Tricky Words

General Rules

Alumnus/Alumni and Alumna/Alumnae

These words are taken from their Latin origins and denote graduates or former students of a school, college or university. The noun forms are gender specific: “alumna” refers to one woman; “alumnae” refers to women; “alumnus” refers to one man; “alumni” refers to men or men and women. “Alumni” is often used for any group of graduates. Restrict use of “alum” or “alums” to informal contexts or the Georgia State University Magazine.

Alumni Abbreviations

When listing alumni degrees, place last two digits of the graduation year (preceded by an apostrophe) with the degree abbreviation in parentheses. List degrees in chronological order. It is important that the apostrophe point in the correct direction: down and to the left. Do not place a comma between the year and the degree.

Right: Former State Senator David Adelman (M.P.A. ’95) served as the United States Ambassador to Singapore from 2010–13.
Right: Brian Egan (B.F.A. ’12) oversees programming at the Mammal Gallery, an arts and performance facility in south downtown.

If a person received more than one degree from Georgia State University, name each with its year of completion, and separate them with commas.

Right: Randy Patterson (B.B.A. ’98, MBA ’01) is vice president of human resources at Recall, a records management company.
Right: Joyce Mitchell (B.A. ’08, M.A. ’10)

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns such as “faculty,” “staff,” “band” and “family” can take either singular or plural verbs. Choose whichever you prefer, but stay consistent.

Right: The staff is represented by the Staff Council.
Right: Our faculty are dedicated and passionate.
Right: Staff members disagree among themselves about the best benefits options.

Passive Voice

Avoid using the passive voice, which can contribute to imprecise, weak or wordy prose.

Think about this sentence: “Jane’s classes were taught in the morning.” Taught by whom? Is Jane a teacher or a student? An active construction would clarify the sentence: “Professor Smith taught Jane’s morning classes.”

When a passive construction makes an appearance in an early draft, think about the sentence. Try to alter the construction and choose an active verb. Concise sentences with active verbs and a few carefully selected modifiers communicate most clearly to the reader.

Passive: The program is activated with a key by the engineer.
Active: The engineer activates the program with a key.

Sometimes passive voice is a better choice. For example, when the recipient of an award is more important than the awarding body, it’s better to keep this information at the beginning of the sentence: “Jimmy Carter was the spring commencement speaker.”

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves and themselves) reflect the action of the predicate back onto the subject and rename the subject as either an object or direct object. To be used correctly, they must be able to refer back to a noun or noun phrase already named in the sentence.

Right: I am getting ahead of myself.
Right: I gave myself three goals.
Right: She hurt herself.
Right: Let’s examine how the narrative represents itself.
Right: The professors invited themselves.

Intensive pronouns (the same set of words) are used in apposition to their referents to add emphasis. To be used correctly, they must be able to refer back to a noun or noun phrase already named in the sentence.

Right: I told them myself. (I myself told them.)
Right: The story emphasizes the dangers and weaknesses in narrative itself.

If neither of these cases applies, you must use a pronoun in either the subjective or objective case.

Wrong: You can tell your supervisor or myself.
Right: You can tell your supervisor or me.
Wrong: My wife and myself express our thanks.
Right: My wife and I express our thanks.

Relative Pronouns


“That” and “which” are relative pronouns that begin relative clauses by replacing or referring to an action, idea, place or thing previously stated in the sentence.

When referring to a human being (or an animal with a name), any clause should be introduced by the word “who” or “whom.” (See “Who/Whom” below.)

When referring to an object or nameless animal with an essential clause — one that cannot be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence — use the word “that” to introduce the clause. Essential clauses do not need commas.

When referring to an object or nameless animal with a non-essential clause — one that can be eliminated from the sentence without changing the basic meaning — use the word “which” to introduce the clause. If nonessential clauses appear in the middle of sentences, they may need to be set off by commas.

A simple test: Once your sentence is written, try reading it without the clause. If the sentence still means about the same thing, your clause should be introduced by “which.” If taking out the clause changes the meaning drastically, it should be introduced by “that.”

Right: The club meeting, which was held at the University Center, was cancelled.
Meaning: The club meeting was cancelled. (We must already know which club meeting it is.)
Right: The club meeting that was held at the University Center was cancelled.
Meaning: The only meeting being held at the University Center was cancelled.
Better: The club meeting held at the University Center was cancelled.


“Who” and “whom” are relative pronouns for persons. They begin relative clauses by replacing or referring to persons or animals with names either subjectively (you need to know “who” is responsible) or objectively (you need to know “whom” to contact).

The word “who” substitutes for the subjective-case pronouns “he,” “she” or “they”; “whom” substitutes for the objective-case pronouns “him,” “her” or “them.” If you don’t want to use “whom,” restructure your sentence. Don’t just use “who” when it is incorrect.

Glossary of Preferred Terms and Commonly Misused Words


“Adverse” means unfavorable. “Averse” means reluctant.


“Adviser” is preferred although both are correct. Whichever you choose to use, be consistent throughout your document.


“To affect” means (1) to influence, change or produce an effect; (2) to like to do, wear or use; or (3) to pretend. “To effect” means to accomplish, complete, cause, make possible or carry out. If you’re looking for a noun, you’re probably looking for “effect.” If you’re using a verb, you’re safest with “affect.”


not afterwards

all right

not alright


“To allude” means to speak of without mentioning. “To refer” means to speak of directly.


An “allusion” is an indirect reference. An “illusion” is a false impression or image.


As adjectives, “alternate” means “every other” or “happening or following in turns” while “alternative” means “available as another choice,” “substitute,” “existing outside traditional or established institutions or systems,” or “espousing or reflecting values outside the mainstream.”


An alumna is one woman. Alumnae are women.


An alumnus is one man. Alumni are men or men and women.


“Around” should refer to a physical proximity or surrounding (“meet me around the entrance to the University Commons”) while “about” should indicate an approximation (“about 50 percent of our full-time faculty”).


Use “beside” to mean “at the side of” (“sit beside me”), “to compare with” (“beside other studies”) or “apart from” (“beside the point”). Use “besides” to mean “furthermore” (“besides, I said so”), “in addition to” (“and elm and maple trees besides”) or “other than” (“there’s no one here besides Bill and me”).


Use “between” to show a relationship between two objects only. Use “among” when there are more than two.

“Between” takes an objective pronoun: me, her, him, them. “Between you and me” is correct. “Between you and I” is not.


“Biannual” is twice a year. “Biennial” is every two years.


The Georgia State account name for signing into technology is a single word.

Civil Rights Movement

Capitalize each word of this proper noun.


A “complement” is something that completes or supplements. A “compliment” is praise or the expression of courtesy.


“Compose” is to create or put together. “Comprise” is to contain, to include all or embrace. “Constitute” is to make up, to be the elements of.

Examples: The whole comprises the parts. The parts constitute the whole. The whole is composed of parts.

The department comprises 12 people. Twelve people constitute the department. The department is composed of 12 people.


“Continual” is a steady repetition. “Continuous” is uninterrupted.


plural (more than one criterion, which is a quality, value or standard of judgment)


plural (more than one curriculum, which is a program of academic courses or learning activities: the College of Law curricula)


adjective (College of Education & Human Development’s curricular philosophy)


singular (the chemistry curriculum)


“Data” is usually a plural noun that takes a plural verb (“the data have been carefully selected”). On rare occasions, “data” can be used as a singular collective noun, where the group or quantity of data is regarded as a single object that takes a singular verb (“the data is sound”).

daylight-saving time

not daylight-savings time

different from/than

While “different from” is generally preferred, “different than” is acceptable in certain contexts, especially when the object is a clause. In general, use “from” when the object is a simple noun or noun phrase, but don’t be afraid to use “than” before a clause. For example, “He is different from his mother,” but “things are different than they used to be.”


“Disinterested” means impartial. “Uninterested” means someone lacks interest.


not disassociate


“Entitled” means having the right to something (she is entitled to the inheritance). Use “titled” to introduce the name of a publication, speech or musical piece (the piece is titled “Love and Illusion”).


“Farther” refers to physical distance. “Further” refers to an extension of time or degree.


In general, use “fewer” for individual items that can be counted. Use “less” for bulk or quantity that is measured (not counted). “Fewer” usually takes a plural noun; “less” usually takes a singular noun.

first come, first served

Use the past participles of each verb. Your guests are not going to serve; they will be served.


“Flier” is the preferred term for an aviator or a handbill. Use “flyer” only for the official names of buses and trains, such as Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer.


As a verb, to “flounder” means to move about clumsily or with difficulty, as through mud, or to behave awkwardly. To “founder,” on the other hand, means to fall, fail, sink, stumble or become wrecked. People who are intoxicated or learning to swim may flounder about, but doomed companies or projects founder.

follow-up/follow up

Hyphenate the noun, and leave the phrasal verb open. You “follow up” on a meeting; the act of following up on a meeting may be called a “follow-up.”

grade point average

Neither hyphenate nor capitalize this term. Heed the rules for Acronyms and Initialisms, and use “GPA” after first reference.


To use “half-mast,” you must be referring to a flag on a ship or at a naval station. A flag anywhere else is at “half-staff.”

healthcare/health care

While AP still prefers “health care,” this term has evolved into a closed compound in some contexts, which allows writers to use it as a modifier more easily. Whatever you choose, be consistent.


“Historic” means important. “Historical” refers to any event in the past.


“Hopefully” describes the hopeful manner in which someone speaks, appears or acts. Do not use “hopefully” to mean “it is to be hoped that,” especially as a sentence adverb.

Right: I hope we can go.
Right: It is hoped the report will address that issue.
Right: She eyed the interview list hopefully.
Right: The speaker delivered her address hopefully and passionately.
Wrong: Hopefully, we can go.
Wrong: The report will hopefully address that issue.


“Importantly” is incorrect unless it is an adverb.

Right: He strutted importantly through the castle.
Right: More important, he said, the quality of the program must not suffer.


“Imply” means to suggest or indicate indirectly. To “infer” is to conclude or decide from something known or assumed.

In general, if you imply something, you’re sending out a message. If you infer something, you’re interpreting a message.


In general, use the full word “information” and restrict use of “info” to informal contexts.

in regard to

not “in regards to.” “As regards” or “regarding” may also be used.


“Insure” means to establish a contract for insurance of some type. “Ensure” means to guarantee.


“Intense” means of extreme force, degree or strength whereas “intensive,” as the counterpart to “extensive,” means with regard to force or degree. A strenuous experience is “intense,” but a concentrated approach to, say, agriculture or bombardment (more plants or bombs per area) is “intensive.”


In general, use the full word “introduction” and restrict use of “intro” to informal contexts.


The word is “regardless” or “irrespective.”


Do not coin verbs with this suffix, and do not use already coined words such as “finalize” (use “end” or “conclude”) or “utilize” (use “use”).


“Lay” means to place or deposit and requires a direct object (forms: lay, laid, laying). “Lie” means to be in a reclining position or to be situated. It does not take an object (forms: lie, lay, lain, lying).


You stand on a podium and behind a lectern.


To “let alone” means to leave something undisturbed. To “leave alone” means to depart from or cause to be in solitude.


Use “like” to compare nouns and pronouns. Use “as” to introduce clauses and phrases.


“Literally” means in an exact sense. “Figuratively” means in a comparative sense.

Right: The furnace literally exploded.
Right: He was so furious he fi guratively blew his stack.


In most cases, you don’t need this word. Instead of saying “The Speaker’s Auditorium is located in Student Center East,” you can simply write, “The Speaker’s Auditorium is in Student Center East.” Instead of “Where are you located at?” (which is the worst construction of all), write “Where are you?”


In general, use “many” for individual items that can be counted, and use “much” for bulk or quantity that is measured.

metro Atlanta

Unlike “Southern California” or “Northern Virginia,” “metro Atlanta” is not a proper noun. Never hyphenate it, and avoid alternative terms like “the metro area.”

Right: Georgia State boasts a $2.4 billion impact on metro Atlanta each year.
Wrong: Georgia State boasts a $2.4 billion impact on Metro Atlanta each year.
Wrong: metro-Atlanta, Metro-Atlanta


Use instead of “12 a.m.” or “12 p.m.” Do not put a “12” in front of either one.

more than/over

Use “more than” when you mean in excess of; use “over” when referring to physical placement of an object, an ending or extent of authority.

Right: More than 25 professors participated.
Wrong: The university has over 60 buildings.


Use this word anytime you use “neither.”


“Oral” refers to spoken words. “Verbal” can refer to either spoken or written words but most often connotes the process of reducing ideas to writing.

PantherCard and PantherCash

These important resources are both written without spaces between capitalized terms.

past experience

What other kind of experience is there? Just use “experience” alone.


To “peddle” is to sell. To “pedal” is to use pedals, as on a bicycle.


Use “person” when speaking of an individual. The word “people,” rather than “persons,” is preferred for plural uses in most cases.


“Pom-pom” is a rapidly firing weapon. A cheerleader’s prop is called a “pompon.”


“Premier” is first in status or importance, chief, or a prime minister or chief executive. “Premiere” is a first performance.


Many writers use these terms as if they were synonymous. But “presently” means “in a little while” or “soon.” “Currently” means now. In most cases, you can do just fine without using “currently.” For example, “we are currently revising the plan” works better when simply stated, “we are revising the plan.”


“Pretense” is a false show or unsupported claim to some distinction or accomplishment. “Pretext” is a false reason or motive put forth to hide the real one, an excuse or a cover-up.


“Principal” as a noun is a chief person or thing; as an adjective, it means first in importance. “Principle” is a noun meaning a fundamental truth, doctrine or law; a guiding rule or code of conduct; or a method of operation.


To “rebut” is to argue to the contrary. To “refute” is to win the argument. For example, a sound rebuttal may refute some sloppy logic.


“Regardless” is a word. “Irregardless” is not a word.


Use “regime” to denote a ruling government, a prevailing order, or a period of time during which such a government or order enjoys dominance. Use “regimen” to describe a system of dieting, exercising or therapy. Use “regiment” to refer to a military unit.


An initialism from the French “répondez s’il vous plaît” that means “please respond.” Spell in all caps without punctuation. “RSVP” is a verb phrase, so don’t use it as a noun synonymous with “invitation” or “response” (such as “send in your RSVP”). At the same time, because it already contains an equivalent to “please,” you should never write “please RSVP.”


“Shall” is used for the first-person future tense and expresses the speaker’s belief regarding his or her future action or state.

If “will” is used for first-person future, it expresses his or her determination or consent. At other times, “will” is used for the second- and third-person future tense.

student body

Use “student” or “students” instead.


The “T-shirt” gets its name from its resemblance to the capital T, not the lowercase t. Do not spell out “T” as “tee.”

Right: The benefits package includes a T-shirt and a water bottle.
Wrong: The benefits package includes a t-shirt and a water bottle.
Wrong: The Alumni Association produced a marvelous tee.
Wrong: tee-shirt


See That/Which.


The preferred spelling in the United States is “theater” unless the British spelling is part of a proper name, as in “The Fox Theatre” or “Alliance Theatre.”


“Toward” is correct. “Towards” is not.


Commonly overused, this word means one of a kind, without equal. “Unique” should never be modified by “truly,” “rather” or “very.” Either something is unique, or it isn’t.


Use “use.” “Utilize” is the awkward verb form of the obsolete adjective “utile.” Why bother?


See Who/Whom.


Do not use this suffix to coin words such as “weatherwise.”


A trademark for a brand of photocopy machine should never be used as a common noun or verb.

Commonly Misspelled Words

This is just a small sampling to get you thinking. When in doubt, consult an American Heritage Dictionary.

accommodate ecstasy liaison
acknowledgment embarrass memento
aesthetics (not esthetics) exhilarate nickel
antiquated foreword occurred
catalog (not catalogue) harass occurrence
commitment hors d’oeuvres perseverance
conscience inadvertent prerogative
consensus indispensable privilege
counselor inoculate proceed
deductible insistent sponsor
dissension irresistible tyrannous
drunkenness judgment vacuum
knowledgeable vilify

Foreign Words

Some foreign words and abbreviations have been accepted universally into
the English language: bon voyage; versus, vs.; et cetera, etc. They may be used without explanation if they are clear in the context.

Many foreign words and their abbreviations are not understood universally
although they may be used in special applications, such as medical or legal terminology. If such a word or phrase is needed in a story, place it in quotation marks and provide an explanation: “ad astra per aspera,” a Latin phrase meaning “to the stars through difficulty.”