Eight words we all get stuck on

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Anyone who claims to be a language lover has those moments of pain witnessing someone using ‘to, two or too’ incorrectly or making the ‘they’re/there/their’ mistake. If you’re presenting yourself as professional in any way you need to stay on top of those basic errors in order for your work to be trustworthy. I’ve had a life-long passion for reading and writing and pride myself on being a great speller, but there are some words which I just have to go back and double check every time when I’m writing copy. Do any of these trip you up or drive you crazy?

Licence vs License In Australian and UK English, one of these is a verb and one is a noun. For example: a nightclub bouncer would ask to see your licence to prove that you are over 18 (or check if you’re too old for the vibe inside his fine establishment). The nightclub itself is licensed as a venue in order to be able to serve alcohol to those who are legally allowed to drink themselves into a stupor.

Practice vs Practise Once and for all, repeat after me – a Doctor practises medicine in his practice. (My US spellchecker is telling me this is wrong, but in the UK and Australia it’s all good).

Curtsey or Curtsy? Years ago there was some drama over politicians and a royal visit and arguments ensued in the newsroom I was working in at the time over how to spell this word. The answer is actually that both are acceptable, which drives me nuts because I think that curtsey just looks wrong!

Adviser or Advisor? Which one is right? Actually, either. However adviser is the traditional spelling if you ask around.

Enquire vs Inquire Oxford dictionaries says that if you’re asking a question of someone like “Excuse me Sir, may I enquire as to why you are standing on my foot?” Then you go with the ‘e’. If you’re inquiring then it’s more along the lines of ‘Police are launching a formal inquiry as to why the man kept standing on people’s feet.’

Collectable / Collectible From the research I’ve done on this one after writing a number of articles for a knick-knack store then freaking out that I’d spelt it wrong just before I hit send, ‘Collectible’ is slightly preferred, although both are acceptable.

Grey / Gray If you’re talking 50 Shades, then it’s definitely Grey. (Or 50 Shades of ‘Seriously? are we supposed to enjoy this garbage…’ don’t get me started). Grey is actually the most commonly used spelling of this word in Australia and the UK. The US tends to go with ‘gray’.

Affect / effect Arg, this one! It gets me every time, but it comes back to the noun / verb logic again. The cyclone affected a wide area The cyclone had a huge effect on the area.

Here’s a fun infographic to tape to your wall if you get stuck. Hopefully it won’t blow away in the cyclone…

Clea Sherman is a professional copywriter. Photo by Daniel Oines

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