School’s in Session

I’d like to think of it as schooling for me because I find myself tripping on the difference between “lie” and “lay” as well as other words. When I was little, I overheard a construction worker talk about horses, and I thought they were referring to the equine version. If the English language was confusing for people growing up in the US of A, then I feel for people learning the language as adults. They’ve got to deal with our idioms and slang. When I’m writing or editing, I’ve found one of my best friends. Some of the words below have stumped me and I suspect they confuse others, so I’m reviewing the difference between each one.

Aggravate / irritate
Aggravate means to make worse. Irritate means to annoy or disturb.
Cold weather aggravates my pain.
The automated telephone systems really irritate me.

Cement / concrete
Most people use these terms interchangeably, but “cement” and “concrete” have completely different meanings, as you’ll find out if you ask a Home Depot salesman for concrete. Cement is a powder that you mix with other materials to form a solid mass known as concrete. Cement porches, cement pavements, and cement overpasses don’t exist. All of these are concrete.

Everyday / every day
Every day means literally “each day,” as in: I admire my balloons every day.
“Everyday” is an adjective synonymous with “ordinary.” Purchasing Mylar balloons is an everyday occurrence for me.

Loathe / loath
“Loath” is an adjective meaning “unwilling. It rhymes with “growth.” Ex: I am loath to travel in the wintertime.
“Loathe” is a verb meaning “to hate intensely.” It ends with a soft “th” like smooth.
Example: I loathe cold weather.

Less / fewer
These words are easy to mix up, since both mean the opposite of more.
Use “fewer” if you’re referring to quantities of things or people. Example: Because my house was getting crowded, I’ve had to buy fewer balloons.

Use “less” when you’re referring to things that can’t be counted or doesn’t have a plural, as in:
Some jobs pay less money.
This week, I bought less food.

Further / farther
Farther pertains to physical distance and “further” for figurative distance. Hint: farther has the word “far” in it, as in: how much farther do we have to go?
Further applies to metaphorical or figurative distance. Example: If my balloons tangle further with my fan, I’m putting them in a separate room. I’m not talking about physical distance. I’m talking about a figurative distance, i.e. the extent of my balloons tangling with the fan.

Okay, many of the examples involve balloons. I don’t think any blog would be complete without at least one reference to my balloons. Maybe someday I’ll ride in a hot air balloons. This brings me to another confusing word set – someday versus some day. “Someday” means an indefinite time in the future, but “some” is an adjective indicating a specific day. Example: I’m heading to the grocery store some day this week.

There are dozens of other word sets that confuse people. Can you think of any?

Steel Rose features zombie fiction by Barbara Custer

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