Monday, April 06, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Troublesome Expressions

In writing, it is always important to consult your handy Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary for any issues with word choice, but be sure to keep in mind that the presence of a word in the dictionary does not mean it is fir for your particular story. Some words, such as “archeology” are sometimes seen in some works as “archaeology” because that is the preference of the author belonging to that particular field. Be sure to take such preferences into consideration as well as closely read the definition of the questionable word. Sometimes the word you want is not the word you thought!

With that in mind, here are some words and their definitions that need a little clearing up as defined in The Chicago Manual of Style:

ability; capability; capacity. “Ability” refers to a person’s physical/mental skill in achieving something, like “the ability to ride a bicycle.” “Capability” refers more generally to power or ability, “she has the capability to play soccer professionally.” “Capacity” refers especially to a vessel’s ability to hold or contain something which, when used figuratively, can refer to a person’s power to learn, “an astounding capacity for mathematics.”

allude; elude; illude. To “allude” is to refer to something indirectly, “allude to a problem.” To “elude” is to avoid capture, “elude the police.” To “illude,” which is quite rare, is to deceive, “your imagination might illude you.”

lay; lie. “Lay” is a transitive verb—it demands a direct object, “lay your pencils down.” It is inflected “lay”-“laid”-“laid.” For example, “I laid the book there yesterday” and “these rumors have been laid to rest.” “Lie” is an intransitive verb—it never takes a direct object, “lie down and rest.” It is inflected “lie”-“lay”-“lain.” For example, “she lay down and rested” and “he hasn’t yet lain down.”

These are only a few of the hundreds that are mixed up all the time. Be sure to consult your dictionary and check out The Chicago Manual of Style at for more information on word usage.


  1. Great reminder! If you read it enough, maybe it'll stick.

  2. Haha, I think that applies to most grammar rules.