Tricky words

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Words you might not realise you don’t know how to spell.

  • acknowledgement not acknowledgment.
  • any more is always two words.
  • any time or anytime? Use it as one word like this: Jo said the meeting can be scheduled anytime. But if you’re using it as an adjective to modify a noun it should be two words: Bee won’t have any time until Thursday.
  • dependent or dependant? In British English, a dependant is someone who’s dependent on someone else. In American English, it’s dependent for both.
  • effect or affect? Most of the time you use affect as a verb and effect as a noun: ‘When you affect something, you have an effect on it.’ But not always (obviously). You can use effect as a verb when you mean ‘to bring about’. So you could say ‘Hannah hoped to effect a change through her kickass training’. But why would you? It sounds horrible. Talking of things that sound horrible, you can also use affect as a noun when you’re talking about a mood that someone’s in. Like you might say ‘Paul displayed a sad affect’. Don’t though.
  • biannual can mean twice a year or once every two years. Biennial means once every two years. Best to spell out which one you mean.
  • email is one word with no hyphen.
  • every day is two words except when it’s an adjective (‘The Writer helps people use everyday language’ but ‘Jan cycles to and from King’s Cross every day’).
  • focusing not focussing, focused not focussed (sorry Neil).
  • in to or into? When ‘in’ and ‘to’ end up next to each other, should you leave a space between them or push them together? Well it depends on what you’re trying to say. Into tells us about movement and usually answers the question ‘Where?’ Like, ‘He accidentally put too much sugar into his coffee’. The ‘to’ of in to is short for ‘in order to’, so we leave a space. For example, ‘We put sugar in [in order] to make it taste better’.
  • judgement not judgment (except in legal terms: a judge makes a judgment. But he can show bad judgement when making that judgment).
  • learnt or learned? These days they’re actually pretty interchangeable. But learnt is traditionally British so for Writer words, go with that. If you’re writing for a non-UK audience, you’ll be safer using learned. Otherwise your audience might think you can’t spell.
  • licence is the noun, license is the verb.
  • online (one word, no hyphen).
  • PowerPoint (one word, capital P in the middle).
  • practice is the noun, practise is the verb. Except in the US, where it’s practice for both. 
  • stationary means standing still. Stationery is pens and pencils and all that (‘e for envelope’ is an easy way to remember it). See the label on The Writer’s stationery cupboard for an example of wrong usage.
  • straight away not straightaway. It’s okay to say straightaway in the outside world, but it’s not The Writer’s way.
  • web page is two words, but website is one.