Confusing Words

English is ranked as the third highest language used, yet it can be confusing at times even for native English speakers. There are many words that sound alike with different meanings, sound different with similar meanings, and every day words that are plain baffling. We look at a few of the more common confusing words and when to use them in the correct content with the help of a few clever tricks.

Me or I

There is a simple way to find the correct pronoun between ‘me’ and ‘I’. When a sentence includes you and another person, leave out the other person and read it aloud. The correct word will sound right.

Example: Becky and (me or I) went to the meeting yesterday.

You would not say, ‘Me went to the meeting yesterday’, so obviously the wrong pronoun has been used. ‘I went to the meeting yesterday’ demonstrates the correct pronoun is ‘I’.

Becky and I went to the meeting yesterday.

Example: Jack drove Becky and (me or I) to the meeting yesterday.

‘Jack drove I to the meeting yesterday’ sounds clumsy and is the wrong pronoun used. ‘Jack drove me to the meeting yesterday’ sounds perfect, because the correct pronoun is being used.

Jack drove Becky and me to the meeting yesterday.

Who or Whom

There is another trick to help sort out when to use who or whom. Try changing ‘who’ to ‘he’ or ‘whom’ to ‘him’ in a sentence to find the correct use.

Example: (Who or whom) ate my sandwich?

‘He ate my sandwich’ sounds right, but you would not say, ‘Him ate my sandwich’.

Who ate my sandwich?

Some sentences are trickier and need to be re-arranged to find the correct word usage.

Example: (Who or Whom) do I need to see?

We would not say, ‘He/him do I need to see’, so we change the position of the pronouns. ‘Do I need to see he,’ definitely does not sound right; however, ‘Do I need to see him,’ does.

Whom do I need to see?

Another trick to identifying the correct use is that ‘Whom’ follows a preposition, such as ‘to’ or ‘for’. So we could have added a preposition to the previous example.

To whom do I need to see?

This helps if the word falls in another part of the sentence instead of starting it.

Example: She is a hard-working person for whom I admire greatly.

Although, this particular sentence would have sounded more natural if it said, ‘She is a hard-working person and I admire her greatly’.

Can or May

There is an easy way to find the correct word between ‘can’ or ‘may’. ‘Can’ is used to indicate that a person is capable of handling something; whereas ‘may’ asks for permission. So simply ask, ‘can I do it’ or ‘do I need to ask permission to do it.’

Example: (Can or may) I borrow your pen?

I have the capability to borrow a pen, but I need to ask permission to borrow it.

May I borrow your pen?

Effect or Affect

When the word is used as a noun, the name of something, then ‘effect’ is used.

Example: The effect of infection was swift.

When the word is used as a verb then we need to consider the intended meaning to find the correct word. The job of ‘effect’, as a verb, is to carry out or bring about something.

Example: He effected changes.

This word could be swapped for ‘brought about’. ‘He brought about changes’, highlights the correct word is effect as a verb.

Example: The manager effected a new process.

This word could be swapped for ‘carried out’. ‘The manager carried out a new process’, shows effect has been used correctly as a verb.

Affect is used as a verb, meaning an action. It can have an influence, to cause harm, to pretend, or to make a difference. Temporarily changing the word may help.

Example of influence: I refuse to let your words affect me. (It could be changed to: I refuse to let our words influence me.)

Example of harm: Your second-hand smoke affects my health. (It could be changed to: Your second-hand smoke harms my health.)

Example of pretend: She affected to be busy. (It could be changed to: She pretended to be busy.)

Example of makes a difference: Exercise affects health and sleep. (It could be changed to: Exercise makes a difference to health and sleep.) 

Hopefully, that will clear up the confusion with these words. We will look at more confusing words and the wonders of the English language in the future.

No part of this may be represented in any medium without written consent from the author. Mary Broadhurst c 2017

General Tips When Writing Documents

There are certain guidelines that should be followed with all your documentation if you want your business and your actions to be trusted and respected.

Facts, facts, facts

Get your facts right. Don’t presume, guess or surmise. A factual article or business document should be conclusive of its information, so check the facts. Ideally, recheck your facts with multiple resources.

Give credit where credit is due

This includes in text citations, references, and quoting other people. Never steal or ‘borrow’ someone else’s phrase without giving them the credit for it. Never disguise someone else’s hard work, idea, or anything else for that matter as your own.

Don’t include everybody

How many times do you hear someone arguing a point and carelessly include that everybody has the same opinion as the person speaking. No one can know what everybody is thinking or know everyone’s individual opinions, so that makes the statement ludicrous. What are the chances of everyone having the same opinion? Even if the majority do share the same thoughts, there will be those who don’t.

Leave personal opinions out

Unless you are an expert in your field, leave out your personal views. Your opinion may be clouded by personal experience, which can sometimes be unique and not shared by others. Stick to the facts and what esteemed professionals have proved rather than your take on a subject.

No part of this may be represented in any medium without written consent from the author. Mary Broadhurst c 2014

Habits to Avoid for Professionals

It’s important not to allow bad habits that form from speech to drift into professional business writing. Every word on the page will be judged by a potential customer so make sure all business related writing, marketing information, website content, manuals and correspondence are professional. Even in industries where writing doesn’t have to be strictly formal, it still has to be professional. It cannot alienate your intended audience. Before any document is released for public or customer viewing, read the document again placing yourself into the viewpoint of the intended receiver.

There are other important aspects to avoid while presenting a professional image with your writing. We’ll explore a few of them here.


A tautology is saying the same thing twice.

You wouldn’t want to send someone an email with this message:

I’ll join you at 8.30 am in the morning for a briefing before our usual morning meeting with the team.

A better email relaying the same information would be:

I’ll join you at 8.30 am for a briefing before our usual morning meeting with the team.

In this case, the sender is still making an 8.30 am appointment with the receiver without the use of a tautology.

Overdoing it

When someone wants to emphasise a point, it’s possible to get carried away and overdo it, perhaps even appear abusive or uncontrollable. At times, even in business, people can get emotional, but it should be controlled when dealing with colleagues and certainly customers.

There is no point in ranting in an email or letter to someone about a situation that has been overlooked or completely mishandled. Instead, throw your focus into how to fix the problem as quickly and painlessly as possible, and then formulate a plan, so it never happens again.


A cliché is a phrase that has been used often and is annoying to hear or read. A person that leans on clichés can earn a reputation of not having any original thoughts. Would you want to deal with someone in business that comes across that way?

In today’s society, there’s a growing trend to create catchy slogans that quickly turn into clichés. That’s fine if it’s done in a positive way where it promotes company awareness or branding. Some catchphrases may become a generic term or name given to a new development or product. But generally speaking, clichés should never reach your professional written work.

No part of this may be represented in any medium without written consent from the author. Mary Broadhurst © 2014