Real Property Law

Problematic Words: A Cheat Sheet

March 2024

By Michael J. Simkin, Esq., Simkin & Associates

With the quick pace of legal writing, it’s easy for you to use the wrong word in place of another. Some words seem to be the same, but are not, they just sound the same when spoken. Writers often use words that sound or seem correct but have completely different meanings.

Commonly Misused Words

Amiable vs. Amicable

  • Amiable is an adjective used to describe people who are friendly or sociable.
    • Ex. Your good neighbor is ‘amiable’.
  • Amicable describes relations or interactions that are civil or peaceable.
    • Ex. Keep your interactions with him ‘amicable’.

Discreet vs. discrete

  • Discreet means unnoticeable or demonstrating discernment.
    • Ex. He was discreet about his intentions.
  • Discrete means separate or distinct.
    • Ex. He put the key in a discrete location.

Militate vs. mitigate

  • Militate means to have weight or to bring about change.
    • Ex. Their combative history will militate against them working this out.
  • Mitigate means to lessen or make less serious.
    • Having a mediation may mitigate the harm caused by the event.

Emigrate vs. immigrate

  • Emigrate means to leave one’s country to live elsewhere. (stress on leaving)
    • I emigrated from Canada to the United States.
  • Immigrate means to live permanently in a foreign country. (stress on staying)
    • I immigrated to the United States in 1998.

Affect vs. effect

  • Affect, a verb, means to produce effect upon.
    • The new email affected the outcome of the case.
  • Effect, a noun, is the consequence of an action.
    • The new email left an effect on the case.

Imitated vs. Intimated

  • Imitated means to follow as an example.
    • He imitated Joe’s work,
  • Intimated means to hint, imply, or indirectly coney an idea.
    • Joe intimated that Bob might have stolen his work.

Ensure vs. Insure vs. Assure

  • Ensure means to make certain, stress on virtual guarantee.
    • Bob ensured the return of his keys.
  • Insure means to make certain, stress on taking necessary measures.
    • A mediation should insure the reaching of a compromise.
  • Assure means to make certain, stress on removal of doubt from someone’s mind.
    • I assure you I tried my best to stop the lawsuit.

Elicit vs. Illicit

  • Elicit means to draw out or evoke, emphasis on skill in drawing something out.
    • The deposition will elicit the truth from Joe.
  • Illicit means illegal.
    • Bob has a history of drafting illicit contracts.

Appraise vs. Apprise

  • Appraise means to assess or make tentative judgement regarding.
    • Mark appraised the two paintings.
  • Apprise means inform or give information to.
    • Albert apprised Michael of the incoming lawsuit.

Collaborate vs. Corroborate

  • Collaborate means to work together.
    • Bill claims they collaborated on the painting.
  • Corroborate means to make certain with evidence or authority.
    • The text message corroborated Joe’s claim.

Eminent vs. Imminent

  • Eminent means to stand out in some quality.
    • The original work was done by the eminent painter Hank Brown.
  • Imminent means happening soon.
    • The decision was imminent.

Incoming vs. Oncoming

  • Incoming means arriving or just starting.
    • The incoming mail should contain your check.
  • Oncoming means approaching or moving toward.
    • Jill stepped into oncoming traffic.

Statue vs. Stature vs. Statute

  • Statue means a three-dimensional representation of something produced by sculpting, modeling, or casting.
    • The statue stood in the middle of the park.
  • Stature means the level of respect for a person or their standing height.
    • An artist of his stature shouldn’t resort to art theft.
  • Statute means a written law, rule, or regulation created by a government.
    • The statute outlines the rent regulations.

Mistakenly Confused Spacing

A while vs awhile

  • A while should be used after prepositions or phrases.
    • It happened a while ago.
  • Awhile should be used following a verb. Means a period of time, or ‘for a while’.
    • He waited awhile before he replied.

Every day vs. everyday

  • Every day is an adverb meaning daily.
    • Every day I saw him he insulted me.
  • Everyday is an adjective to describe something ordinary or common.
    • It was an everyday phrase.

All together vs. Altogether

  • All together is a phrase meaning everyone together.
    • They came all together to view the stolen art.
  • Altogether is an adverb meaning completely or in all.
    • Altogether, the mediation was a success.

Mistakenly Confused Phrases

  • One ‘and’ the same — not one ‘in’ the same
    • “One in the same” refers to one thing in a group of other things that look the same — this is meaningless.
    • “One and the same” means that two things are alike.
  • Case ‘in’ point — not case ‘and’ point
    • “Case in point” means, an example of this point you are trying to make. Using “and” makes them two different things, which does not support the argument.
  • ‘Deep-seated’ — not ‘deep-seeded’
    • This phrase means firmly fixed in place, not that it is planted deeply, as the latter implies.
  • ‘Wreak’ havoc — not ‘wreck’ havoc
    • To “wreck” havoc means to destroy havoc; havoc is widespread devastation or chaos.  Thus, to destroy havoc is the opposite of this phrase’s meaning which is spreading chaos and destruction.  “Wreck” is a destroyed ship.
  • Irregardless
  • “The ends justify the means.” — incorrectly attributed to Niccolo Machiavelli
    • In “Heroides II,” the Roman poet Ovid wrote, “Exitus acta probat,” translating to “the outcome justifies the means.” Machiavelli never said this in “The Prince.” He only stated that people will consider a prince’s means as honest and praise him, which was probably satire.

Words that sound the same are called homonyms.  All definitions come from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. To learn more about misusage, check out the The New York Public Library Writer’s Guide to Style and Usage.

Bio of Michael J. Simkin, Esq.  Admitted in California, New York and the Law Society of Ontario Canada

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