Editorial Style Guide

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Troublesome pairs

For anyone who has fallen into the “that versus which” trap, been confounded by the “accept versus except” question, or taken a beating on the “compliment versus complement” issue.

a while a period of time

for some time (see Index)

[Note that awhile includes the word “for” in its definition, and thus “for” shouldn't be added. If your meaning begs you to add the word “for,” it's likely you need to use a while.]

accept to agree to take or undertake; to receive willingly; to believe; to consent
  • Begrudgingly, Gertrude accepted the collect call from her pesky sister.
  • Without exception, council members voted to accept the resolution.
  • Three rambunctious students accepted responsibility for the cafeteria’s broken window.
except to exclude or leave out; other than
  • Jim allows himself one exception to his no-eating-after-dinner rule: a bowl of ice cream during Monday Night Football.
  • Except for Monday, every day of the week has a unique reason for being special to Joe. (Monday is never special.)
advice (n.) suggestion; counsel
advise (v.) to give advice
affect (v.) to change; to shape; to influence
effect (v.) to bring about; to cause something to happen
(n.) result; outcome
all ready completely prepared (“all is ready”)
already beforehand; in the past; by this time
all right This is the only correct spelling of all right.
alright Generally considered as incorrect, so do not use.
all together simultaneously; all at once
altogether entirely; wholly; totally
alternate (v.) to occur in a successive manner; to act or proceed by turns; to move regularly back and forth between two places, conditions, actions, etc.
(adj.) happening or following in turns
(n.) a person acting in place of another; a substitute
alternative (n.) a choice between or among mutually exclusive possibilities
(adj.) existing outside traditional or established systems
among involving three or more (countable) persons or things
between involving two persons or things (only)
amid involving persons or things that are not countable (e.g., gravel; or e.g., a throng of people)
amidst a variant of amid (but please use amid)
amount use with mass nouns
  • In the amount of time it took him to make the meatballs from scratch, Peter could have purchased frozen meatballs at the corner market and booked a trip to Italy.
number use with countable nouns
  • The problem is, the number of frozen meatballs in a package is rarely stated, and Peter needs exactly twelve.
any body one indiscriminate dead person
anybody any one person (usually interchangeable with anyone)
any more use when “any” could be removed and the meaning would be preserved
anymore no longer
any one a specific person (use if substituting anybody doesn’t work; also use if followed by of)
  • Any one of the candidates would have made a fine class president.
anyone any person (use if you can substitute anybody)
  • Is anyone home?
any way use when you don’t mean “in any case”
  • Is there any way to solve that puzzle without a calculator?
anyway in any case
  • Harold wasn’t invited to the party but says he didn’t want to go anyway.
appraise to evaluate (usually in a professional capacity)
apprise to inform or give notice about

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beside by the side of; next to
besides in addition to
biannual See biannual, bimonthly, biweekly index entry
semiannual See semiannual, semimonthly, semiweekly index entry
bring transport it here
take transport it somewhere else, away from here (perhaps use this mnemonic, noting alliteration: “Bring back, take to”)
can has the ability to
may has permission to
capital (n.) a town or city that serves as the official government seat for a political entity (among other definitions)
capitol (n.) a building or building complex where a state legislature meets
Capitol (n.) refers specifically to the building in Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Congress meets

See also the capital, Capitol index entry
cite (v.) to make reference to a specific source
sight (n.) vision or view
site (n.) a location (e.g., on the Internet; or e.g., a construction site)
compare to to represent as similar or equal
compare with to examine for similarities or differences
complement to make complete or satisfy a need
compliment to flatter or praise
continual repeated at frequent intervals
continuous uninterrupted
council (n.) an official group or committee; a governing or deliberative body
councilor (n.) a council member
counsel (v.) to give advice or guidance
(n.) advice or guidance
(n.) one who advises, especially a lawyer who gives legal advice
counselor (n.) one who counsels or advises
(n.) a term of address for a lawyer acting as counsel
consul (n.) an official representative of a foreign country’s interests; an emissary
critical (adj.) forming or having the nature of a turning point; indispensable or essential
crucial (adj.) extremely significant or important; decisive

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desperate reckless out of despair or urgency
disparate dissimilar, different
disburse to pay out
disperse to scatter
discreet cautious; guarded in conduct; respectful of propriety
discrete separate; distinct; disconnected
electric means “of, relating to, producing, or operated by electricity”
  • electric current
electrical means “related to, pertaining to, or associated with electricity but not having its properties or characteristics”
  • electrical engineering
  • an electrical appliance
electronic means “of or relating to electrons”
  • electronic navigation
ensure to make sure or certain of something
insure to guarantee life or property against risk (as with an insurance policy)
every day every single day
everyday routine or daily
every one use when you don't mean "everybody"
  • Every one of her students asked for a letter of recommendation.
everyone use if you can substitute "everybody"
  • It seems that everyone had a fabulous time at the party.

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farther refers to physical distance only
further refers to a greater extent or degree
fewer refers to number; use it to describe plural words
  • This line is only for shoppers with fewer than 10 items.
less refers to quantity; use it to describe singular words
  • Today’s parents have less time to spend with their children.
[Note that you could substitute fewer hours.]
flounder (v.) to stumble or thrash about, move or act clumsily
founder (v.) to cave in, fail, collapse
imply to suggest (a speaker implies something)
infer to draw a conclusion (a listener infers something)
it’s contraction of it is (only!)
its possessive pronoun; belonging to it
lay to place or put down
lie to rest or recline (also, to tell an untruth)

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more than use with countable units
  • Candace supervises more than 16 people.
over use with quantities
  • We’ve been waiting for over an hour.
oral spoken (as opposed to written)
verbal having a facility with words, whether in speech or writing
principal (adj.) most important; major
school administrator
principle (n.) rule; standard; law; belief
rise to go up or get up
raise to bring something up (and it’s always followed by whatever is being brought up)

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select (adj.) singled out; preferred; of special value or quality
  • She is one of the select few who’ve been honored three times with the award.
selected (adj.) chosen from among several
  • Selected sofas are on sale at half their original price.
some day two-word form is used when “some” is modifying a more definite date
  • Can you come over some day soon?
  • I’ll play golf with you some day when I’m not so busy.
someday (adv.) at an indefinite time in the future
  • Can you come over someday?
  • We’ll get that right someday.
NOTE:The same rules apply to some time vs. sometime.
some time again, use the two-word form when “some” is modifying a more definite time
  • Let’s have lunch some time soon.
  • We’ll solve that puzzle some time when we can devote an afternoon to it.
sometime (adv.) eventually
  • Let’s have lunch sometime.
  • We’ll solve that puzzle sometime.
stationary in a fixed spot or position
stationery letter-writing paper
Mnemonic:“I write letters with stationery” (all those e’s!).
than used for comparisons
then next; at that time; therefore
that introduces an essential (restrictive) phrase—and does not need commas
which introduces a nonessential (nonrestrictive) phrase—and needs commas
Note:This is further explained in the Index. See that, which.
their possessive form of they
they’re contraction of they are
there opposite of here
time line refers to a chronology of historical events
timeline refers to a timetable or plan for events to come

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until, till Use these interchangeably, but don’t use ’til. Also, don’t use up or since with until (i.e., don’t use “Up until now I didn’t believe ….” )
use to to employ for the purpose(s) of
used to formerly; in the past
which refers to things
who refers to people
who use when he, she, they, I, or we works in the sentence
whom use when him, her, them, me, or us works in the sentence
who’s contraction for who is
whose belonging to whom
you’re contraction for you are
your belonging to you

Please e-mail comdor-editguide@mit.edu if you have suggestions for other sticklers you'd like to see included.

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