Human language is ever evolving. What one thing means today can be different tomorrow. Language is dynamic, and this holds true especially for the most widely used one in the planet: the English language.
New words are coined. Meanings are arbitrary. Rules change. Because of this, it is no surprise that through the eons, English has amassed a lot of confusing words that are often used incorrectly.
English is riddled with words that seem to be close synonyms but are, in fact, not interchangeable. Some of these words are the following:
Whole (having all the parts: not divided or cut into parts or pieces) and Entire (complete or full: not lacking or leaving out any part)
Often used interchangeably, these words actually have different connotations.
Whole implies undividedness, used when referring to something not considered as a sum of parts, as in “He ate a whole loaf of bread.” Entire implies totality, used when referring to a collection of distinct objects, as in “He was welcomed by the entire staff” or “The entire community rejoiced in their victory.”
Greater (very large in size) and Higher (extending or reaching upward more than other things of the same kind)
Greater is used for things that are not quantifiable, as in “The promotion gave me a greater responsibility.” Higher is used when scales or some other forms of measure are present, as in “They pay higher taxes.”
Less (not so much: smaller in amount or number) and Fewer (not many but some)
Less is used for mass nouns or those that can’t be counted, as in “There should be less salt in the batter.” It is also used for nouns without plural forms, such as money. Fewer, on the other hand, is used for count nouns, as in “She has fewer jars of honey today than she did yesterday.”
Later (at a time in the future: at a time following an earlier time) and Sooner (at a time that is not long from now)
Later denotes a time subsequent to the present, as in “She’ll come by later.” Sooner denotes a lack of undue time lapse or a prompt manner, as in “The sooner she gets here the better.”
Then there’s the phrase “sooner or later,” which denotes “eventually, in the near future,” as in “He will get to his senses sooner or later.”
Certain (not having any doubt about something) and Sure (characterized by a lack of wavering or hesitation)
Certain denotes confidence in something, as in “I am certain of her loyalty.” Sure denotes assuredness, as in “He has a sure grip on the reins.” These two words are almost always used the same way, though certain is more accepted in formal writing.
Close (being near in time, space, effect, or degree) and Near (at, within, or to a short distance or time)
Close is most often used with the preposition to, as in “I live close to the library.” It is also used to denote intimacy, as in “She was a close friend.” Near is used when referring to a time or place a short while away, as in “It’s near sunset” or “They ate near the office.”
Even seasoned writers get these words mixed up. It is the editor’s job to fix them and make sure there are no inappropriately used terms and phrases in a writer’s work.
Are you confused with these words and other rules prevalent in the English language? The 1-Hour Proofreading team will be happy to help you out.
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