The difference between “incidences” and “incidents”

Let’s say you’re in a meeting when suddenly the door bursts open and a clown comes dancing into the room. You might go home and talk about that incident over dinner. Let’s say it happens again the next day. At dinner, you might say, “I can’t believe there were two incidences of that clown interrupting the meeting!”

Not quite.

“Incidences” vs “incidents”

While the “incidents” and “incidence” do sound the same and in fact are quite similar, they’re not interchangeable. What’s the difference?

  • “Incidents” refers to two or more of the same event or occurrence – like the meeting room clown example above.
  • “Incidence” is a technical word that doesn’t have a plural form. It refers to the frequency or rate of something happening, and is often seen in the medical or scientific worlds – the rising incidence of polio in a city, for example.

When you’re trying to figure out the correct word to use in writing, it might be helpful to think of a (minor) car accident – the dent in the bumper can remind you of “incident” – the right word to use to describe a single event or occurrence.

 

Posted in Spelling & GrammarLanguage.

Is it “pour over” or “pore over”?

You may have read about someone “pouring over” a book, implying that they’re studying its pages intently.

Unfortunately, it’s wrong. Someone “pouring over” their book is likely dumping the contents of a watering can over it.

It’s a common mistake, but the correct phrase is “pore over.” It’s not a very commonly used word in this case, but “pore” is defined as “to be absorbed in the reading or study of.” Yes, a pore is also a very tiny opening in something, most commonly associated with the skin on our faces. The two words aren’t related.

Using “pore” might seem wrong to many people because of that other usage of the word. However, “pore” is the right word to use when writing about how closely you’re examining or reading something. If you get stuck, think of the watering can!

 

Posted in Spelling & GrammarLanguage.

 

“Discreet” vs “discrete”

Discrete is just an alternate spelling of discreet, you might think. And it’s understandable, what with all the Canadian, British and American spelling differences where an E is moved here, or a U inserted there.

However, in this case, discrete and discreet are two entirely different words. Here’s the difference between them:

Discrete means distinct or separate. (The organization is broken up into five discrete divisions.)

Discreet means prudent, tactful, or unobtrusive. (She discreetly informed her friend he had broccoli in his teeth.)

So, how do you tell the difference between discreet and discrete? One method that helps me to remember is: the Es in discrete are separate from each other, and the word discrete refers to things that are separated. Kind of silly, but it helps!

 

Posted in Spelling & Grammar.

“Weary” vs “wary”

This word confusion is commonly seen, but it’s also one with a very simple explanation.

Weary = tired, exhausted

Wary = unsure, cautious

So, saying “I was weary of attending the party” is correct only if you’re tired of attending the party, but not if you’re having second thoughts or hesitation about attending the party.

One way you could remember the correct one is that wary rhymes with scary, and you’re probably going to be wary of a scary situation.

Finding the difference between these words is also made easier if you say them aloud. I’m not familiar with all the different permutations of accents, but I’m fairly certain that they do sound different at least most of the time.

 

Posted in Spelling & Grammar.

Why saying “I could care less” is wrong

I’ll be honest – this one gets up my nose a bit every time I hear/read it. You’ve probably heard people say they “couldn’t care less” about something, but you’ve probably also heard them say they “could care less” about something. So which one is right?

The correct way to say it is “I couldn’t care less.”

Saying you could care less implies you have a little bit of caring left in you. Saying you couldn’t care less means you’ve hit the bottom – there is absolutely no more room for you to care about the situation in question.

A good way to remember it is to use different word in place of “care.” Think of saying, “I could drive less” or “I could work less.” In these examples, there is still some driving or working to do before the speaker is done. If I said, “I couldn’t work less,” that implies it’s impossible for me to do any less work.

I hope that clears up the difference between “could care less” and “couldn’t care less”!

 

Posted in Spelling & GrammarLanguage.

 

The difference between “you and I” and “you and me”

If you’re like me, you grew up hearing your parents say something like, “It’s ‘Mark and I’, dear.”

Well I’m here to tell you that even in adulthood, it still feels good to learn that your parents don’t know everything.

The proper usage of “you and I”

Your parents weren’t entirely wrong. Using “and I” is still correct – just not all of the time. For an easy way to tell which usage is correct, simply remove the other subject from the sentence. For example:

Mark and I went to the store.

becomes

I went to the store.

In this example, the sentence still makes sense. Using “and I” here is correct.

Here’s another example.

The store was too expensive for Mark and I.

becomes

The store was too expensive for I.

Yikes. Sounds ridiculous, right?

In this case, using “and me” is correct. Then, the sentence with the other subject removed would be: The store was too expensive for me. This sounds nice and normal.

So, there you go! It’s easy to tell when to use “and I” and when to use “and me.” The trick, of course, is convincing your parents.

 

Posted in Spelling & GrammarLanguage.

Anyway/any way and everyday/every day

The four words “anyway,” “any way,” “everyday” and “every day” illustrate for me just how precise and seemingly random the English language can be. It’s not always easy to tell which usage is correct. Specifically, getting “everyday” and “every day” mixed up is so common, I bet many people don’t even realize they mean two entirely different things.

So, how can you tell which one to use?

When to use anyway and when to use any way

The word “anyway” has a few meanings. They are: to redirect a conversation, to show that something is bound to happen, or to confirm something that’s previously been said. Here are examples of each.

  • “So, anyway, what do you want for lunch?”
  • “If I make a turkey sandwich, you’re just going to ask for ham anyway.”
  • “Lunch will be turkey anyway; I don’t know why you’re asking.”

By contrast, “any way” has one very specific meaning: one or many methods of reaching a certain goal.

“Is there any way we could have lunch earlier?”

When to use everyday and when to use every day

As I mentioned earlier, mixing up these two is very common; probably more common than the anyway/any way mixup. But fear not – it’s easy to remember the difference between “everyday” and “every day.”

The adjective “everyday” refers to things that are routine, that are faced daily. For example, if you take the same bus to work daily, that’s your everyday route. It can also refer to things that are commonplace – “This isn’t my everyday pair of shoes.”

The adverb “every day” means, specifically, each day.

So, to say, “I eat cereal every day” is correct, because you’re explaining that you eat cereal each day – whereas “I eat cereal everyday” is incorrect. However, saying, “This is my everyday cereal” is the correct usage of “everyday.”

Posted in Spelling & Grammar, Language.

“Should/could have” vs “should/could of”

One thing that fascinates me, though the result often frustrates me, is how many of our spelling errors arise from the spoken word. The phrases “should of” and “could of” are perfect examples of this.

Why “should of” and “could of” are incorrect

“Should of” and “could of”, if you break them out into their two separate words, don’t actually make any sense together. You can say “a pint of beer” or “three hours of sleep”, but “should of studied” doesn’t fit.

In this case, people say “should of” and “could of” because of the contraction that’s created from the word “have.” Really, it’s “should’ve” and “could’ve” – in other words, “should have” and “could have.” This contraction sounds very similar to “of” when spoken aloud, but “of” in this case is meaningless and incorrect.

Hope that helps!

 

Posted in Spelling & GrammarLanguage.

“Conscious” vs “conscience”

This is a spelling misunderstanding I’ve been seeing around the internet quite often lately. These two words sound similar, but they’re different.

Here’s the difference between “conscious” and “conscience”

  • Conscious means to be awake, to be aware, or to have knowledge of something.
  • Conscience is the little voice inside you that tells you stealing your best friend’s car and driving it into a lake is wrong.

So, this means the following phrases are incorrect:

  • Socially conscience
  • Unconscience
  • Listen to your conscious

How to tell the difference between “conscious” and “conscience”

Because these words sound so similar, it’s easy to get them confused. However, the key to telling them apart is in the second ‘n’ in conscience. Say it aloud if you need to (if you’re in public, you can say it under your breath – it’s okay!). If you need to talk about how to tell the difference between right and wrong, watch for that second ‘n.’ Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to come up with an easy mnemonic device for this one, but after a while it should become second nature!

Posted in Spelling & Grammar.

What phrases really bug you?

I know that the English language is ever evolving (though I try in my own way to keep it from evolving into incoherency), but there are some popular phrases that just make my skin crawl. I hereby vow to never use these in any form, written or spoken:

  • Across the pond
  • Pout – to describe lips in general, not an actual pout
  • Wow factor
  • Culture vulture

Here are words and phrases that bug me because they’re actually incorrect:

  • All intensive purposes (should be “intents and purposes”)
  • “Incidences” to mean “incidents” (“incidence” is actually a technical word which is not pluralized)
  • “Awe” as an alternate spelling of “aw” (I mean, it’s an entirely different word!).
  • “Comprised of”, but I’ve talked about that one before.
  • “Should of”, “would of”, etc.
  • “Penultimate” to mean “the most ultimate” (it actually means “next to last” – very far from the way it’s commonly used, which is a shame because it’s a great word).
  • “Reoccuring”

Posted in Language.