Strategies for Better Business Writing: Commonly Confused Words

July 2, 2019


Mistakes in business writing—whether in an email, a memo or a report—can destroy your credibilityBanishing the following all-too-common errors from your writing will help you communicate more effectively, earn the respect of everyone you communicate with, and set you apart from your peers. In this article, we’ll cover some commonly confused words that can upend sentence meaning when used incorrectly.

Emigrate vs. Immigrate

When we emigrate, we move from one country to another. George’s family emigrated from England fifteen years ago. When we immigrate, we move to a country from elsewhere. Letitia’s aunt immigrated to the United States in 2009. 

Gray vs. Grey

Gray is standard American spelling. Grey is standard British spelling.

Its vs. It’s

Here’s a common mistake that’s easily corrected. Use an apostrophe [it’s] only when you mean “it is or “it has.” Example: It’s [it is] a beautiful day. Without the apostrophe, “its” indicates possession/ownership: Example: The company is retaining its top-ranking talent. 

Less vs. Fewer
 indicates things we count; less indicates groups of things. You can also think of fewer as plural and less as singular. Examples: Fewer raindrops vs. less water. Fewer quarts of milk vs less milk. However, when indicating an amount of money or time, use less: Less than five years; less than ten dollars.

Lose vs. Loose
Lose is a verb. Its main meaning is to misplace. Loose is an adjective. Its main meaning is not confined. Example: You might lose your wallet, which was filled with loose change.

Than vs. Then
Than is used when making comparisons. Example: Mary is taller than John. Then indicates time. Example: “I did my morning run, then I showered and drove to work.”   

Who vs. Whom
Who refers to the subject of a sentence (the person carrying out an action). Whom refers to the object of a sentence (the person an action is being carried out on). You should be able to replace who with he or she and replace whom with his or herExample: Who is staffing the front desk? (She is staffing the front desk.) Example: Whom should I call when the client arrives? (Should I call him when the client arrives?)

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