Please advice

02 Feb 2010
Posted by Kiran

The eccentricities in the English language has long been a subject of discussion, debate and even ridicule! English is full of similar sounding words, weird spellings and punctuation that, when in the wrong place, can alter the meaning of the sentence! While English and its eccentricities can throw off any newbie, even veterans at times fall prey to them.

This may look like a very trivial and even banal subject to blog about. However, having come across multiple instances where even seasoned veterans make mistakes in choosing the right words for their professional communication, I thought the risk of sounding repetitive was worth taking.

Among various instances of such mistakes in communication, the most common mistake arguably is the use of the phrase "Please advice"!

Advise and Advice

Advise and Advice cannot be used interchangeably. They have two different meanings.

  • Advise is a verb; it is an action. It is something that you do.
  • Advice is a noun; it is some thing. It is something that you either give or receive.

Here are some examples using the words Advise and Advice:

  • He advised us against shouting slogans during the school rally.
  • His advice was that we shouldn't shout slogans during the school rally.
  • What would you advise in this matter?
  • What would your advice be in this matter?

Its and It's

This one is a classic and usually traps people when they write their sentences in a haste — maybe while writing a quick email or even a tweet on Twitter. What is the difference between its and it's? Well the difference is the same as that between the words his and he's. The only problem is that people are more likely to pick the wrong word between its and it's than between his and he's.

  • Its is basically a possesive adjective. Any example: The quick fox used all its strength to jump over the dog.
  • It's is a contraction of It is. An example: It's a beautiful day today.

Next time you aren't sure of the word to be used, just think for a moment that you are talking about a person rather than a thing. Would you use his or he's? If you choose the word with the apostrophe, then use it's; else, use its.

Then and Than

Then and Than are another pair of English words that are commonly confused with each other. I have noticed this confusion in some of the emails that have come my way.

So what's the difference?

  • Then always relates to time. It helps in illustrating a sequence or time.
  • Than is a comparative. It helps in comparing two objects.

Here are some examples using the word Then:

  • When are you getting back from work? I will hand over the book to you then.
  • He packed his bag and then made his way to the bus-stop.

Here are some that use the word Than

  • I am taller than my dad
  • Peter is much faster than Paul when it comes to flying away.

As you will notice from the examples, the difference between the individual words in each pair is ever so slight and it is very easy for us to confuse one for the other.

However, it always helps to be conscious of such similar sounding words and put in that extra bit of effort in using the right word in each context.

It is easy to dismiss such incongruities as trivial saying that the basic purpose of communication is served as long as the message gets across. But going by that logic none of us would ever have to worry about getting our spellings right or using correct grammar either, as long as we are able to communicate our thoughts.

But the fact is that words, grammar and spelling when used correctly make for a much more pleasing communication. I am not saying that people have to be fluent in a language before they use it to communicate. However, it is important for all of us to recognize the mistakes we make and work at improving ourselves in those areas rather than just dismissing them as trivial and expecting others to tolerate us.

Update (02-Feb-2010): Vinod on twitter, pointed me to another very similar article dealing with how English words are misused/misspelled. Makes for interesting reading.