Words to Write By


The English language is a complicated, confusing, and ever-evolving mechanism. Word meanings are changing all the time, so it’s easy to see why it’s difficult to keep the use of different words straight. Especially given the number of homophones we have in this language. Here are a few groups of words that writers tend to misuse. There are other definitions or uses for some of these words, but these are the most common uses with simplified explanations.

Peak vs. peek vs. pique: These are often misused, so I’ll try to keep it simple. Peak is the highest point of something. I’d like to climb to the peak of that mountain. This is the spelling people most often use when they really want the word peek, as in to peek through something. Charlie peeked through the curtains to watch the police at his neighbor’s house. The last one is the spelling a number of people are unfamiliar with, but the phrase that it’s commonly used in will be quite familiar to you whether you’ve seen this spelling before or not. The arrival of a fifth police car piqued my interest.

Further vs. farther: These two have a lot of crossover, but here’s an easy way to remember them that will keep you using them correctly. Think of farther as describing a physical distance. How much farther do we have to drive? Further, on the other hand, is easier to think of as metaphorical or figurative distance. She’d like to further her education.

Blonde vs. blond: There are a number of people who think the difference between these two is a preference in spelling, but there is actually a difference in their use. Here’s the easiest way to remember them. If you want to discuss the color of hair, use blond. The best use of blonde is as a noun to refer to a woman who has blond hair. The blonde strolled into the department store with revenge on her mind.

Gray vs. grey: The difference in spelling of these two words is simple; although, most people don’t know why there are two spellings. The easy answer, gray is the American spelling and grey is the British spelling. If nothing else, with this one, be consistent.

Look for another installment of “Words to Write By” in the future. I’m always gathering words when editing. I hope this will be another way to pass on the information that I find interesting and help other writers in the process.

Have a beautiful day, and until next time happy writing!


  1. // Reply

    These are the words that make me crazy. I should make a cue card from your post. Often I just try to avoid them. Perhaps you could help us out with lay, lie, laid, and all that makes me crazy with them.. Thanks so much!!!!!

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      Thanks, Christy. 😃 I hate lie vs. lay. The present tense I have down, it’s the mess that comes after that, that gives me a headache. Maybe if I write about it, I’ll be able to keep it straight myself. I’ll probably need to make a table for that one.
      I had my head spinning with farther and further in my book during one of the rounds of editing. I thought I had it down too, but you know how when you repeat a word several times, it starts to lose all meaning? That’s what happened.

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    Great piece, Mandie. There definitely are so many complications in the English language! I like your explanation of farther vs further. That one’s often a headbuster 😀

    It’s interesting because in British English we use ‘blonde’ for both of your examples. Blond wouldn’t be incorrect as such, but blonde is the usual spelling here for both adjective and noun.

    Oh and one pesky homophone that’s tripped me up before is compliment/complement – thank goodness my editor picked up on it. Imagine the unintended comedy value of someone’s shirt complimenting their blue eyes!! 😀

    1. // Reply

      Thank you, Rachael! That’s interesting to know about the British use of blonde, especially since I find myself following the blogs of a number of British writers these days.
      Very humorous example of the misuse of compliment.
      It never fails, there’s always some set of words that causes me a problem throughout a manuscript. Editing other people’s work tends to reveal the same type of thing. Or, what I find amusing is when I’m editing a novel, and I can tell which section I wrote in a day, because there will be a recurring error in that section that doesn’t appear anywhere else.

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    Haha I totally get that! 😀 And do you ever have a favourite word that you use perhaps a little too much without realising? According to my editor, my favourite word at the time of writing Emergence was melancholy. I made sure I didn’t use it once in Ravens! 😉

    And I remember reading Anne Rice’s vampire novels when I was in my early twenties. I used to wish I could have a pound for every time she used the word preternatural! 😀

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      Oh, yes. I hate that when I discover it. Phrases too. Most of which have to be edited out. It’s funny, because like you mentioned with Anne Rice, there are times I’m reading a book and I’ll pick up a word that an author overuses. I never realized I had a problem with the word nevertheless until I read a book where it appeared in just about every paragraph. Now I hate it and think you should only be allowed to use it once in a novel. Haha that’s probably an extreme rule, but that’s how annoying it became.

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    I often struggle with the US/UK differences in word meanings and spellings. I work for both British and American clients and have to keep a ‘cheat sheet’ on my computer to remind me of the spelling/meaning differences 🙁

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      I think I would have to as well, Scarlett. There are so many similarities, and the differences are tricky to keep straight.

  5. // Reply

    Mandie, I am doing something similar to this, but I am too lazy to type the document. Anyway, thank you for this. 🙂

    1. // Reply

      I know what you mean, EM. I have so many ideas that I jot down in my journal for blog posts, but I usually end up writing about an issue that is relevant to what I’m working on that week. So, there are a number of ideas from my list that I see someone else blog about before I get around to writing them. I figure these issues keep coming up for writers though, so by the time I write the post it will be good to have a refresher on the topic.

      1. // Reply

        So true. I most likely won’t get around to doing it until next year God’s willing because lately, I am uninspired. ^^

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