Home Tip of the Day Avoiding Common Errors in English Usage

Avoiding Common Errors in English Usage


common-english-use-mistakesWhen starting the course, MILH202 – Survey of American Military History at AMU, Professor Stephen B. Bacon provided his list of “Spelling Words of Death!” He stated clearly, “Misspelling these words on any test or paper will cost you three points each time! Fair warning!” It may seem harsh, but his threat was effective.

Some of my favorite examples included:

  • Cannon, not canon…these shoot large projectiles, not referring to the church.
  • Cavalry is a bunch of guys on horses, Calvary is a hill near Jerusalem.
  • Custer is the guy at little big horn, custard refers to a pudding and custur doesn’t mean anything.
  • Guerrilla, not gorilla…referring to a member of a small group of fighters who make sudden attacks on an enemy.
  • Naval refers to ships, navel refers to belly-buttons.
  • Stake, not steak….a large piece of wood…usually used to burn witches on. A steak is a nice piece of cow meat to eat.
  • Witch, not which…one who sits at a cauldron and casts spells and is burned at the stake (see above).

Professor Bacon was striving to help his students avoid common errors in the English Language. There was clearly a military focus in Bacon’s list, as he teaches military history. However, students make all sorts of mistakes in every part of the English language.

Luckily, Professor Paul Brians at WSU has published one of the most extensive, easily accessible online lists of common errors in English usage. His list is massive, but some common mistakes among students include the following:

With hundreds of entries, Brians’ work is invaluable to students and anyone trying to master the English language. Bookmark it. Whenever you start to wonder about the meaning of two similar words, this site is a great place to start.

By Scott Manning
Online Learning Tips, Student Contributor



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