There are times in life when an inbuilt spell checker might not save you, and one of them is when you use a correctly spelled wrong word. Some words seem more prone to confusion than others, and I’ve seen them popping up a lot lately. Let’s take a look at a few.
This word was my first choice because the misuse of it has been at epidemic levels lately, to the point where I’ve started to wonder if someone has changed the rules of English without letting me know. In every instance, everyday has been used in the place of every day. What’s the difference?
Everyday is used to describe a noun (something with a name, like dishes, situation, clothes).
The misuse of this word is becoming an everyday occurrence. In this instance occurrence is the noun, and everyday provides additional detail about the noun. If you’re describing a thing as common, usual, or daily, then you write everyday as one word.
Every day is used to describe a verb (a word that describes an action, like run, sit, laugh).
I jog every day. In this instance jog is the verb. If you can take the sentence and use each day instead, then you should be writing every day as separate words.
I’m a huge weather geek and I love a good thunderstorm. Whenever one erupts, I hop onto Twitter to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ about it with my fellow weather enthusiasts – and then try to resist the urge to correct them as they rave about how much lightening they’re seeing.
Lightening is a verb – it’s the action of making something lighter, either in weight or appearance.
I removed six lipsticks and a hairbrush, lightening my handbag considerably.
I put some white paint into the tin, lightening the shade from brown to beige.
Lightning is a noun – it’s an electrical discharge from a cloud, creating a sudden, bright flash, followed by thunder.
The lightning flashed brightly, momentarily lightening the room.
The tree was struck by lightning.
There’s a commercial on the radio in which a lady claims that since her company changed to a particular IT provider, they’ve had much less problems. At this point, I always yell ‘fewer!’ at the radio. Goodness only knows what my neighbours must think.
Less is used when you are talking about something that can’t be counted, that doesn’t normally have a plural, or refers to multiples that aren’t made plural with an s (like rain, time, weight, lightning, traffic, hair).
We’re seeing a lot less lightning than I expected.
Since they put a toll on the road, there’s less traffic.
My husband has much less hair now than when he married me.
I’ve lost less weight than I had hoped.
It’s also used for numbers on their own, or for when they are used as measurements of weight or time.
The bus is less than five minutes away.
We need less than 200g of flour for the cake.
Fewer is used for items that can be counted or made plural (like eggs, problems, houses, jobs).
Since we changed IT companies, we’re having fewer problems.
There are fewer jobs available this year.
Fewer people are using ‘everyday’ in the correct context.
Okay, spell-checker does flag this one, but not because it’s spelled incorrectly. It’s because it’s not a real word.
Asterix is the name of a cartoon character created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. He lives in Gaul, has a friend called Obelix, and spends most of his time fighting off the Roman invasion. Unfortunately, he has also become hopelessly confused with the name of a small typographical mark.
Asterisk is derived from the ancient Greek word for ‘little star’, and is a small star-shaped symbol that is used to indicate the presence of a footnote. It can also be used to censor naughty words by replacing some of the letters, and some people type it at either end of a word to indicate emphasis. This originates from word processing programmes using it as a hotkey method of changing the enclosed word to bold font.
I’ve actually seen websites that have asked me to “click the box next to the asterix”, which was confusing, as there were no Gaul warriors anywhere on the page. It’s just as common a spoken error as it is a written one – in fact, I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say it correctly. Next time you need to use the word, just remember: it’s easier to draw an asterisk than an Asterix.