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.

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2 Responses to Use It Correctly Or Not At All

  1. Jen Ricketts-Curran says:

    I am a horrible speller, so for desert and dessert, I remember the difference by reminding myself that desert has one “s” and dessert has two because you always want more dessert!