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Is it really spelled that way?

To celebrate National Grammar Day on March 4, the JCR polled the Proofreading Advisory Council on words that surprised them. These are the words that were looked up because they don’t always look right on the page, whether it’s the spelling, the usage, or the hyphenation. Here’s an alphabetical (and anonymous) list of the group’s most looked-up terms.


affect – primarily a verb meaning influence. How does this affect the outcome?

But psychologists or psychiatrists use affect as a noun. The clinician observed Mr. Brown’s affect.

effect – is usually modified by the, an, some, what, great, little, no — some adjective.

(As a noun) What effect will it have? (result) When used as a verb, it means to bring about. Did you effect an agreement?

anymore/any more: I find some reporters have a problem with anymore and any more.

anymore – adverb meaning “any longer.” I won’t be in that position anymore.

any more – adjective + pronoun OR adverb + adjective meaning any greater quantity. I can’t order any more. (adverb + pronoun) I can’t order any more books. (adverb + adjective)

attorney-at-law: I’m so used to seeing this without hyphens that it blew my mind to see it with hyphens in Merriam-Webster’s.

awhile/a while:

awhile – adverb. He was gone awhile. An English teacher once told me that if you can replace awhile with “for a while,” then it’s awhile, one word.

a while – adjective + noun. You may have to wait for a while.

decision-making: I found out that “decision-making” can be one word, two words, or hyphenated, user’s choice.

diplomat/dipolomate: For a long time – a very long time — I turned a person who holds a diploma, particularly a physician qualified to practice in a medical specialty by advanced training and experience, into a person employed or skilled in diplomacy. A diplomat and diplomate are individuals with quite different skill sets.

head to head: I find phrases research results seemingly inconsistent for hyphens or no, adj, adv, noun, verb, having looked up these phrases to fit them into unusual/creative verbatim speech: head to head, back to back, face to face, case by case, eye to eye, hand-in-hand, day to day, side by side. Speakers are really creative, and so I make my own punctuation recommendations when I feel that a situation is clearer with some modification from standard practice.

hyphens: I find myself questioning hyphens with prefixes and so I just looked up the rules and will try to remember this: Basically they say if you can avoid the hyphen, do. There are always exceptions, like ex and self, ex-wife or self-aware; and also, if the same vowel ends the prefix and begins the word, like re-enter or semi-industrious, use a hyphen. If there can be ambiguity, like with recover or re-cover, use a hyphen. And use a hyphen between a prefix and a proper noun, like pro-Nazi or un-British.

particularize: Yes, that is a real word.

peak/peek/pique: The one that people get wrong is pique, as in piqued my interest.

peak – Noun – the pointed top of a mountain. The peaks were covered in snow.

Verb – reach a highest point, either of a specified value or at a specified time. His athletic prowess peaked in the 1990s.

Adjective – greatest, maximum. I did not expect to reach peak fitness by the day of the tournament.

pique – Noun – a feeling of irritation or resentment resulting from a slight, especially to one’s pride. He left in a fit of pique.

Verb – stimulate (interest or curiosity). You have piqued my curiosity about the man. Or feel irritated or resentful. She was piqued by his curtness.

peek – Verb – look quickly. Faces peeked from behind the curtains. Noun – a quick and typically furtive look. A peek through the window showed that the taxi had arrived. (A little nerdy, but I remember the difference between peek and peak by looking at the E’s next to each other and thinking of them as eyes. You need eyes to peek.)

right-of-way: This is a word that I had to look up every time. It is always hyphenated.

seat belt: This being two words made me question everything I thought I knew.

sometime/some time:

sometime – adverb meaning “at some unspecified time in the future.” The order will be shipped sometime next week.

some time – adjective + noun meaning “a period of time.” Some time is all the committee needs.

time line: It’s not in Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated? So I had to search several sources online. It looks like it’s one word, but I believe I’ve looked it up every time for probably 22 years!

work force: I was surprised that “work force” is two words, though the compound spelling is acknowledged.