Familiarise yourself with some of the common rules of usage. Handbooks of common usage are likely to be kept in the reference section of most libraries. Before you hand in your essay, meticulously proofread a printed final draft, checking spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, paragraphing, clarity of layout, and accuracy of quotations, notes and referencing.
Remember that spell-check programmes will recognise only misspellings; they cannot help you if you type, say, “causal” for “casual.” Having made corrections, reprint the relevant sections.
Frequently confused words
There are many words in the English language that are frequently confused with one another, because they sound or are spelled in very similar ways, or because they have related, though distinct, meanings. Common examples include “affect/effect”; “formerly/formally”; “infer/imply”; “insure/ensure”; and “torturous/tortuous”. Use a dictionary to ensure that you are using the word you actually intend to use. Websites from Oxford Dictionaries, the University of Richmond, and Santa Monica College have excellent resources distinguishing between frequently confused words.
The verb “try”
One common mistake is to use the verb “try” with the word “and”, in the following way:
Today I will try and get to the shop for some groceries.
The correct form of verb to follow “try” is the infinitive form:
Today I will try to get to the shop for some groceries.
Another common error is the attempt to qualify something which is unqualifiable. This most commonly occurs with the word “unique”. Something is unique, or it is not unique. It cannot be “rather unique”, or “very unique”.
Than and Then
“Than” is a term used to compare items or to establish relative value. “Then” is a term related to the expression of time. A handy trick to help in this confusion is to remember that “then” rhymes with “when” – both words relate to the expression of time.
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