What’s the Word?


A common writing mistake is to use the wrong word. You might think of this as a spelling error, and it may be. Or you may realize you’re dealing with two different words, but just choose the wrong one. In any case, here are some traps to avoid. As always, there are more, but these are some of the most common. And spell-checkers won’t help.


The word than is used for comparisons.

“A school bus is larger than a pineapple.”

“I would rather eat sawdust than another

piece of this cake.”

“It’s hotter than a barbecue in that room.”


Then refers to a sequence in time.

“First you pay your rent, then I give back your blender.”

“Put your socks on, then your shoes.”

“What did you do then, Dad, after you got hit by the lightning?”



To is a preposition. It’s used to help indicate movement or direction.

“Marcia drove all the way to Indiana with her turn signal on.”


Too means also, or indicates an excessive degree.

“Dave ate too much cotton candy, and I think I did too.”


Two is a number and it comes right after one. You knew that.

“According to this ad, if you buy two dishwashers, you get one free.”


The mistake here almost always involves using to when too would be correct. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it the other way around.



Lose is a verb, and it means to misplace, or to go from a condition of having to a condition of not having something.

“If you lose that briefcase, Bill, you’ll also lose your job.”


Loose is an adjective. It means not tight.

“Mondays are pretty loose, and I take a four-hour lunch.”


Again, the problem usually involves using loose when the word

should be lose. No one ever writes, “This shirt is too lose.”









(Excerpted from Writing Rules!)