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Spelling and vocabulary

Learn about how to improve spelling and vocabulary in your writing.

Misspelled and misused words

When deciding whether to use affect or effect in your writing, consider whether you need a noun or verb in your sentence. Effect is a most commonly used as a noun (a person, place, or thing) and describes the result of something; for example, "the effect of the holiday was widespread good cheer." Affect is a verb, and most often means ‘to influence’. For example, "the delicious aromas affected his appetite: he was suddenly ravenously hungry."

For more information, please see the definitions of affect and effect in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

A common mistake made by writers is to use "alot" instead of the correct "a lot". For example, "I read alot" should be "I read a lot". For a fun way to remember the correct spelling, please see Hyperbole and a Half: The Alot is Better at You than Everything by Allie Brosch.

Continually and continuously are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Continually refers to an action that happens repeatedly but with interruptions; for example, “my dog continually wags her tail” means that my dog often wags her tail. An action that happens continuously never stops; accordingly, “my dog continuously wags her tail” means that whether my dog is sleeping, eating, or any other activity, her tail is wagging. Since continuous wagging is physically impossible (or would, at least, require veterinary intervention), the use of continuous in this sentence makes the statement factually incorrect.

In most cases, when people use continuously, continually is the more appropriate and accurate adverb. For example, “it rained continuously in Victoria all last winter” is an exaggeration that may express the frustration of living through a wet Victorian winter. However, unless the rain actually never stopped during the entire winter, the sentence isn’t accurate. Instead, “it rained continually in Victoria last winter” informs the reader that it rained heavily during the winter season.

Are you aware that data is the plural form of the noun datum? Accordingly, when referring to data in formal academic writing, the plural form of the verb should be used: the data are or the data show. It's true the English language is always evolving and using data as a singular noun has become a more common usage; however, when it comes to formal writing, such as an academic paper, article, thesis, or dissertation, my recommendation is to stay with the traditional subject-verb agreement of data and use it as a plural subject with a plural verb. The seventh edition APA Style manual identifies "datum" as the singular form and "data" as the plural form (American Psychological Association, 2020, p. 161), and for more information regarding subject-verb agreement please refer to pages 161-162 in the seventh edition of the APA Style manual.


American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).


When deciding between using each other or one another in your writing, consider the number of people involved in the statement.

  • Don and Mary congratulated each other after convocation.
  • Jim, Lin, and Petra celebrated with one another after receiving their degrees.

If you're referring to two people, use each other. If your statement describes three or more people, use one another.


When you’re deciding between using either/or or neither/nor in a sentence, first consider the purpose of the sentence. Either/or is a positive construction and indicates that one or the other noun will be doing the action of the verb: “Either John or Steve will attend the meeting”. Neither/nor is a negative construction and indicates that neither the first noun nor the second noun will be doing the action of the verb: “Neither Alice nor Michael answered the phone”.

Once you’ve decided on the approach you’re using in the sentence, you can then decide the correct verb tense. To do so, look at the noun closest to the conjugated verb:

  • Either Alex or Frank will play tonight in the hockey game. (“Frank” is singular, therefore “play” is correct)
  • Neither Janice nor the twins think that's the right answer. (“Twins” is plural, therefore “think” is correct)


What a difference a letter can make! You might think that  i.e. and e.g. can be used interchangably, but they don't mean the same thing. Whereas i.e. is the abbreviation of the Latin term id est, which basically means "that is", e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means "for example" (Fogarty, 2011, p. 1).

To decide which abbreviation to use, first decide whether you are reiterating a message or giving an example. Reiterating a message gives further clarification on a topic (i.e., it encourages greater understanding), whereas giving an example illustrates a point. To remember which abbreviation to use in what setting, consider the Grammar Girl's advice:

E.g. means “for example,” so you use it to introduce an example: I like card games, e.g., bridge and crazy eights. Because I used e.g., you know that I have provided a list of examples of card games that I like. It's not a finite list of all card games I like; it's just a few examples.

On the other hand, i.e. means “in other words,” so you use it to introduce a further clarification: I like to play cards, i.e., bridge and crazy eights. Because I used i.e., which introduces a clarification, you know that these are the only card games that I enjoy. (Fogarty, 2011, p. 2) 

Finally, since both e.g. and i.e. are abbreviations, there should be periods after each letter (but no space between the letters), the abbreviations should not be italicized, and a comma should follow the final period of the abbreviation.


Fogarty, M. (2011, May 19). I.e. versus e.g.. Quick and Dirty Tips.


If you consider the meaning of "in regard to", the choice of regard/regards becomes clear: you are indicating your singular concern or concentration; therefore, "in regard to" is correct. An easy reminder when choosing the correct form is to think of "regard" as a single concern, whereas "regards" are the plural best wishes that you might extend in your closing in a letter or email (e.g., kind regards). Mignon Fogarty (2010), author of the Grammar Girl Blog, also recommended using more precise language in place of "in regard to", such as "'concerning', 'regarding', [or] 'about'" (para. 2). Finally, in formal writing, please avoid using "re:" as an abbreviation; instead, write out in full the word or phrase that you would replace with "re:". 


Fogarty, M. (2010, February 22). "In regard to" versus "in regards to". Quick and Dirty Tips.


Since and because can be used interchangeably. In fact, Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary lists since as a synonym for because ("Since", n.d., para. 1), and they have similar meanings: "for the reason that" ("Because", n.d., para. 1) and "in view of the fact that" ("Since", n.d., para. 2). For example: "I'm going to the movies because it's raining", or "since it's raining, I'm going to the movies".


Because. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster's online dictionary. Retrieved March 4, 2021, from

Since. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster's online dictionary. Retrieved March 4, 2021, from


Writing a sentence involves using a combination of restrictive clauses and nonrestrictive clauses. Restrictive clauses are essential to the meaning of the sentence and usually begin with that, whereas nonrestrictive clauses contribute additional information and usually begin with which (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020, p. 122). For example, in the sentence, “the book by Jones that is red is my favourite”, the clause “that is red” is a restrictive clause because it identifies that amongst the books written by Jones, it is the red book that is the favourite. However, in the sentence, “the book by Jones, which is red, is my favourite”, “which is red” is a nonrestrictive clause because it adds additional, non-critical information to the description. The sentence could exist without the nonrestrictive clause: “The book by Jones is my favourite”.
When you’re deciding whether to use “which” or “that” in your sentence, consider if you’re writing a restrictive or nonrestrictive clause. Is the information that follows the which/that critical to the meaning of the sentence? If yes, use “that”; if not, use “which”. For more information, please refer to the Grammar Girl's Which Versus That.
One final punctuation point: when placing a nonrestrictive clause in a sentence, the clause should be contained by commas: “The book by Jones, which is red, is my favourite" (APA, 2020, p. 122). The commas at the beginning and end of the clause indicate where the non-restrictive clause starts and finishes, thereby alerting your reader to the essential/non-essential information in the sentence.


American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).


Are you unsure about when to use then or than in your writing? Remember that then means "following next after in order of position, narration, or enumeration : being next in a series" ("Then", n.d., para. 1); for example, "I came to work, and then I went home." In contrast, than indicates a comparison ("Than", n.d., para. 1); for example, my dog would rather run off-leash than walk next to me. Here are some other examples:

  • My grades are better this semester than last semester.
  • We're having dinner first and then we'll watch the movie.
  • Her choice of ice cream seemed unusual, but then I remembered that she likes chocolate better than vanilla.


When choosing whether to use I, me, or myself, you need to know if you need a subjective (I), objective (me), or reflexive pronoun (myself). Remember that the subject of the sentence does the action (expressed by the verb) that involves the object. For example, "I (subject) went (verb) for a walk with Sophie (object)." It's also possible to have compound subjects and objects, which means that there is more than one subject or object. For example, “Sophie and I (compound subject) went for a walk”. Since “Sophie and I” is a compound subject, I is the correct pronoun because I is the subjective pronoun.

Now for objective pronouns: In the case of, “Sophie went with I/me/myself for a walk”, the correct form is me, because the subject (Sophie) does the verb (went) involving the object (me). In the case of a compound object, the same rule is true: Sophie (subject) went with Alice and me (compound object) for a walk.

Reflexive pronouns are "words ending in -self or -selves that are used when the subject and the object of a sentence are the same (e.g., I believe in myself). They can act as either objects or indirect objects" (Traffis, n.d., para. 1). Myself is used as the reflexive objective pronoun when you are both the subject and the object of the sentence: “I (subject) wrote (verb) myself (reflexive objective pronoun) a note.”

To sum up:

Subjective pronoun: I (Sophie and I went for a walk)
Objective pronoun: Me (Sophie went with me for a walk)
Reflexive pronoun: Myself (I wrote myself a note)


Traffis, C. (n.d.). What is a reflexive pronoun? Grammarly.


If you’re puzzled by when to use who versus whom, you first need to understand that both words serve as pronouns. Pronouns are parts of speech that take the place of other nouns (American Psychological Association, 2020, p. 120). For example, instead of saying “Bob’s hat”, you could instead say “his hat”, and "his" would be the pronoun.

The next thing that you need to consider when deciding between who and whom is whether you need a subjective or an objective pronoun. Starting with the basic sentence form, almost every sentence has a subject, a verb, and an object. For example, in “I like apples”, I is the subject, like is the verb, and apples is the object, or the clause that receives or is influenced by the action of the verb. I’ll give you another example: “Royal Roads University is in Colwood.” In that sentence, Royal Roads University is the subject, is (which is a form of the verb "to be") is the verb, and Colwood is the object. In case you’re curious, "in" is a preposition.

If you’re attempting to use who or whom instead of the subject or object of the sentence, the pronoun needs to perform the same function as the original noun. Accordingly, when deciding whether to use who, which is a subjective pronoun, or whom, which is the objective pronoun, consider the word being replaced by either pronoun. For example, in “who is speaking?”, the speaker is asking about the subject of the sentence: “Who is speaking? Mark is speaking.” Therefore, who is the subjective pronoun. However, in “Margaret is speaking with whom?”, the speaker asks to have the object identified: “Margaret is speaking with whom? Margaret is speaking with Mark.” Therefore, whom is the objective pronoun. Strictly speaking, the correct form of the preceding question is “With whom is Margaret speaking?”; however, for the purposes of the example, it’s clearer to have whom at the end of the sentence in order to show whom's objective role.

There you have it: use who when you need a subjective pronoun; use whom when you require an objective pronoun. If you’re still (or more) confused, there’s a great Grammar Girl posting on the topic, and you’re welcome to contact the Writing Centre with any questions.


American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).