Three Tricky Word Pairs to Watch for

English is rife with tricky word doubles, including some that I have to look up whenever I use them. Here are some examples of word choices that often throw people:

Farther/Further: Farther refers to physical distance. “Sally could throw the ball farther than her older brother.” Further is abstract: “Her brother couldn’t discuss Sally’s ability any further.”Mama and babies

Incidents/Incidence: Incidents is the plural of incident: “The editor discovered three incidents of misplaced commas.” Incidence means “rate” or “occurrence.” “The incidence of acts of kindness are on the rise.”

Eager/Anxious: I had to break myself of misusing “anxious” some time ago. Many people mean eager when they say anxious. “I am anxious to go to Disneyland.” If, indeed, the speaker was nervous about going on rides, then she would be anxious about going to Disneyland. If, however, she was excited and looking forward to it, she was eager: “Doreen was eager to go on the biggest, baddest rides of them at.”

Tricky words like this make English difficult for non-native speakers, but even native speakers confuse meanings of words all the time. Dictionaries are great for finding the correct usage of a particular word. Be careful when using a thesaurus for finding just the right word—often, a flowery, poetic, or fancy word may sound nice, but its meaning may not be what you’re looking for. Always look up the word in a dictionary before picking something at random from the thesaurus.

With all this said, many of the rules of English grammar and usage go out the window in everyday speech. We would sound awfully formal if we asked our children, “With whom will you be playing today?” Of course, this more relaxed approach to grammar in speech leads directly to informal usage in writing, which, in turn, leads to the general degradation of the language itself.

And yes, while language is “living,” and does reflect our times, perhaps it is not wise to lose the basic structure of grammar and spelling. We can avoid fracturing our country even further by anxiously giving attention to the incidents of colloquial verbiage, lest we lose complete connection with one another.