Our Guide to Faux-pas Free Writing

"I went to a restaurant that serves 'breakfast at any time.' So I ordered French toast during the Renaissance."

Although you can probably take for granted that “breakfast at any time” means any time of day, point taken. When communication isn’t clear, it can lead to problems from the simply humorous or embarrassing to the litigious and very expensive.

Our “Faux-pas Free Guide” includes examples of language gone awry.  While they aren’t likely to get you into serious trouble, they tell a cautionary tale and underscore a principle that drives all we do at Ulicny:

Clear communication is precise and never misleads. 

Here are the mistakes we see (and correct!) most often.  We invite you to share some of your pet peeves!  Happy reading and Happy Holidays!

affect vs. effect

Affect is a verb that means “to influence or move emotionally.” Effect is a noun that means “result” or “impact.”

Wrong: Energy-focused mutual funds are directly
effected by OPEC’s policies.

Right: Energy-focused mutual funds are directly
affected by OPEC’s policies.

compare to vs. compare with

Compare to is figurative or metaphorical. Compare with
is statistical.

Wrong: The fund’s returns compare favorably to the benchmark.

Right: The fund’s returns compare favorably with the benchmark.

comprise vs. compose

Comprise is synonymous with contains or includes. Comprise and compose are frequently confused. For example, you could say:

Right: The S&P 500 Index is composed of 500 stocks.

Wrong: The S&P 500 Index is comprised of 500 stocks.

Because then you would be saying, “The S&P 500 Index is contained of 500 stocks.

Right: The S&P 500 Index comprises [includes] 500 stocks.

fewer vs. less

Use fewer to mean a smaller number of individual things.

Use less to mean a smaller quantity of something.

Wrong: Less analysts predict that the health care sector will sustain momentum.

Right: Fewer analysts predict that the health care sector will sustain momentum.

Right: The fewer investments he makes, the less money he loses.

while vs. although

The two are often used interchangeably, with no harm done. A problem arises if while begins a sentence and its meaning isn’t clear. Is it subbing for although? Or does it mean “during the time that”?

Right: While [during the time that] the dollar was weak, we invested in foreign currency.

Right: Although the dollar was weak [conditionality], we continued to have faith in the U.S. economy.

Wrong: While the dollar was weak, we continued to have faith in the U.S. economy. While could mean either “during the time that’ or “although.”

which vs. that

That is used with clauses (a group of words with its own subject and verb) that are essential for meaning. Which is used to elaborate meaning already understood.

Wrong: Our investment approach, that has been in effect since 1984, emphasizes value at a reasonable price.

Right: Our investment approach, which has been in effect since 1984, emphasizes value at a reasonable price.

was vs. were

Use was to express the possible or probably. Use were to express a hypothetical or improbable
condition.

Wrong: If the Fed were to keep raising rates, which is likely, a recession could result.

Right: If the Fed was to keep raising rates, which is likely, a recession could result.

its vs. it’s

The contraction of it and is includes an apostrophe.

Without an apostrophe, its is possessive–an
exception to the rule.

Wrong: Its going to be a big year for structured products.

Right: It’s going to be a big year for structured products.

farther vs. further

Farther is a measure of physical distance. Further is a measure of degree, time, or quantity.

Wrong: These regulations go farther in restricting insider stock transactions.

Right: These regulations go further in restricting insider stock transactions.

anticipate vs. expect

Use anticipate when preparation or action occurs before an event. Expect implies no preparation or action.

Wrong: If you expect to live a long time, it’s a good idea to purchase an immediate annuity.

Right: If you anticipate living a long time, it’s a good idea to purchase an immediate annuity.

 

—December 2014