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September 26, 2009
Do You Make These Word Choice Mistakes?

Some of the top titles on the New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Best-Seller List for the first week of September 2009 included My Life in France, Julie & Julia, and Three Cups of Tea. Noticeably absent from the list was 250 Pages of Confusing, Boring Grammar Rules That I'm Never Going to Remember Anyway. Hmm, I wonder why?

There's a lot of information to digest when you read a Grammar Bible. Are you really going to remember the past participle explanation about the words "would" and "could" that you read in Chapter One by the time that your eyes have scanned 250 pages?

In the current economic climate, you can’t afford to make mistakes. You need a quick fix. There, I said it. Simple, to the point, non-bullshit grammar lessons that you’ll actually remember the next time that you are choosing between Word Choice A and Word Choice B.

Let’s start with three sets of commonly misused words.

Premier vs. Premiere

Who would have thought that a little “e” could make such a big difference? Well, it does.

The adjective “premier” means “first-rate, best, number one in its class”.

Tip: Premier = premium. Both words do not end with the letter “e”.

The noun “premiere” means “the first public showing of an event”.

Tip: Premiere = movie premiere. The words “premiere” and “movie” both end with the letter “e”.

Compliment vs. Complement

The two distinct words “compliment” and “complement” are essentially pronounced in the same way (especially if one is mumbling) and essentially spelled the same way—there’s only one letter that is different.

A “compliment (noun)” is an “expression of praise”. When you “compliment (verb)” someone you tell her an expression of praise.

A complement (noun) is “something that completes something else”. When something “complements (verb)” something else it “makes it whole/adds value to it”.

Most people have a separate drawer for socks, a separate drawer for t-shirts, a separate drawer for sweaters, etc. Think of the following as a separate drawer for “compliment”, and a separate drawer for “complement”.

“I like the outfit that you have on” is a compliment. The word “compliment” that is spelled with the letter “i” should remind you of saying “I like”—the phrase that you begin with when you give someone a compliment.

A “complement” “completes, or makes whole”. Complement. Complete.

Insure vs. Ensure

The verb “insure” is “the act of protecting assets against loss or harm”:

You must insure your car if you plan to drive it.

The verb “ensure” is “to make certain, or to guarantee”:

I would like to ensure that you use proper grammar.

The simplest way to determine which of these words is the most appropriate for the context of your writing is to examine the content that you’re writing about.

The word “insure” references insurance—such as health insurance, life insurance, car insurance, etc.

The words “ensure” and “guarantee” can be used interchangeable.

The last two letters of the word “guarantee” are “e”.

Tip: Guarantee = Ensure.

Want to quickly differentiate more frequently confused words?

Visit www.RevisionFairyTales.com and download Revision Fairy Tales: 21 Writing Mistakes You’ll Never Make Again.

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Stefanie Flaxman corrects business, marketing, and educational documents in 24 hours. She’s a writing consultant and the founder of Revision Fairy® Small Business Proofreading Services. Check out her free report and subscribe to Small Business Writing Consultant Blog to get free business writing advice. Don’t forget to say hello on Twitter!

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