Quick Clicks: Word Usage


Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips

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Is it “Paul and me” or “Paul and I”? Is it “lie down” or “lay down”? affect or effect? that or which? may or might? insure or ensure? aisle or isle? its or it’s? alright or all right? hone in or home in? pour over or pore over?

Also, to emphasize a point or show someone shouting, should I use italics, boldfacing, or capital letters? How about punctuation? Does that sentence need a comma? Where should it go? And what’s the serial (Oxford) comma? Should I be using it? Should that phrase be hyphenated or not? Should I use an ellipsis (…) or a dash there? An em-dash or an en-dash? And how do I properly format my manuscript or other document? What about the differences between American and British words, expressions, and spelling?

This quick and easy, reliable e-reference will answer all those questions and many more.

Just keep this handy, clickable guide up on your computer screen or beside you on your e-reader, tablet, or smartphone when you’re writing or editing. If you’re wondering about word usage, go to the Part I “Key” – the alphabetized bank of letters with links – and click on the first two letters or the term to jump to that section instantly, then click on “Home” to jump back to the “Key.”

If you’re wondering about the main differences between American and British English, click on “Back to Part II List,”

Quick Clicks: Word Usage is a user-friendly, time-saving guide to the most appropriate words and usage for every level of (mainly North American) English communication, from more formal written projects to casual everyday conversations using colloquial expressions. You’ll find clarifications for many commonly misused words, terms, and expressions.

Who’s it for?

Writers, journalists, students, bloggers, copy editors, proofreaders, small business owners, academics, and anyone with a writing project on the go will love this time-saving e-reference. All the internal links throughout the document make it super-easy for busy writers and editors to navigate, so you can get in quickly, verify the word or term, and get back to work in seconds.

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction books, short stories, blogs, magazine or newspaper articles, business or professional articles, school or university assignments, or even academic papers, you’ll find this quick guide very useful and a huge time-saver.

How reliable is the information?

This grammar and usage resource was compiled by respected editor Jodie Renner, using as resources the following reference books – The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (M-W), 11th edition; The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), 15th & 16th editions (CMOS and M-W are considered the two essential, go-to resources for writers, proofreaders and copyeditors), as well as Garner’s American Usage (GMAU), Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, 4th Edition (S&W); and, occasionally, The Associated Press Stylebook (AP), the “bible” for journalists and press releases; as well as a few other reputable sources.




Current Usage of Words, Terms, and Expressions

Clickable alphabetical list with quick links to currently accepted written and spoken usage of English words, terms, and expressions

KEY – Alphabetical Links to Words

Alphabetical list with links to currently accepted written and spoken usage of English words, terms, and expressions

To find a word or term, just click on the first few letters of the word to jump to that section; then click on “Home” to come back here to this Key.

A ad af al am   an ap as    Ba be bi bo br bu    Ca ce ch ci co   com con cr    Da   de  di  dr    Ea ef em en ev    Fa fi fl fo     G ge go gr    Ha he hi ho    I il im in it    J    K  La  le li lo   Ma me mo   Na no    Ob on or    Pa pe pi pre pro    Q  R   re rep ro    S se sh si  so st    T th ti tr    U  V    W we  wh   wr    X    Y   Z


American, British, and Canadian Words, Terms and Expressions

American vs British Terms

British Slang Expressions

American, Canadian, and British Spelling Differences

Some Canadian Words, Terms, and Expressions

Guest Chapter by a British Friend –

You Say Tomayto, I Say Tomahto

Glossary of Fiction Terms


“I have been an editor for over 25 years, and yet I still found things in Jodie’s Renner’s Quick Clicks: Word Usage and Quick Clicks: Spelling List that I didn’t know. Renner’s great sense of humor and clear explanations, together with the extraordinarily quick and easy way to access information make these books a must-buy for any writer — or editor. I will be recommending them to all my clients.”

~ Diane O’Connell, Editorial Director of Write to Sell Your Book and author of The Novel-Maker’s Handbook


Useful, clickable, indispensable reference for writers and editors!

“I’ll be using this book again and again for my fiction writing, and also my editing for my clients. Quick Clicks: Word Usage is a professional writers’ and editors’ reference. Highly recommended and a solid five stars!”

~ Eve Paludan, author and editor


Quick Essential Guide to Word Usage

“Writers: This is your essential go-to usage and style guide. Keep this easy-to-use reference guide handy. You’ll be glad you did.”

~ Adam James, Missoula, Montana


Another Great Resource!

“Another great resource from an editor who knows her stuff. I depend on Jodie’s expertise for everything connected to writing and keep her books handy for constant use.”

~ L.J. Sellers, novelist


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“As a freelance editor, this handy resource is a must-have. Much easier than searching the web for the correct answer.”

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A handy little guide

“This is a great little guide for all writers. It can be stored on your P.C. for handy access whenever needed. It saved me precious time and frustration (no searching through dictionaries) while editing my latest story. Merely reading through this book can be interesting and fun.”

~ D. F. Barrett

Handy Resource

“A handy collection to have on hand, especially if you’re working off-line. I especially recommend it for all educators and students.”

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A Convenient Time Saver for Revising and Editing!

“Editor Jodie Renner provides writers, bloggers, editors, reviewers and students with an instant word usage guide easily accessible with a click of your mouse. The e-reference can stay up on your computer screen, waiting in the background to help you find just the right word. Whether it’s a question of word usage, spelling, use of a hyphen, or a correct term, Renner’s Quick Clicks: Word Usage will quickly navigate you to the correct answer.”

~ John Kurtze


Excerpts from Quick Clicks: Word Usage – Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips:

“and me” or “and I”? – Is it “Frank and me worked on that project last week” or “Frank and I worked on that project last week?” Is it “Save seats for Carole and I” or “Save seats for Carole and me.”? Here’s a little trick that always works for these cases: Take out the other person’s name and the “and.” If what you’re left with makes sense, that’s the word you need in the original sentence, including the other person. Would you say “me worked on that project”? No, so it’s “Frank and I worked…” Would you say “Save a seat for I” or “Save a seat for me”? You’d use the “and me” there, so add back the other name and it’s “Save seats for Carole and me.”

affect; effectaffect (verb) means to influence or have an effect on: “The state of the economy affects businesses.” Effect (noun) means a result: “A cooperative, friendly work environment has a positive effect on staff morale.” A good way to remember the difference is that affect starts with an “a” just like “action” and it’s an action verb; whereas effect is usually a noun.

allusion; illusion – an allusion in an indirect reference to something – “The boss made an allusion to Peter’s earlier career during his evaluation.” An illusion is a misconception, unreal image, or false impression – “Peter had no illusions about how tough it was going to be to meet his employer’s expectations.”

among; between – Traditionally, it was considered correct to use “between” for only two people or things, but “among” for three or more, as in: “She couldn’t choose between the two boys,” but “The meeting was disrupted by an argument among four members of the committee.” However, today the usage is less rigid. Between is used to indicate one-to-one relationships no matter how many (a competition between the two boys, trade between members of the European Union); and among to indicate undefined or collective relationships (honor among thieves) and for plurals of count nouns (competition among the teams).

amount; numberamount is used with mass nouns (uncountable quantities, like rain or sand), “a decrease in the amount of pollution”; number is used with countable nouns (a growing number of dissidents). (CMOS 5.202) Don’t use “amount” with things, people, or animals you can count, as in “the amount of players on a team.” Use “number” instead.

assure; ensure; insureassure means to give confidence to or put someone’s mind at ease, as in to assure your child you’ll be home soon; ensure means to make certain, as in to ensure you take precautions; insure means to guarantee against loss, as in to insure your car. “Brent assured her that insuring her possessions now would ensure she would be reimbursed for lost or stolen items later.”

aural, oralaural means of or relating to the ears or to hearing; oral means of or relating to the mouth or speaking. Not usually an issue, but apparently when “the pill” was first introduced in the early 1960s as the first oral contraceptive, some women reportedly mistook “oral” for “aural” and stuffed pills into their ears! (Thanks to Garner for this little anecdote – whether it’s actually true or not!)

back up; backup – Two words when used as a verb: “Back up the system every day”; one word when used as a noun: “The system backup was faulty.”

bemuse; amusebemuse means to make someone confused or muddled, to confuse or bewilder. “He was bemused” means “He was confused”; amuse, of course, means to entertain someone or make them smile or laugh.

between; among – Traditionally, it was considered correct to use between for only two people or things, but among for three or more, but today the usage is less rigid. Between is used to indicate one-to-one relationships, no matter how many (a competition between the two boys, trade between members of the European Union); and among to indicate undefined or collective relationships (honor among thieves, the three grandmothers have fifteen grandchildren among them) and for plurals of count nouns (competition among the teams).

between you and me – never “between you and I.”

bizarre; bazaarbizarre means strange, startlingly odd; bazaar is a market.

blatant or flagrantblatant means noticeable and obtrusive, something that stands out glaringly or repugnantly; flagrant is deplorable and shocking, connoting outrage: “He is a blatant liar who has a flagrant disregard for the law.” “Blatantly obvious” is redundant and should not be used. (Garner’s)

can; maycan means “is able”; may means “has permission to” or suggests possibility (The class may have a quiz tomorrow).  So use them like this: “I can run fast,” but “You may not run in the hall in school.” In colloquial English, can also expresses a request for permission (Can I go to the movies?), but this usage is not recommended in formal writing.

censor; censure – (verbs) to censor is to review and cut out objectionable subject matter, to suppress, as in to censor the press or a book or movie, to alter, delete, or ban completely after examination (censor out risqué passages); to censure is to criticize strongly or disapprove, as in censuring a corrupt leader, or to officially reprimand.

check-in; check incheck-in is for the noun “What time is check-in?” or modifier, as in “check-in time,” “check-in counter”; check in (two words) is the verb, as in “What time will you check in?” (M-W)

childish; childlikechildish is pejorative (negative), indicating immaturity and unreasonableness (childish ranting, childish behavior); childlike is used positively to connote innocence, mildness, and freshness (a childlike smile) (CMOS)

chord; cordchord is reserved for music; cord = string, rope; a measure of wood; ribbed fabric; and vocal cords

collaborate; corroboratecollaborate = to work together, to cooperate with; corroborate = to support with evidence or authority, to confirm (M-W)

compare to; compare with – Use compare to for objects that are very different to show some similarity, and compare with for objects that are similar or easily comparable. Life can be compared to a pilgrimage, but New York is compared with Chicago.

connotation; denotationconnotation = implication, suggested meaning, emotional reaction, or associated idea in addition to literal meaning; for example, notorious can just mean well-known, but it has the connotation of famous for unfavorable or negative reasons; denotation = actual literal meaning, direct specific meaning

continual; continuouscontinual = frequently occurring, intermittent, as in continual complaints; continuous = nonstop, occurring without interruption; unceasing, as in a continuous siren (GMAU)

deserts, dessertsdeserts = something someone deserved – “He got his just deserts.” desserts = sweet choices for at the end of a meal.

e.g., or i.e.,i.e., means “that is”; e.g., means “for the sake of example” or “for example.” i.e., specifies or explains; e.g., simply indicates an example. Note that both have two periods and both are followed by a comma. Chicago style is to use these two-character abbreviations only within parentheses or in notes; in regular prose, use “for example,” or “that is,”

elicit; illicitelicit (v) = to draw out an answer, information, etc. (elicit an apology); illicit (adj) = illegal (an illicit scheme)

elude; allude – To elude someone (a pursuer, a police officer) or something (a danger, a threat) is to evade or escape from the person or the situation: “The robbers eluded the police.” To allude to something is to make an indirect reference to it: “The author alluded to his source several times.”

farther; furtherfarther is mainly used for physical distances; further is for time or quantity. “He lives about three miles farther down this road.” But “We need to look into this further.”

faze; phase (verbs) – to faze is to disturb or disconcert. “The insults didn’t faze her.” to phase (in or out) is to gradually change something or to schedule or perform a task or plan.

fewer; less – Use “fewer” for numbers that are countable, like people or things: “There were fewer people at the meeting this time.” Use “less” for quantities you can’t count, like liquids or sand: “Give that plant less water next time,” or for a value judgment, such as “less attractive”.

fictional; fictitious; fictive – CMOS: fictional means “of, relating to, or characteristic of imagination” (a fictional story); fictitious means “imaginary, counterfeit, false” (a fictitious name); fictive means “possessing he talent for imaginative creation” (a fictive gift)

figuratively – the opposite of “literally,” which means “actually.” Figuratively means using a word in a way that is different from its basic meaning to express an idea in a creative or novel way. A word can have a literal (real, actual) meaning and a figurative (whimsical or creative) meaning.

flaunt; flout – flaunt = to show off ostentatiously – “They flaunted their wealth”; flout = to treat with disdain or contempt – “Don’t flout the rules.”

gibe; jibegibe = a biting insult or taunt: “The angry crowd hurled gibes as the handcuffed suspect passed.” jibe = to fit or coincide – “The conclusion didn’t jibe with the facts.”

gourmet; gourmandgourmet = one who knows and appreciates the fine points of food and drink; gourmand = one who is excessively fond of food and drink, glutton

grisly; grizzly; grizzledgrisly = gruesome, horrible, as in “grisly details”; grizzly = species of large bear, also grayish; grizzled = gray hair or beard.

hanged; hung – in most cases, use hung as the past tense of hang: “She hung up the clothes.” But when causing the death of a human being, use hanged: “The convicted murderer was hanged at dawn.” (per CMOS)

him and me; he and I – Use “him and me” for object (receiver) of the action – They invited him and me to the reception. Use “he and I” for the subject (doer) of the action: “He and I arrived at 7 p.m.” If in doubt, just use one of the two persons to try it out. Would you say “Him arrived”? or “Me arrived”? No, so it’s “He and I arrived.” Would you say “They invited I”? No, so it’s “They invited him and me.” Same applies to she and I vs. her and me.

home in; hone – you hone your skills (hone means to sharpen), but you home in on something, like a homing pigeon comes closer and closer to its target. “hone in” is incorrect and to be avoided.

implicit; explicit – implicit = not specifically stated but suggested; explicit = deliberately spelled out

lay; lieLay requires a direct object – you lay something down: “Lay your pens down.” Lie does not require or take a direct object – You lie down for a nap. Grandma lies down every afternoon for a rest.

The verb tenses of lay are lay, laid, laid, laying. She laid the baby in the cradle this morning. I laid the book there yesterday. These rumors have been laid to rest.

The verb tenses of lie are lie, lay, lain, lying. She was tired in the afternoon so she lay down on the couch for a while. (past) Grandpa hasn’t yet lain down today.

peak; peek; pique – A peak is an apex, as in a mountain peak; a peek is a quick or illicit glance. (To help remember which is which, when you peek at something, you see it (both have “ee”). To pique is to annoy or arouse, so an article or a bit of gossip piques one’s interest. A fit of pique is an episode of peevishness and wounded vanity.

rein; reign – A rein (usu. plural) controls a horse; it is the right word in idioms such as “take the reins,” “give free rein,” and, as a verb, “rein in.” A reign is a state of or term of dominion, especially that of a monarch but by extension dominance in some field. This is the right word in idioms such as “reign of terror” and, as a verb, “reign supreme.”