Written by Pat Wootton, PromptProofing.com
This week we're going to talk about f-words. And no, I don't mean the swear words, though the confusion brought on by this week's subjects can sometimes have people swearing blind.
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This week, we're going to focus on three pairs of words that are often confused with each other and which all, coincidentally, begin with 'f'. If you have others (they don't have to be f-words!) that you are often perplexed by, feel free to tweet us (@promptproofing) or email us at email@example.com. We would love to hear your feedback! There are so many others we thought of (foreword vs forward, anyone? Or forego vs forgo?) but these are the ones we felt were the most pertinent.
Pair #1: Further vs. farther
This one gets all of us, even people who have spoken English - and only English - our entire lives.
"How much further?" - Wrong!
Use the 'far' in farther as a reminder: 'farther' refers to physical distance. So if you are asking how much farther you have to travel, farther is the correct term to use.
Further is used for more metaphorical distances. "I'm further along in the class [than Ted]," is an example.
Having said that, the majority of authorities on language agree that these two terms are interchangeable in any situation in which the meaning is ambiguous. So if it isn't clear that your sentence is related to the distance one is travelling, then give yourself a break and use whichever you feel is most appropriate at that time.
Pair #2: Formerly vs. formally
These meanings are completely different, but because they sound so similar when said out loud, people tend to mix them up. This is why reading is such a valuable pastime for children - the more you read, the more you learn words from seeing them written down as opposed to hearing them spoken out loud, and then you know which one to use when writing.
The best way to tell these apart is to look at their roots, as they are both adverbs, so are simply one word with 'ly' stuck on the end.
The root for 'formerly' is 'former', which means 'previous'. So When you say, "This is Samantha Brown, formerly Samantha Smith", this means that Samantha is now known as Samantha Brown but previously her name was Samantha Smith.
The root for 'formally' is 'formal', meaning 'proper' or 'official'. So you could say: "This is my friend Sam Brown, formally Samantha Brown." This means that Sam's actual legal name is Samantha, but she (informally, or casually) goes as Sam.
Pair #3: Faze vs Phase
Okay, so they're not both strictly speaking 'f-words', but again, this is where learning words just by hearing them creates difficulty - these words sound identical. Even 'formerly and 'formally', if they are said properly, should have a slight difference in pronunciation, but these two, 'faze' and 'phase', really do sound one and the same.
So what's the difference?
'Faze' can only be used as a verb, and refers to the act of confusing or surprising someone. "His confession didn't faze me at all," is an example of its usage.
'Phase' can be a verb or a noun but both refer to the same idea: a 'phase' is a stage in a process (noun) and to 'phase' is to do something in stages (verb).
Usage as a verb: "We need to phase out the cherry chocolate flavour - no one likes it."
Usage as a noun: "I guess I was just going through a cherry phase."
Check back next Friday for another Prompt Proofing blog post!
About the Author
Pat Wootton is originally from England and is a former high school English teacher. Having spent many years in the Caribbean, where she raised her family, she now lives in Vancouver, BC. In addition, she has taught English as a Second Language (ESL) for several years after earning a diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from the University of British Columbia. She now owns and runs Prompt Proofing, a copy editing and writing service that caters to individuals and partners with marketing and public relations companies.