MASTERFUL/MASTERLYMasterly uses master in the sense of master craftsman. It means of a master-in other words, first-rate: It was a masterly presentation! Masterful uses master in the sense of a dog and its master. It means like a master-in other words, domineering: He was masterful when the strikers confronted him.
NAUSEATED/NAUSEATING/NAUSEOUSNauseated means disgusted or sick to one’s stomach. Nauseating and nauseous both mean causing nausea or revulsion. If you want to say that you’re feeling queasy, use nauseated, not nauseous. Her new perfume made me feel nauseated. Her makeup job is nauseating too.
ORAL/VERBALOral means spoken, as opposed to written: She gave me written instructions, and explained them orally. Verbal means having to do with words or language. It can refer to spoken and written words. He has a terrible temper, but he only expresses it verbally, never physically.
PERSECUTE/PROSECUTETo persecute someone is to continually make trouble for him; to prosecute someone is to press civil or criminal charges against him. Hitler persecuted many ethnic and religious groups. You can’t be prosecuted for making a face at someone.
PORE/POURTo pour is to dump something out of a container. To pore over something is to read it very intently. If you like a book, you’ll pore over it. If you don’t like it, you might pour your tea on it.
PRECEDE/PROCEEDPrecede means come before; proceed means go ahead. A precedes B in the alphabet. As soon as you’ve stopped screaming, we’ll proceed with this meeting.
PREMIER/PREMIEREPremier as an adjective means most important. (Some people use it to mean first in time, but this usage is almost extinct.) As a noun, it means prime minister. As a noun or verb, premiere means the first performance or exhibit of a play, film, or piece of music. The premier attended the premiere of my new play. The premier reason for doing it is that you’ll be fired if you don’t..
PRINCIPAL/PRINCIPLEPrinciple is a noun, meaning a fundamental truth or law; principal is an adjective and a noun, and can mean the head of a school, a sum of money that accrues interest, or a person of the highest rank within a group. The principal of my school didn’t have any principles!” A principle of sound investment is to get a high interest rate for your principal. He’s the principal tenor in the opera company. If you’re referring to a person, you will always use principal rather than principle. Just remember: The principal is your pal!
REGARDS/AS REGARDS/IN REGARD TO/IN REGARDS TO/WITH REGARD TOYou can probably come up with another half-dozen variations. For business writing, though, the only one you need to know or use is regarding. The others say the same thing, only they use two or three words where one would do. Regarding means the same thing as about or concerning, and many people prefer to use either of those two words. However, regarding is acceptable: Regarding yesterday’s meting: Was the boss right? In very informal writing, you may abbreviate regarding as re. I have a question re your latest memo.
RIGHT/RITEA rite is a ritual, procedure, or ceremony. You’d speak of a rite of passage, or the rites of courtship. To spell the word differently wouldn’t be right.
ROLE/ROLLRole means a part or character in a play, or the function of an office. He assumed the role of chairman while Mr. Baldwin was in the hospital. A roll, among its other definitions, is a list: You may search the roll of the saints, but you will never find one who smoked.
STATIONARY/STATIONERYThe paper you write on is stationery. If something won’t move, it’s stationary.
THAN/THENThan is a conjunction that helps form a comparative phrase: I have more black shoes than brown ones. Then refers to a point in time or to a sequence of events: I was out of my mind then. We shed bitter tears for our departed King, then we played bridge. Then also joins with if to describe a fact contingent on one or more conditions: If it’s a parrot, then it can talk. However, sentences of this sort usually work just as well without using then at all.
THAT/WHICH/WHOMany people believe that it’s proper to use that in clauses that are essential to the meaning of the sentence and which in clauses that do not add to the meaning of the sentence: The tree that I planted last year is already six feet tall. His story, which he told in a trembling voice, was probably not true. This distinction is dying out, however. A thing is a that or a which, but a person is a who: From things that go bump in the night, good Lord, deliver us. People who wear dentures shouldn’t take them out in public. An animal can be that or who, depending on whether or not you know the animal: A cat was howling outside my window woke me up. My cat, who has a loud voice, wakes me every morning.
THEIR/THERE/THEY’REPeople who confuse these three words usually do so from carelessness, rather than from poor English skills. But in case you forget, here are the distinctions: There is a possessive, meaning belong to them. There is a direction, meaning at or in that place or point. There is the contraction of they are. They’re going there, to their house.
TO/TOO/TWOThis is another group of words that people often confuse due to carelessness: To is a preposition meaning, in the direction of, as in I’m going to the store. It’s part of an infinitive, as in It’s so easy to fall in love. Too means also, as in You come, too. It means excessively, as in I’m too tired. Two is the number.
TOE/TOWIt’s easy to see why some people write tow the line instead of toe the line, when they mean buckle down and work hard, or be on your best behavior. Toe the line is correct, though. The term comes from an extinct rule of boxing: Years ago, at the start of a bout, both opponents had to stand with one toe touching a line drawn in the middle of the ring.
UNCONDITIONAL/UNEQUIVOCALUnconditional means with no conditions attached, or no matter what. The Germans surrendered unconditionally. He left me his entire estate, unconditionally. Unequivocal means absolutely clear, with no shading of meaning. I agree with you unequivocally. Her explanation was unequivocal.
WAIVE/WAVETo waive something means o give it up, to not take advantage of it, or to not impose it: Since your payment was only a day late, I’ll waive the penalty. The suspect waived his right to remain silent. A waiver is the act of waiving something or a written statement saying that you waive something. A wave is something you do with your hands or something you’re holding (such as a flag) to attract attention or to communicate. A wave is also a moving ridge or swell on the surface of water or an undulating pattern.
WHO/WHOMWhom is the prepositional case of who. That is, if it follows a preposition such as for, to, or with, you should say whom: With whom are we going? To whom did you give it? Technically, if you put the preposition at the end of the sentence, you should still say whom. However, who has become so common in this construction that, today, either of the following sentences would be considered standard: Who did you give it to? Whom did you give to? Do not use whom if there is no preposition: “Who shall I say called?” is standard; so is “Who did you punch?”