You may die of a misprint." Mark Twain
How much difference can one letter make? A lot.
English is a tricky devil. You start picking up language from your parents, siblings, relatives, friends. School and teachers become a big influence. Then radio, television, politicians, famous authors. Everyone you hear and read subject you to different phrases and nuances. The more you learn, the more you know. Right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Here are five examples of commonly misused words that could cause problems:
Flammable means capable of burning quickly. So if something is flammable (like hairspray), you want to keep it away from flames. Inflammable sounds like it means the opposite—incapable of burning. But that’s a dangerous assumption. It means the same as flammable. The two words are interchangeable. So if something is combustible, avoid confusion. Use the word flammable.
Ensure means to make sure of something, to guarantee it. Insure has two meanings: 1) to make sure of something; 2) to provide insurance for. It’s correct to say He ensured/insured the package would arrive on time. But it’s incorrect to say He ensured the house against fire damage. Woe to poor Henry when he finds out he has no insurance on his house that just burned down.
Credible means to be believable. Credulous means to be gullible. “Few people are credible enough to be trusted” can easily be confused with “Few people are credulous enough to be trusted.” Believable or gullible? Which one do you mean?
Carat is a measurement of weight for gemstones. Karat is a measure of purity for gold. If a ring is 24 karat (usually written as 24K), then it’s pure gold. But if a ring is 24 carat, that would mean the gemstone (diamond, ruby, sapphire, etc.) is a certain weight (or size). So remember K for gold purity and C for weight.
Ingenious depicts something (or someone) that is intelligent, clever, original. Ingenuous means to be naïve, innocent, childlike. Be careful or mixing up the two. Is his plan ingenious or ingenuous?
These are just a few of the many misuses that occur in English. Don’t trust the spell check in Word to catch these errors. When in doubt, consult your dictionary or entrust Words of Passion with your editing.