Words To Stop Misusing: Volume 1

I'm not perfect, but I like grammar and I like being right. Ask anyone who's watched Jeopardy! with me. 

As a technical editor and writer, I see a lot of the same mistakes. I've been putting together some instructional materials on writing and grammar, and even taught two classes at work in the past week. I hope it was fun--I'm sure all my Rye Cove students can attest that my teaching style is a little offbeat. I just do what I can to keep people from slipping into a mid-afternoon nap: I bring chocolate, reference Tommy Boy and "Downton Abbey", and talk a lot about pandas.

So here are some guidelines on the right way to use some tricky words. (Yes, this is what I do professionally, and sometimes for fun.)

Utilize—You probably mean “use”
(Use “utilize” when you mean “used in a manner other than was originally intended”)
  • Which kind of cheese should we use for lunch--cheddar, feta, or goat?
  • In a pinch, a garment iron can be utilized as a panini press to make grilled cheeses.

While—You probably mean “although”
(Use “while” when you mean “at the same time”)
  • Although most animals are thought to have no metaconscience, this panda is quite self-aware.
  • While we put the pillowcase over the ostrich's head, our cousin prepared to saddle up.

Since—You probably mean “because” or “as”
(Use “since” when you mean “after this point in time”)
  • Because legwarmers aren’t common business attire, she only wears them after hours.
  • Since the 1980s, flashdancing has really fallen out of fashion.

e.g.,—Use when you mean “for example” and when you're not including an exhaustive list
  • We accept many forms of payment (e.g., cash, check, credit cards, baby sheep).

i.e.,—Use when you mean “that is” and when you are including an exhaustive list
  • We all knew there was only one solution (i.e., a box of wine).

If—Use when you indicate possibility
  • If you are engulfed in flames, do not tweet about it until you are safely out of doors.

Should—Use when you indicate obligation or the preferred course of action
  • When you are engulfed by a flock of seagulls, you should ask them to avoid styling your hair.
Leave me a comment with your most perplexing usage or grammar question, and I'll do my best to answer it correctly in my next grammar post.

Special thanks to this week's featured illustrator, Justin Steinmann, for the use of his original artwork. It's "real nice."


  1. What about "that" and "which"?

  2. Someone wrote me an email last week saying: "If I would of known she was going to be there, I would of brought it then." Classic!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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