclerosis. Rather, use has multiple sclerosis.

Some related terms:

  • cripple - Often considered offensive when used to describe someone who has a physical disability.
  • disabled - A general term used for a physical or cognitive condition that substantially limits one or more of the major daily life activities.
  • handicap - It should be avoided in describing a disability.
  • blind - Someone with a complete loss of sight. For others, use visually impaired or person with low vision.
  • deaf - Someone with a total hearing loss. For others, use partial hearing loss. Avoid use of deaf-mute or deaf and dumb.
  • mute - Someone who physically cannot speak. For others with speaking difficulties, use speech impaired.
  • wheelchair user - People use wheelchairs for independent mobility. Do not use confined to a wheelchair or wheelchair-bound. If reference to a wheelchair is needed, explain why.


Discreet means judicious, prudent or circumspect. Discrete means detached, separate or distinct.



Do not abbreviate. Use a figure and capitalize district when forming a proper name: the 3rd Congressional District, the 8th District Court of Appeals.


District of Columbia

In usage, treat as though it were a state. Abbreviate as D.C. when used with the city Washington and set off by commas: the Washington, D.C., gallery. On second reference, the District is allowed.



Use residence hall.


Due to

Due to is an adjective phrase and should not be used as a preposition meaning “because of.”

Example: The field trip was cancelled because of (not due to) lack of interest.


Due to is acceptable as a subject complement and usually follows a form of the verb be.

Example: The promotion was due to hard work and perseverance.



Short for electronic, when using it with other words, usually join it with a hyphen: e-book, e-conference, e-newsletter, e-reader. Exceptions are email, which the Associated Press recently adopted, and proper names that do not use the hyphen.



Use a singular verb with it: Each of them is going.


Each Other/One Another

Two people look at each other. More than two people look at one another. When the number is indefinite, either phrase works equally well: We help each other. We help one another.



Lowercase except when used as the proper name of the planet: He has no earthly idea. The research examines Venus, Earth and Jupiter. The rocket fell back to Earth. The experiment examines earth found at seven sites.



Use it to mean one or the other but not both:

  • RIGHT: She said to attend either class.
  • WRONG: There were charts on either side of the classroom.
  • RIGHT: There were charts on both sides of the classroom. There were charts on each side of the classroom.


Either or/Neither nor

The nouns that follow these words do not constitute a compound subject. They are alternative subjects and require a verb that agrees with the subject nearest to the verb: Neither they nor he is going. Either he or they are going.



Generally, emeritus status is accorded faculty who have served the university for an extended period and have retired. Writers should be aware that some retired faculty members continue to teach classes or perform research.


When used with a title, the Associated Press recommends placing emeritus immediately after the title. Use it lowercase even if the formal title of a person is capitalized: Professor emeritus Joe Smith; Dean emerita Mary Jones; President emeritus John White; or Joe Smith, professor emeritus of history.



One who leaves a country emigrates. One who comes to a country immigrates. The noun forms are emigrant and immigrant.



Entitled means the right to do or have something; titled refers to the name of a book or composition.

  • RIGHT: He is entitled to his opinion.
  • RIGHT: The book is titled Wuthering Heights



When writing about the faculty as a whole, faculty should be treated as a collective noun and take a singular verb: The faculty is in favor of the new schedule.


When writing about individuals, use faculty members to avoid noun-verb difficulties: Five faculty members are teaching abroad.



Farther usually describes distance. Further indicates quantity or degree.

Examples: Distance learning students living farther than 60 miles from campus qualify for special services.

The committee plans to explore the issue further at its next meeting.



Leave the –ly endings off of ordinals. Use first, second, etc.


Foreign Words

The English language has melted many foreign words and phrases into common use, such as taco, versus, et cetera. Use them without explanation.


Many foreign words, however, have not yet attained that status but may still be useful for a particular story. If using a foreign word or phrase, italicize it and provide an explanation of its meaning (since the full example is italicized in this instance, the foreign phrase is de-italicized): She described the research as sui generis, or uniquely its own style.



Not goodby.



Good is an adjective meaning virtuous or better than average: She is a good person; he is a good student.

When used as an adjective, well means proper or healthy: She is feeling well. When used as an adverb, well means in a proper way or skillfully: She paints well.


Do not use good as an adverb.


Good Will (n.)/Goodwill (adj.)

Examples: A gesture of good will; the goodwill project.


Graduate (n.)/Graduate/Graduated/Graduating (v.)/Graduated (adj.)

Graduate is correctly used in the active voice: She graduated from the University of North Alabama. The university graduated 3,000 students. It is correct, but unnecessary, to use the passive voice: He was graduated from the university. Do not, however, drop from.

  • RIGHT: George S. Lindsey graduated from the University of North Alabama.
  • WRONG: Lindsey graduated UNA.


When graduated is used as an adjective, it means to marked into units of measurement: graduated beaker.


Graduate Assistant

Don't use GA or shorten to grad assistant except in quoted material.



Writers and speakers imply; listeners and readers infer.



In indicates location: He is in the residence hall. The word into indicates motion: She walked into the classroom.


Information Technology

On second reference, IT is permissible when used as a modifier: IT resources, IT Services.



They are suffered, not sustained or received.



Its is a possessive pronoun; it’s is a contraction for it is.

Example: It’s difficult to predict when the committee will complete its report.



Abbreviate when used with the full name of someone. Do not set off by commas: Mike Smith Jr. or Bill Jones III. The notation II or 2nd may be used if it is the individual's preference. Note that II and 2nd are sometimes used for a nephew or grandson and are not necessarily the equivalent of junior.


Keynote Address/Keynote Speaker

Use lowercase.



Avoid the use of last in place of latest because of the ambiguity about whether most recent or final is meant.



Do not use it to describe someone's actions while they were alive.

  • WRONG: The late senator opposed the bill.
  • RIGHT: Before her death, the senator had opposed the bill.


Latino (m.), Latina (f.)

Although the Associated Press prefers the term Hispanic to describe someone from a Spanish-speaking country, the Associated Press does allow use of Latino or Latina for a person who prefers use of those terms.



The action verb is lay, and it takes a direct object: She lay the textbook on the table. Its past tense and past participle is laid: Yesterday, he laid blame on the defendant. Its present participle is laying: The mason is laying the sidewalk.


When lie refers to reclining on a horizontal plane, it does not take a direct object: The dog lies in the grass. The past tense is lay: He lay on the beach yesterday. The past participle is lain: She has lain down for a nap. The present participle is lying: The student is lying on the couch.


When lie means to make a false statement, the verb forms are lie, lied and lying.



A speaker stands behind a lectern, on a podium or rostrum, or in the pulpit.



Fewer refers to individual countable items. Less refers to general amounts expressed by a singular noun.

Examples: There are fewer students in this program than there were last year.

The program received less money than it did last year.



Use like as a preposition to compare nouns and pronouns. It requires an object: Mike sees like a hawk. The conjunction as is the correct word to introduce clauses: Mike sees the stop sign as he should.


Master of Arts, Master of Science

The less formal master's degree is acceptable on any reference for either of these degrees. If the type of degree is pertinent to the story, be as specific as possible.


Middle Names

Use them only when a person is known publicly with a middle name or to avoid confusion with people of the same name.



Do not put 12 in front of it. It is part of the day that is ending, not the one that is beginning.



Do not put 12 in front of it.


Occupational Titles

Always lowercase: lawyer Mary Smith, architect Mike Jones.


Over/More Than

Traditionally, over refers to a spatial relationship: The airplane is over the stadium. Use more than when writing with numbers and rankings: She scored 5 points more than the average. The fee is more than $3.



Percent is always used with a specific number. Percentage is used with a descriptive tern such as large or small, not with a specific number.


Examples: Eighty percent of the faculty indicted that they agreed with the policy.

A disappointingly small percentage of the faculty returned the survey forms.



Lowercase fall, spring, summer, winter and similar words such as autumn or springlike unless part of a proper name: fall semester, spring break, Summer Olympics.



Use should to show obligation: Students should attend class. Use would to show common action: If students were to attend class more, they would make better grades.



The U.S. Census Bureau defines the South as including 16 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.


In cultural or historical contexts, the South often refers to those 11 states that seceded from the United States in 1861: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.


Telephone Numbers

Use figures and hyphens with the area code if the number is in the United States: 479-575-5555.

For international phone numbers, use the number needed to dial from the United States, 011, followed by the country code, the city code and the phone number: 011-44-20-7353-1515. The country code for the United States is 1. It is generally assumed.

Similarly, for toll-free numbers: 800-Talk-UNA

Use hyphens between numbers.

For extensions, abbreviate the word and use a comma to separate: 479-575-5555, ext. 6731.


Use theater in all references except when the proper name of a theater is spelled otherwise: George S. Lindsey Theatre, movie theater.


Their is a personal pronoun: They went to their class.

There is an adverb indicating direction: They went there for instruction. It is also used as a pronoun for impersonal constructions in which the real subject follows the verb: There are better ways to learn.

They're is a contraction for they are.


On second reference, 3-D is preferred.



Avoid expressions such as most unique, more straight, less perfect. Either something is unique or it is not.


United States

Spell out when used as a noun. Use U.S. as a modifier.



Use who to refer to persons, not which. Although the word that is generally used to refer to things, it may be used to refer to a group or class of people.


Examples: The students wondered how an instructor who (not that or which) was visually impaired could teach photography.

The student organization that collects the most donations will win the award.



Who is a pronoun used for references to human beings and animals that are named. Grammatically, who is the subject of a sentence, clause or phrase and never the object: The professor who discovered the new method teaches entomology. Who goes there?


Whom is used when someone is the object of a verb or preposition: The professor to whom the grant was given discovered the new method. Whom do you wish to question?



Who's is a contraction for who is: Who's there? And whose is a possessive: She is the student whose score was perfect.