How to get those fiddly words right (or should it be ‘write’)

While speed of communication is of paramount importance these days, sacrificing accuracy for speed is a no go, particularly if it leads to your business communication making a poor impression. Here’s the latest in our series of understanding commonly misused words to get off on the right foot.


These two words sound so similar it’s easy to getting them confused. “Affect” is a verb and means to influence something. “Effect” is most commonly used as a noun, so it refers to an outcome. Fortunately, there’s a super easy way to remember which one to use when: affect is the upcoming action, which results in an effect, which is the experience.


This one is hotly contested by grammar revolutionaries who maintain both words mean the same thing.  Fiddlesticks!  “Alternatively” means something is available as a choice or another possibility. As in, “The press secretary gave alternative facts to the media.” On the other hand, “alternately” means something occurs in turn repeatedly. As in, “They went bog-snorkelling with her in-laws on alternate Sundays.”


The easy way to get this right is to remember that you use “fewer” for things that can be counted and “less” for things that can’t. Tragically, supermarkets with “12 Items or Less” express lanes have never heard of this rule. For example, if you want to eventually resemble a stick, you can eat fewer calories – because you can count “calories”. Or, masochistically, you may choose to drink less wine – because you can’t count “wine”. (Drinking less wine is never a good plan.)


Here’s the difference in one sentence. “Rhubarb, especially rhubarb crumble, was Agatha’s favourite dessert; her mother made it specially for her birthday.” When you want to mean or refer to something in particular, use “especially”. When you’re implying something has been done in a special way for a specific reason, then “specially” will do just fine.


To be “loath” about something is to be reluctant or be unwilling. If you’re not keen on dragging yourself out of a warm bed on a frosty morning, then you are loath to do so. And who could blame you?  If, however, you detest something or someone with an absolute passion , then “loathe” is the word you’re looking for. Saying, “I absolutely loathe you” pretty much says it all.

Adverse/ averse

When we talk about “adverse”, it’s generally in relation to something inanimate, such as adverse weather conditions or adverse reactions to new drugs, for example. In other words, it relates to something that’s harmful or unfavourable. “Averse” is all about reluctance, avoidance or a strong dislike to something; it’s your attitude we’re talking about here. “As a committed couch potato, he had always been averse to anything that even remotely resembled exercise.”

For help with your written B2B communications, give Rosemary Gillespie a call on 02 8036 5532 or 0411 123 216 or head to the contact page.


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