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A grammatically correct word or phrase isn’t always the best communication. Some words are confusing. A phrase like “that’s me” is wrong, grammatically, but readers would think you were weird if you wrote “that is I.” If you know your audience, you’re usually safe in using their language. However, you should be aware of some words that have different meanings to different people. If the context of your writing doesn’t make the meaning clear, they are best avoided.
  Aggravate or AnnoyAggravate means to worsen or intensify. Annoy means to be disturb or bother someone. People may be annoyed by the aggravated air quality.
  Anxious or EagerAnxious is associated with anxiety, referring to apprehension, a negative emotion, which is often confused with someone who is eager, a positive emotion of anticipation. To avoid confusion when the context doesn’t make the meaning clear, use fearful or apprehensive instead of anxious. Fred was anxious about sky jumping for the first time but afterward was eager to go again.
  Crucial or Critical — While the two might be used interchangeably, critical works best for extreme danger and crucial for something very important. It may be crucial to pay bills on time, but when the debtor is about to be sued, his condition has become critical.
  Euphemism or Pretense — A euphemism is a substitute word or phrase for what might be otherwise regarded as unpleasant. A pretense represents something as other than what it really is. Instead of saying the mayor had died, reporters used euphemisms, saying, “He passed away,” “He departed this life,” or “He went to Heaven.” He excused himself from the business meeting under the pretense that he had to make an important call.
  Famous or NotoriousFamous people are known for their achievements, their position in society. Notorious people are known for their wrongdoing, their criminal activities. Roy Rogers is a famous cowboy, and Jesse James is a notorious criminal.
  Farther or FurtherFarther refers to physical distance, which is easy to remember if you notice that the word contains “far.” Further applies to distance in the metaphorical or figurative sense. If we need to drive farther down the road, we’ll need further instruction.
  Healthy or Healthful — Use healthful when the intended meaning is “promoting good health.” Healthy applies to anything in good health. A healthful snack will keep us healthy.
  Historic or HistoricalHistoric refers to something especially worth noting in history. Historical simply identifies something from the past. Neil Armstrong’s first step on lunar soil was an historic event, and the museum contains many historical items from the first decades of space travel.
  Honorarium or Compensation — An honorarium is a reward of an unspecified nature or amount. Compensation is payment of an agreed-upon fee. The speaker anticipated an honorarium of a gift card or cash because he had no agreement for any compensation.
  Instance or Instant — An instance is an occurrence, a moment in time. Instant refers to something sudden or quick, marking the speed of time. After three instances of failure, he was looking for instant success. A moment can be an instance, but not an instant. Example: For an insane instant moment, she wanted him to kiss her.
  Ironic or Unusual — Anything that deviates from the norm, from what would be expected, is unusual. Something is ironic when the meaning is in direct contrast, opposite to what would be expected. The nickname Tater Tot is ironic when it refers to a lineman playing in the NFL, and his never playing college ball would be unusual.
  Lie or Lay — Confusion comes in the way the verbs are used in different tenses. (1) The verb lie means to tell something that isn’t true. Jack is lying. He lies now, lied yesterday, and has lied more times than one can count. (2) Or lie means to be at rest. Jack lies now, lay yesterday, and has lain when tired. (3) Lay means to put or place something. If a chicken yields an egg, it lays now, laid yesterday, and has laid an egg almost every day. When the grammatically correct verb form doesn’t match what is common in everyday speech, find a different word so readers won’t mistakenly think you wrote incorrectly.
  Naked or NudeNude refers to a person wearing no clothes, and only rarely might be used as a metaphor, such as nude furniture, referring to unfinished wood. The meaning of naked can go much further than being unclothed, meaning stripped down, vulnerable, unprotected. Artists learn to paint nudes, and that’s the naked truth.
  Near or Close — Think of close as referring to something intimate, near as something positioned a little farther away. We might have a close call, a close friend, or a close encounter of the third kind. In the near future, we might move to a neighborhood near the big city.
  Negligent or NegligibleNegligent describes chronic ignoring or overlooking responsibilities. Negligible is something too insignificant to warrant any concern. Because Jack was negligent in reporting the accident, he was fired. A two-cent difference in the cost for a gallon of gas is negligible.
  Shall or Will — While these words are often understood as identical twins, shall has a stronger feeling of intent, with a sense of command, and will is more common in everyday speech, more casual and less formal. I shall not lie, but I will probably shade the truth a bit. When in doubt, use the contraction: I think I’ll stay home.