Clear and coherent writing : words

Common word errors

This section lists common word errors which can easily be avoided.

As, since, so or because

As and since are used when the reason is already known to the listener/reader. These clauses often come at the beginning of the sentence.
So is not very formal and probably should be avoided in an academic paper.
Because puts more emphasis on the reason and, most often, introduces new information which is not known to the listener/reader. When the reason is the most important part of the sentence, the “because” clause usually comes at the end (Swan, 2005). 

Because and due to

Because can be used at the beginning of a sentence, as long as you make sure you have a complete sentence.

Due to means caused by and not because of and is generally used after the verb to be. Due to cannot appear at the beginning of a sentence, because it is generally used after a verb.

  • Due to the number of broken windows, the place was closed (incorrect)
  • Because of the number of broken windows the place, the place was closed (correct)
  • The place was closed because of the number of broken windows (correct)
  • The closure of the place was due to the number of broken windows (correct)

Exercise: Edit the following sentences

  • Data from 95 students were used in the analyses, while the rest were excluded due to their absence of one or some scores from the pre-tests and post-tests.
  • Due to the fish being contaminated, the fishermen had to leave.
  • The delay appears to be because of price problems.

Between or among

What is the difference between the words between and among? In this sentence between is used because it involves a choice between two distinct words.
The basic rule is that between should be used for choices involving two items and among for choices that involve more than two items. But this does not always work.

Between should be used when referring to two or more distinct, individual items.


  • Let’s keep this between you and me.
  • We had to choose between chicken, tofu and lamb.
  • The negotiations between the teachers, the teaching assistants and the students were progressing well despite the coffee incident.
  • The differences between English, Chinese, and Arabic are significant.

Among has to be used when referring to individuals or things that aren’t distinct


  • Fear spread among the hostages.
  • The scandal caused a division among the fans.
  • The girl walked between the trees. She may have stayed on a path between trees.
  • The girl walked among the trees. She is wandering in place where there are trees.

Using  between and among when referring to direction or location

Amongst is an older form of among and is generally considered archaic.

Especially, specially or particularly

Especially: from the general to the specific, refers to an unusual degree of something – used to introduce an example. Most people, especially children, like ice cream. He likes her, especially when she smiles.

Specially: to indicate something unusual, uncommon. I specially ordered chocolate from Belgian.

Particularly: narrows things down, distinguishing a person or thing from others – about specificity E.g. she is particularly tall.

Less and fewer

Less means ‘not as much’. Fewer means ‘not as many’. Example:  Fewer students came to the class. There was less water in his cup. Note however that the need to adhere to strict rules, particularly in this case, is controversial:

That and which

Which is not restricting and introduces additional information that could be omitted from the sentence.  Because this information can be omitted, it is generally placed between two commas.


Dogs, which have four legs, can still run with …(refers to all dogs and provides additional information about dogs generally).

The rooms, which we painted white, ….. (all the rooms were painted white).

That is restricting and introduces extra information that is essential to the meaning of the sentence.


  • Dogs that have three legs have problems surviving in the wild. This example only refers to dogs that have three legs.
  • The rooms that we painted white have a lot of light. The assumption here is that only some rooms were painted white and that only these rooms have a lot of light.

Who, that or which

  • Who (whose and whom) is used to refer to people. That or which are only used to refer to non-human things.
  • Exceptionally the who-form can be used with non-human things in the whose construction: ‘the zoo whose animals were sent to the jungle’ but ‘the animals that were sent to the jungle’.

Common word spelling errors

  • affects/effects

affects (as a verb – common) = influences, affects (as a noun – rare) = feelings

effects (as a noun – common) = results, effects (as a verb – rare) = brings into being

e.g. This affects the audience seriously, with particularly disastrous effects on children.

  • bought/brought: “bought” is the past tense of the verb “to buy”, “brought” is the past tense of the verb “to bring”.
  • except/accept: except = excluding, accept = willingly receive.
  • imply/infer: data or a person may imply something, i.e. contain or give information indirectly, but only people can infer that information, i.e. recognise and interpret it.
  • its/it’s: apostrophes are used to form possessive nouns (e.g. the child’s choice) or to show where letters are left out  (can’t = cannot, or it’s = it is), they are not used in possessive pronouns (his, hers, its).
  • lead/led: lead is a metal (pronounced led), or the present tense of a verb. The past tense of the verb is spelled led.
  • practice/practise, advice/advise, licence/license: the noun is spelt -ice, the verb is -ise.
  • their/there: “their” is the plural pronoun referring to people, animals or objects, “there” is an adverb indicating location.
  • weather/whether: weather = local climate, whether = a joining word introducing alternatives.