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Common Mistakes And Confusions In English Usage VIII

Updated on June 16, 2012

What else can I say in the opening paragraph of yet another hub about common mistakes and confusions in the usage of the English language that I haven’t already said? I don’t know but I certainly haven’t said that I don’t know what to say. So, that got me off the hook for this hub. Welcome to the eighth hub about problems in the use of the English language.

Of / Off
Let’s start off with an easy pair which, on second thoughts, is not so easy. While it’s not difficult, at least for me, to know when to use each of the words, explaining the meaning of the words, and the difference between them, is not going to be so easy.

The word of is a preposition and it is used mainly to denote the relationship of something to another. For example, consider how of is used when you talk about the Queen of England, or north of the island, or a book of verses.

The word off has a lot of other uses. According to, off can be used as an adverb, a preposition, an adjective, a noun and a verb. You can switch off the light, or put the light in the off state, and when the light finally doesn’t give off any light anymore, you can buy another at the shop off the highway.

If you are not sure of which word to use, perhaps a good way would be to see if it is used as a preposition as in the examples for of above. If it is, then of could be the right word.

And if I may digress a little from the main subject, Twilight Lawns has suggested that the use of "off of" is never permissible. He is referring to a sentence such as he jumped off of the bridge. It is is definitely frowned upon in British English although some Americans do accept it. I'm no English professor but just a guy who can speak English without making too many mistakes, so I don't want to comment on the technicalities of it but he jumped off the bridge does sound better.

More examples to help you decide if you are off when you use of or off:

  • I would love to lunch off cheeseburgers and fries but in this remote village, a lunch of cheeseburgers and fries is nothing but a pipe dream.
  • A pocketful of dreams is what most aspiring actresses have when they step off the plane into the cold hard reality of Broadway.
  • Of the ten original singers, only two remain to contest for the title of Winner of the Year.
  • Something seems to be off today, but for the life of them, they just can’t seem to figure out what.

Let’s / Let / Lets
Okay, I admit it this is another easy one. But don’t worry, it’s a matter of time before I have to get to the hard ones. Let’s is an abbreviation and it actually stands for let us. So you can say, “Let’s go to the ballgame.” Let generally means allow and lets is just the singular form such as the girls let me play chess and checkers on the console but Janice lets me play all the games.

Let’s look at more examples of how let, lets and let’s can be used:

  • Can you let up a bit and let the other team members have possession for a while?
  • I know that you need to let off some steam but do it within limits and let’s not have a policeman knocking on the door when you are done.
  • She lets him go out with the boys and in return he lets her watch her soap operas in peace.

Specially / Especially
This pair is a little tricky. Specially comes from the adjective special meaning for a particular purpose or in a distinguishing manner. Especially comes from the adjective especial meaning exceptional or noteworthy. In many cases, specially and especially can be used interchangeably.

But there are some cases in which one word is more suitable than the other. When you say that a piece of software is designed for a unique purpose, you would say that that piece of software is specially designed. And when you say that you hate to eat vegetables, and out of all the vegetables, you particularly dislike spinach, you would say that you especially hate to eat spinach.

Specially prepared for you are more examples on the use of specially and especially:

  • I specially cooked this meal for you and I hope you like it, especially the vegetables since I drove a hundreds miles to the organic farm to buy them.
  • This is a special occasion, especially since it is rare that we can all be at the same place at the same time.
  • The robot had specially designed algorithms to cater to the needs of the elderly, especially those with hearing problems.

This pair has been kindly suggested by: astigpinoy16

To / Too / Two
The simplest one to explain is, of course, two, which is a number and it represents a numeric value that is twice more than one. Two is probably less commonly confused than to and too, but I guess there’s no harm in putting it in. Too would have the meaning of also or very such as you are too nice or why are you here too? To is a preposition with numerous uses but is generally used to indicate action such as we are going to the moon.

Some examples on the use of two, to and too so that you too will know how to use these words properly:

  • The two of them went to a bazaar to buy an antique clock, and they found that their boyfriends were there too.
  • We are checking the list twice before shipping out the goods so that you do not have to.
  • When he came to, he saw two birds on the window sill but they were too fast for him to catch.

Awe / Or / Oar / Ore
I’m not sure if these are the first homophones that I have featured, but it is certainly the first time that I have introduced any set of words as homophones. And to those of you who don’t know what homophones are, homophones are words that are pronounced in the same way, but differ in meaning, whether or not they are spelled differently.

The first word, awe, would mean a feeling of reverence or admiration such as when you are in awe of someone. Or is a conjunction and is used to connect words or phrases that represents alternatives such as either a hammer or a mallet should be enough to do the job. An oar is a pole with a blade like structure at one end and it is used to propel a boat forward. Ore would generally be a naturally occurring mineral or metal.

No need to be in awe of those who can use awe, or, oar and ore properly as you too can be one of them once you look through the following examples:

  • You might be in awe of Michael Jackson, but you’d better pick up your oar and start rowing or you will find yourself swimming home.
  • In this location, you will only find one type of ore but if you go to Magney or Actin, there are many types of ores for you to mine.
  • Come sleet or snow or ice or rain, nothing shall stop us from our mission to deliver that piece of ore to the assay office.

This group of four has been kindly suggested by: Twilight Lawns


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    • wandererh profile image

      David Lim 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks sunilkunnoth2012!

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 4 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      You are doing a wonderful job of educating people through your hubs. Excellent. Keep it up. All the best dear for your efforts.

    • wandererh profile image

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      Blackdog52 - Very true. While language does evolve and change over time, there is a very real difference between the evolution and the mutilation of a language.

    • profile image

      Blackdog52 6 years ago

      In this day and age, proper English usage seems like a fading memory. One irritating error that I have seen and heard is the use of "flaunt" where "flout" should be used, as in "He flouted (scornfully disregarded) the law." Thank you for keeping the light on.

    • wandererh profile image

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      Hello, hello - And thank you for visiting. :)

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for your great help.

    • wandererh profile image

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      Twilight Lawns - Ouch, I should have known better than to cut and paste, but thanks. :)

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Please, please, please tell your readers that there is no time when "off of" is permissable.

      Thank you for the recognition. By the way, "This pair has been kindly suggested by: Twilight Lawns" should have been, "This group of four has been kindly suggested by: Twilight Lawns. (There were more than two... there were four).

    • wandererh profile image

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks crystolite. Really glad that this has been useful for you. :)

    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 6 years ago from Houston TX

      Thanks for this article. It has become useful to me in writing letters.