Spell-check can’t help you correctly select there, their or they’re. But the AP Stylebook can.
Some of the most popular style tips we share on the AP Stylebook Twitter account are commonly confused words. Here’s a sampler of some of the distinctions we have shared to help ensure, not insure, you get it right:
- Palate is the roof of the mouth. A palette is an artist’s paint board. A pallet is a low platform. It’s also a small bed or pad filled with straw and used directly on the floor.
- To jury-rig is to set up something for temporary or emergency use: a courtroom jury-rigged in a corner of the factory. It’s sometimes confused with jerry-built, which means to be made poorly, or of cheap materials: Flimsy houses were jerry-built on the hillside.
- Actual sign at a parking garage: “All major credit cards excepted.” No! (Unless you can’t use your credit card there.) Except means to exclude. Accept means to receive or to believe in.
- Affect, as a verb, means to influence: The game will affect the standings. Effect, as a verb, means to cause: He will effect many changes in the company. Or: To effect change, you must affect people. Effect, as a noun, means result: The effect was overwhelming. Affect, as a noun, is best avoided. It occasionally is used in psychology to describe an emotion, but there is no need for it in everyday language.
- An agnostic is a person who believes it is impossible to know whether there is a God. An atheist is a person who believes there is no God.
- Use ensure to mean guarantee: Steps were taken to ensure accuracy. Use insure for references to insurance: The policy insures his life. Use assure to mean to make sure or give confidence: She assured us the statement was accurate.
- Disinterested means impartial, which is usually the better word to convey the thought. Uninterested means that someone lacks interest.
- Discreet means prudent, circumspect: “I’m afraid I was not very discreet,” she wrote. Discrete means detached, separate: There are four discrete sounds from a quadraphonic system.
- Aid is assistance. An aide is a person who serves as an assistant. The aide offers aid.
- Anticipate means to expect and prepare for something; expect does not include the notion of preparation. They expect a record crowd. They have anticipated it by adding more seats to the auditorium.
- A cannon is a weapon. A canon is a law or rule, particularly of a church, or a musical composition.
- 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. The zoo is composed of many animals. Comprise means to contain, to include all or embrace. It is best used only in the active voice, followed by a direct object: The United States comprises 50 states. The jury comprises five men and seven women. The zoo comprises many animals. Constitute, in the sense of form or makeup, may be the best word if neither compose nor comprise seems to fit: Fifty states constitute the United States. Five men and seven women constitute the jury. A collection of animals can constitute a zoo. Use include when what follows is only part of the total: The price includes breakfast. The zoo includes lions and tigers.
AP Stylebook: Write Right was originally published in Tracking Changes (Winter 2021 edition). Members receive a PDF of the quarterly Tracking Changes newsletter by email.
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