Part 3 of 3–Did You Really Mean To Use That Word???

This blog concludes a three-part series that has focused on reviewing certain words which sound and look similar. You also can review the blogs presented on December 5 and November 7, 2011, for a complete discussion on troublesome words. As business writers, one goal should be to develop the ability to use words correctly. Using words wisely and correctly will definitely help you to advance and succeed in your business career.

Word Meaning Example
It’s The contraction for the words “it is” or “it has.” It’s going to be another hot, sunny day in Dallas.

It’s been an exciting venture.

Its The possessive pronoun used to show ownership for the pronoun “it.” The dog licked its injured paw.
Lay This verb means “to place” or “to put.” The principal parts of this verb are lay, laid, laid, laying. Please lay the book on the table.

Jack laid the hammer next to his toolbox.

Hint: If you can substitute “place” or “put,” then you can use a form of this verb.

Lie This verb means “to recline” or “to rest.” The principal parts of this verb are lie, lay, lain, lying. I plan to lie down for an hour.

After he took his pain medicine, Jack lay down, and he finally dozed off to sleep.

May be These two words can be part of a verb phrase (helper or with “be” as the main verb). Mrs. Smith may be out of town tomorrow. (may be is the verb phrase—be is the main verb)

I may be going to Chicago next week. (may be—acting as helper verbs for the verb “going”)

Maybe This adverb should be used to express the possibility (or perhaps). If I don’t hear from her today, maybe I will give her a call.
Principal This word can function as a noun or as an adjective. As a noun, it may refer to a business owner, the head of a school, or a sum of invested money. As an adjective, it means “the most important.” The principal approved the student’s absence.

The principal sum will be used to invest in new energy projects.

Principle This word can only be used as a noun. It refers to a “basic law or rule” or “adherence to an ethical code.” John questioned the politician’s principles during the debate on healthcare.
Raise This word means “to cause to lift” or “to lift something.” The principal parts are raise, raised, raised, raising. The candidate’s opposition raised several valid questions regarding the project.
Regardless Means “anyway” or “in spite of” or “nevertheless.” NEVER use irregardless—there is no such word! Regardless of the concern expressed by the committee, the chairman plans to approve the costly project.
Reign This word means “to rule over.” Someday, Prince William will reign as king of the United Kingdom.
Rein This word means “to hold back” or “to restrain” or “to stop”—to rein in.

It can also be used to express unlimited access or pursuits.

The state officials plan to rein in unnecessary spending.

He was given free rein over the committee’s budget.

Retroactive to Refers to being in effect to an earlier time. Never use “retroactive from.” The pay raise was made retroactive to July 1 of the previous year.
Rise This word means “to ascend” “to move upward by itself” or “to get up.” The principal parts are rise, rose, risen, rising. The sun rose at 6:45 a.m. this morning.

The Trinity River has risen to flood stage recently.

Set This word means “to place” or “to put” something somewhere. The principal parts are set, set, set, setting. I set my suitcase down next to my purse.

I set the alarm on my iPhone to sound at 6 a.m.

Sit This word means “to be in a position of rest” or “to be seated.” The principal parts are sit, sat, sat, sitting. I think she needs to sit down and rest for several minutes.

Brian sat with the rest of the family.

Their The possessive pronoun used to show plural ownership. Their mother went to the fair with her friend.
Theirs The possessive pronoun used to show plural ownership. Theirs was a misguided belief.
There’re The contraction for the words “there are.” There’re always two sides to every argument.
There’s The contraction for the words “there is” or “there has.” There’s always hope at the beginning of a new year.

There’s to be light at the end of this tunnel!

They’re The contraction for the words “they are.” They’re going to visit their friend in Chicago.
You’re The contraction for the words “you are.” You’re going to be surprised to see how much progress Mark has made on this project!
Your The possessive pronoun used to show ownership for the pronoun “you.” Your speech covered an interesting topic.

Source: William A. Sabin, The Gregg Reference Manual, 11th Edition, The McGraw-Hill Companies, New York, 2011.

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