Five Common Mistakes – List 7

Five Common Usage Mistakes to Avoid – Sheet 7 of 8

#1) Decent vs. Descent

Decent means “appropriate” or “respectable” while descent means “going down” (and sometimes, loosely related to this, describes a person’s heritage, as in “He is of Greek descent”). Don’t let spellcheck run amok with your usage – if you aren’t careful, the wrong word might sneak past your editing. Cheap mnemonics: Bloodhounds following a murderer try to pick up descent, and murderers aren’t respectable. And decent and recent both rhyme and share an identical spelling pattern.

#2) Council vs. Counsel

You all have a guidance councilor. Or is it a guidance counselor? A council is an official group that deliberates, like the Student Council, while counsel is another word for advice. So when you go down near Mr. Sheehan’s office to look for advice on course selections, you are visiting a guidance counselor. You can remember this because the S in counselor stands for Sheehan.

#3) Compliment vs. Complement

Most commonly, a compliment is something nice that you say about someone, like “My English teacher is compassionate and enthusiastic.” A complement is something that goes along with or matches something else, like how a nice pair of shoes can complement a sharp outfit, or how two very different athletes on the same team can complement each other’s skills. To keep these straight, remember that the I in compliment stands for “I like getting compliments”, or that a complement completes something else. PS – the adjective forms are complimentary and complementary. While it may make logical sense to assume that a free gift is complementary (because it completes me), IT IS NOT! A freebie is complimentary (because the person giving it to you is being nice). Any time being nice comes into the equation, use compliment or complimentary.

#4) Site, Cite & Sight

A site is a location, either physical (the site of the accident) or technological (a web site). It is a place where you can sit yourself down. You cite a source in your essays if you are doing research, because you want the reader to “c” where your idea comes from. Sight is one of your senses. There are five senses, and there are five letters in almost every one of them (hearing is the only exception)

#5) Peek & Peak (And Pique – Honors Only)

To peek at something is to take a quick look. A peak is the highest point, or a verb meaning “to reach the highest point”. Maybe to keep these straight, you can think of the peak on the capital A, which appears in peak.

Pique means to excite or stimulate. It comes from the same root that gives us “picante” in Spanish, meaning “spicy”. Pique is commonly used in the phrases “pique my interest” or “pique my curiosity”. Do not presume that the phrase is “peak my interest,” as in, “making my interest hit its peak”


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