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Common Word Choice Confusions In English

There are specific words and phrases that you should avoid in academic writing. But some common words are simply misused or misunderstood, creating confusion in your writing. This article discusses some of these words to help you learn the rules to distinguish them.

Research vs Researches

Research is a tricky word that is both a verb and a noun:

  • You conduct thorough research.
  • You research the topic for the term paper.

The word researches is often misused as a plural noun. But you should remember one thing: there is no plural form of this noun. The word researches can only be used as a third-person verb:

Right✔️ Wrong❌
My friend conducts numerous researches. My friend researches multiple topics.

Just like other nouns that we do not count as individual entities (like water, knowledge, money, etc.), the noun research is an uncountable noun that does not come with -s or -es plural. So, use the singular research or a countable noun like study:

Right✔️ Wrong❌
The explorer's numerous research is discussed in this paper. The explorer's numerous researches are discussed in this paper.
The explorer's numerous studies are discussed in this paper.

However

The word however has two meanings. The first one is similar to but and expresses contrast. The second one is regardless of how, to whatever degree, in whatever manner and expresses not contrast but disregard.

When it is used as a conjunctive adverb, it is always followed by a comma:

Right✔️ Wrong❌
I like bright colors; however, too colorful dresses are unacceptable to me. I like bright colors, however too colorful dresses are unacceptable to me.

When however is used as a plain old adverb, it is never followed by a comma.

Right✔️ Wrong❌
I will get that car however hard I have to work for that. I will get that car; however, hard I have to work for that.

Who vs That

You can easily avoid this confusion by remembering that who is used when referring to a person, and that is used when referring to a thing.

Right✔️ Wrong❌
The actor who played the main part was awarded Oscar. The actor that played the main part was awarded Oscar.

Who vs Whom

Use the word who in cases where he or she would be appropriate. Use whom where him or her would be appropriate. Also, keep in mind that only whom is used after a preposition (by, near, of, etc.). In grammatical terms, the word who is used only as a subject (doing the action), while whom can only be used as an object (being acted on):

Right✔️ Wrong❌
The girl who had the longest hair came first. (She came first.) The girl whom had the longest hair came first. (Her came first.)
The girl, whom he saw at that moment, was his first love. (He saw her.) The girl, who he saw at that moment, was his first love. (He saw she.)
Jessica was the person whom everyone trusted. (Everyone trusted her.) Jessica was the person who everyone trusted. (Everyone trusted she.)

Accept vs Except

The word accept is a verb that means to agree, to trust:

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I accept that you are right. I except that you are right.

The word except can be used as a preposition, conjunction, or a verb meaning not including, but not:

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All the friends were there except Joe. All the friends were there accept Joe.
We learned nothing new except that there were a few new rules regarding the use of the device. We learned nothing new accept that there were a few new rules regarding the use of the device.

Although vs While

The word although is conjunction meaning but, despite the fact:

✔️A vaccine is available although its efficacy remains uncertain.

While is a conjunction with several meanings. It can be used to indicate a time, meaning during the time that, at the same time as. It can also be used as a synonym to word although, meaning despite the fact that. And it can have a meaning compared with the fact that

✔️I came there while you were sleeping.

✔️While I like what you say, I still have my standpoint.

✔️Tom gets $75,000 a year while I get a meager $30,000.

Since vs Because

Because is a conjunction showing causation. Since can be used as a conjunction (synonym to because), as an adverb, meaning from a particular time in the past until a later time, or until now, or as a preposition, meaning in the time after a particular time in the past. Here are some examples for both words:

✔️I came to my parents' house because I wanted to see my mom.

✔️I came to my parents' house since I wanted to see my mom.

✔️A scientific station has been occupied since 1967.

If vs Whether

The word if is a conjunction used to say that a particular thing can or will happen only after something else happens or becomes true:

✔️You will get a bonus if you complete the assignment in 20 minutes.

It can also be used in the meaning every time:

✔️If I do not get enough sleep, I am nervous.

If can also be used in the meaning if it is true that:

✔️I am sorry if I offended you.

It is often used to introduce a clause, often in indirect speech, that shows two or more possibilities:

✔️Dad asked if I wanted to visit Mary.

✔️David is not interested if anyone likes him or not.

The word if is also used when you want to make a polite request or remark:

✔️Would you mind if I open the window?

✔️If you would like to come to me, I will bake an apple pie.

Whether is a pronoun that refers to a choice between alternatives:

✔️Many wonder whether skin cosmetics are useful or harmful.

Emigrate vs Immigrate

The word emigrate means leaving one place and head for another. Immigrate means arriving in a new place, having left another:

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His sister has just emigrated from Australia to Canada. (She moved from Australia and stayed in Canada.) His sister has just immigrated from Australia to Canada.
His grandparents of Ukrainian Jewish roots immigrated from Poland.

Compliment vs Complement

The word compliment refers to praise, while complement means add to (something) in a way that enhances or improves it. Both words can be used as verbs or as nouns:

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I can accept a compliment without putting myself down. I can accept a complement without putting myself down.
Markham is the perfect complement for gin. Markham is the perfect compliment for gin.

Apprise vs Appraise

The word apprise is a verb meaning to inform or tell someone of something. Appraise is the verb that means to assess the value or quality of something:

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At the moment, l am not apprised of the details and facts. At the moment, l am not appraised of the details and facts.
The house was appraised over $10 million in 2016. The house was apprised over $10 million in 2016.

Defuse vs Diffuse

The word defuse is a verb meaning to remove the fuse from (an explosive device) in order to prevent it from exploding. The world diffuse means to spread over a wide area or among a large number of people:

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The bomb was later defused by police. The bomb was later diffused by police.
Modern business diffuses personal responsibility too rapidly. Modern business defuses personal responsibility too rapidly.

Word choice is undoubtedly a crucial part of both creative and academic writing. Meticulous word choice affects your writing and the way it is perceived by the readers. By choosing appropriate words, you can become a much better writer and make your pieces more engaging. Well-selected words create a vivid picture in your audience's mind.

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