Frustrating Pairs of Words

Microsoft Word’s spell check is not the  most intelligent program in the world. A lot of times, it will add errors to your document, rather than make the document any better. Here are five errors Microsoft Word will not pick up on, and chances are, you might miss them too, when you’re editing something you’ve written. I know I’ve missed them quite a few times. They’re tricky little things and if you’re not paying close attention, they can easily slip past your eyes.

1. complaint vs. compliant

I’ve seen this one a few times, since a lot of the documents I edit at work have the word “compliant” in them. What I like to do is hit Ctrl-F and search for both words, just to make sure they’re used correctly each time.

2. manager vs. manger

It sounds funny to read something like “the bank’s accounting manger” — makes me think of baby Jesus in the manger with a calculator, or “there was a manager in the stable,” which brings to mind a white-collar professional with impeccable suit and tie standing in the midst of several farm animals.

3. public vs. pubic

Oh, the many embarrassing errors that can result from this. “Pubic Relations” and such… nothing more to be said.

4. assess vs. asses

Not quite as much fun as #3, but still, you should watch out for sentences like, “We are here to asses the results of the experiment,” or “Get your assess in line!”

5. trail vs. trial

“Trial mix”: judges, jury, plaintiff, and defendant all mixed up in a bag full of nuts and dried fruit. “He was ordered to go on trail for murder” makes me think of a police dog going down a forest trail, searching for a person who had been murdered.

Can anyone think of any others?

7 thoughts on “Frustrating Pairs of Words

  1. Great list, Maggie! There have been many newspaper editors who have scanned past pubic schools or pubic relations… awful! That was the one that terrified me as an editor! At my last job I had a copy editor who didn’t “get” computers and he kept accepting any corrections Word offered. That’s how, in one of my first weeks of the job, before I realized I needed to copy edit again after the copy editor, I printed “two-malted seconder” instead of “two-masted schooner.” YIKES.


  2. I have also seen “IPO” defined as “Initial Pubic Offering.” 🙂

    There are also the ones where the writers don’t know the difference (not everything can be blamed on Word 🙂 ), such as “affect” and “effect.” And then well-meaning people try to help by saying that you just have to remember that “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun. But this can actually add to the problems, since “effect” is sometimes a verb and “affect” is (very occasionally) a noun.

    The Chicago Manual of Style website has a very long page devoted to clarifying these sorts of things (jibe/gibe, less/fewer, appraise/apprise, murder/homicide, that/which, etc.)


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