The English language has many words that are easily confused. Words that sound alike or look alike can have completely different meanings.
It is imperative that legal professionals have superior communications skills. Poor grammar can tarnish a reputation and image very quickly. This is part two of our series on commonly confused words.
Its and It’s
While the differences between these words may seem obvious, misuse of these words is the leading grammatical error.
It’s is a contraction of it is. The confusion is that it seems as it should be the possessive version of the pronoun “it.” One of the confusing quirks of the English language is that the possessive form of “it” does not have an apostrophe. Thus, “its” is the possessive pronoun of “it.”
- It’s very cold outside this morning. [Contraction of “it is”]
- TAPA is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. [Possessive of TAPA]
- It’s time to go!
- My hair seems to have a mind of its own.
They’re, Their, and There
They’re is a contraction of they are. Their is a plural possessive of they.
- They’re happy to be selected for the trial team.
- The trial team members have been working very hard on their assigned tasks.
There has a variety of meanings.
- Used as a noun, there indicates a place or location.
- I need to know how long it will take me to get from there to the courthouse.
- As an adverb, there is the opposite of here.
- Could you run by there and pick up my order?
- Put the gifts there and join us in the dining room.
- Used as a pronoun, there introduces a noun or a phrase.
- There is too much street noise outside my office.
- Are there nuts in these cookies?
Principal and Principle
Principal, when used as a noun, refers to head or chief. In the U.S., it is most commonly used to refer to a head educator. When used as an adjective, principal is used to describe something that is main or key.
Principal also has special meanings in finance and law. In finance, principal refers to a loan amount requiring repayment. In law, principal refers to a person having prime responsibility for an obligation or the main actor in the perpetuation of a crime.
- Students who continually misbehave in class may find themselves in the principal’s office.
- The drama department is holding auditions for the principal leads in the spring play.
- By making payments above the minimum required payment on my mortgage, I hope to reduce the principal on the loan more quickly.
Principle is a noun that generally refers to the idea of a rule, belief, tenet, general law or a code of conduct.
- As a matter of principle, I must take a stand against unethical conduct.
Complement and Compliment
Both of these words can be used as nouns and verbs, but have very different meanings.
A compliment is something said in admiration, praise or flattery. It can also be used as a verb, when paying a compliment to someone.
- My sister is always fishing for compliments about her long hair.
- I don’t know whether to take your comment as a compliment or an insult.
- I complimented my friend’s performance after her theater debut.
Complement is a noun that describes something which completes or brings to perfection. Used as verb, complement means to make complete.
- Red wine is a frequent complement to a dish with red meat; while white wine is the preferred complement to a poultry dish.
- When I redecorated my home, I searched long and hard for the perfect drapes to complement my new furniture.
Capital and Capitol
Capital can be a noun or an adjective and can refer to uppercase letters, accumulated wealth, or the city that serves as the seat of government for a state or country.
- Job titles such as doctor, lawyer, pastor, and teacher are generally not capitalized.
- Specific names of places should begin with a capital letter, such as the Brooklyn Bridge.
Capitol refers to a building that may be the seat of government or in which a governmental body meets. (Memory tip: capitol buildings often have a dome; capitol has an o in it).
One of those confusing quirks in our language is that capital is used to describe the capital city of a state or country, while capitol refers to the building that is the seat of government.
- The United States Capitol Building is located the U.S. capital city of Washington, D.C.
- When traveling, I make a point to visit capitol buildings in state capital cities.
What are some other words that are commonly confused? What are some grammar and punctuation rules that are to keep straight? Let us know and we will address these in future blog posts.