Confusing Words of the Week

Words of the WeekIt’s time for our new feature called “Confusing Words of the Week” where I take a set of two or three words that get confused and give you definitions and try to give you a memory trick to help you remember when to use which word. If you have words that confuse you, use Ask PTB or send an email to and they may appear here soon!

This week’s words:

peak – the top. The peak of the mountain was covered with clouds.

peek – to look slyly at. He tried to peek at the cute girl in the corner. Just think about the double “e” as eyes. You’re looking at something with those eyes.

pique – resentment; to offend; to arouse. Jane piqued Sally’s interest in the movie coming out this week by telling her the back story.

piqué – cotton fabric.

Confusing Words of the Week

I’m going to start a new feature called “Confusing Words of the Week” where I take a set of two or three words that get confused and give you definitions and try to give you a memory trick to help you remember when to use which word. If you have words that confuse you, let me know and they may appear here soon!


Words of the WeekThis week’s confusing words are accept and except:


accept is to take or receive. He was ready to accept his new job duties. (He was ready to receive his new job duties.)

except is to exclude. He was ready for the new job duties except typing daily reports. (He was ready for all of his job duties excluding typing daily reports.)

The easiest way to remember which one to use is the EXcept is to EXclude. So if you want to EXclude something, you would say EXcept as in the following example:

I like all flavors of Life Savers EXCEPT lime.

That means if you take all of the flavors of Life Savers and exclude the lime ones, those are what I like.

If you are not going to EXclude something, you will accept it.

Lay or Lie?

The words lie or lay seem to cause problems for people. How do you know when to use which one? Let’s see if we can clear it up a little bit.

Lie or Lay

Lay (lay, laid, laying) means “to put” or “to place.” Because it’s a verb (action word) it requires an object to complete the meaning:

  • Please lay the groceries on the counter.
  • She laid her resignation letter on the boss’s desk.
  • He is always laying his schoolbooks on the kitchen table.

Lie (lie, lay, lain, lying) means “to recline, rest, or stay” or “to take a position of rest.” Unlike lay, which requires it, lie cannot take an object.

  • She said she was going to lie on the bed to test the mattress.
  • The pleading was lying on his desk for him to sign.

A way to remember the difference is that if you can replace the questionable lie or lay with place (or the correct version of it), then you need to use the correct version of lay. If it doesn’t, use the correct version of lie.

  • She wanted to (lay or lie) down for a nap. Would you say “She wanted to place down for a nap.”? No! So the proper word would be lie.
  • He (laid or lay) the coffee on his secretary’s desk. Is it “He placed the coffee on his secretary’s desk.”? Yes! Then laid is correct.

Another reminder hint might be if you are going to plAce something, then you are going to lAy it, but if you are going to rEst, you are going to liE.




Use It Correctly Or Not At All

Use It CorrectlyHere are some words that seem to have a propensity for being used incorrectly–particularly in the legal setting. Hopefully, this list will help you be that person who does know how to use them correctly.

  • Addictive v. Addicting – This is a very difficult one. Addictive is an adjective. It is a word that answers the question what kind, how many, or which one. In this case, addictive would typically answer the question “what kind,” as in what kind of drug (addictive drug) or what kind of video game (addictive game). On the other had, addicting is a verb when used with an object and means “to cause to become physiologically or psychologically dependent on an addictive substance, as alcohol or a narcotic.”  For instance, “The video game was highly addicting to 10-year-old James.” On the other hand, it would be “The addictive video game was played for hours by 10-year-old James.” Grammar Girl did a more detailed article on these two words at
  • Adverse v. averse – Adverse means “unfavorable, harmful, hostile,” while averse means “opposed [to], having a feeling of distaste [for].” So you are averse to kale, but the opposing party is adverse to your client. Another example is that I am averse to meatloaf, but meatloaf is not adverse to the American diet.
  • Affect v. effectAffect means “to change or make a difference to a result” while effect means “to bring about a result.” For example, “The new overtime policy affected Sally’s bank account,” while “The new overtime policy had the effect of lowering Sally’s weekly paychecks.” When you’re trying to decide, substitute “brought about the result” for “effect” to see if it makes sense. In this case, “The new overtime policy brought about the result of lowering Sally’s weekly paychecks,” so effect is the correct word. But “The new overtime policy brought about the result of Sally’s bank account” doesn’t make sense, so the correct word is affect. Another example would be “The new traffic laws had the effect of making rush hour traffic more difficult.” You can replace it as “The new traffic laws brought about the result of making rush hour traffic more difficult.”
  • Complimentary v. complementary – Complimentary means “an admiring or flattering remark,” while complementary means “something that completes” or “something that is free.” One way I remember the difference is that complImentary means that “I” am paying you a compliment while complEmentary means something that is fre”E” or compl”E”tes something. For instance, “The reviews of my presentation were complimentary (flattering) and the audience liked the complementary (free) pens that were given away.”
  • Council v. counsel – Council is a “group of people who manage or advise” while counsel is “advice or to advise” or “the attorney conducting a case.” So “The city council [group of people who manage or advise] voted on the new shopping center based on counsel [advice] of outside attorneys.”
  • Deserts v. desserts – Deserts are large expanses of land usually at a high temperature such as Arizona has a lot of desert areas.” Desserts, on the other hand, is typically a sweet ending to a meal “My favorite dessert is anything sweet.”
  • Ensure v. insure – Ensure is to “make certain that (something) shall occur or be the case” and insure is to “arrange for compensation in the event of damage to or loss of (property), or injury to or the death of (someone), in exchange for regular advance payments to a company or government agency.” So “Tom will ensure [make certain] that the records are intact so he can arrange to insure [arrange for compensation in the event of damage] his new house.”
  •  Further v. farther – Farther refers to an actual distance, while further refers to a figurative distance and means “to a greater extent” or “to a greater degree.” So when you say “He went 30 miles farther than he intended to,” that is correct because it is an actual distance, but if you say “He went further on his trip that day than he intended,” it is really saying he went to a greater degree of distance than he intended to.
  • Tortuous v. Torturous – Tortuous means “full of twists; complex” while torturous means “full of pain or suffering.” Thus, “Proofreading the Ninth Circuit Court brief was a tortuous [complex] exercise.” But “The questioning by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel was torturous [full of pain and suffering] on the unprepared attorney.”

There are so many other words that are easily confused. Do you have something that you or someone in your office constantly uses incorrectly? Let me know and we’ll include it in a future blog post with definitions and examples so they can start to get it right.

Grammar Giggles – Towards Better Grammar (Or Not)

This is a common error that I see (and hear) a lot. Towards is used in British English, while in the U.S., we use toward.  Toward means moving in the direction of or in relation to. So when I received this notification from an American company, it caught my attention. I have previously written a blog post about this topic at


Grammar Giggle – It Couldn’t Have Been More Clear

This I found on Twitter. The correct phrase should be “couldn’t have gotten.” I think the error happens because when you are actually saying the phrase out loud, it sounds like “couldn’t uv gotten” so people assume it is “of” instead of “have.” That is incorrect.

Grammar “Used To Be” More Important

This is a pretty common error that I saw on a TV ad recently. The phrase “use to be” is incorrect. When you’re talking about something that happened in the past but doesn’t happen anymore, the correct phrase is “used to be.” In this sentence it means that in the past, surgery was the only option, but it is not the only option anymore, so “used to be” would be correct.

ENCORE – A.M., P.M., Daylight Saving Time–Could Time Get Any More Confusing?

Sunday, March 9, marks the beginning of daylight saving time throughout most of the broken-clock-300x198United States. Being an Arizona native, I remember when we tried daylight saving time here. It’s tough to put a kid to bed when the sun is bright overhead. Arizona has not observed daylight saving time for many years, but that’s not the intended topic.

You may have noted that in the paragraph above it was daylight saving time NOT daylight savings time. Singular “saving” is correct. The proper way to indicate the time for the different time zones during daylight saving time is:

EDT – Eastern daylight time

CDT – Central daylight time

MDT – Mountain daylight time

PDT – Pacific daylight time

That designation indicates that the specified time is during daylight saving time in the specific time zone. For instance, 3:00 p.m. MDT would be 3:00 in the afternoon in Denver (and other cities in the Mountain time zone) on dates between March 9, 2014, and November 2, 2014 (the date range when daylight saving time is in effect this year). The other part of the year is standard time and would be designated as:

EST – Eastern standard time

CST – Central standard time

MST – Mountain standard time

PST – Pacific standard time

An alternative is to eliminate the specific designation altogether and use these terms year-round:

ET – Eastern time

CT – Central time

MT – Mountain time

PT – Pacific time

While we’re talking about time, the difference between a.m. and p.m. is important. The designation “a.m.” stands for the Latin term ante meridiem and means the time from midnight to noon. The designation “p.m.” stands for the Latin term post meridiem and means the time from noon to midnight. While people seem to grasp that concept, the exact times of midnight and noon seems to confuse them. The time 12:00 a.m. is midnight (it is between midnight and noon) and 12:00 p.m. is noon. Note that 11:59 at night is 11:59 p.m. because it is between noon and midnight. It is always good to confirm whether the a.m. or p.m. is correct so people don’t think an event is 12 hours earlier or later than intended.

To those of you who will “spring forward” this weekend, enjoy it and keep the time straight so others know exactly what time you are talking about.

Is It The Privilege Or The Privileged Information?

MANHATTANA reader wrote and asked me whether the phrase “attorney-client privilege” or “attorney-client privileged” was correct. I gave her my answer and told her that I would write a blog post on it.

“Attorney-client privilege” is defined as “the requirement that an attorney may not reveal communications, conversations and letters between himself/herself and his/her client, under the theory that a person should be able to speak freely and honestly with his/her attorney without fear of future revelation.” (

“Attorney-client privileged” would be used if you were talking about an “attorney-client privileged communication” or “attorney-client privileged information.”

I did find a law firm article ( indicating memos containing privileged information should be marked “ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL.” This makes sense because you are talking about the information in the memo, which is attorney-client privileged information (as mentioned above) and is confidential information.

So, if you are indicating on a memo or on a letter that the information is confidential and subject to the attorney-client privilege, the correct designation appears to be “ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED INFORMATION.” It follows that you could say that the word “information” is assumed and “ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED” is a correct designation.

When you are talking about the privilege and not the information, then “attorney-client privilege” is proper, but if you are talking about information or a specific communication, then “attorney-client privileged” is correct.

This research proved that my original answer to the reader was . . . wrong! But now I know and will be able to figure out if we are talking about the privilege or the communication so that I get it right.

What If I’m More Interested In The Property?

I saw this sign the other day and had to go back and make sure it said what I thought it said and to get a picture of it. For Sale Buy Owner? I don’t want to buy the owner, but surely someone is interested in the 4+ acres of property that would seem to be for sale if the sign were correct. Is the property for sale or the owner? It is definitely confusing.

For Sale