Words to Write By Part 3


In this installment of “Words to Write By,” I’ll review who’s vs. whose, whet vs. wet, compliment vs. complement, and fazed vs. phased. This series is a quick reference to help explain the difference between commonly misused words. I’ve received suggestions from other writers and readers on words they’ve seen misused during the first two parts of this series, and you will see some of those appear with their names to acknowledge their contribution to the list.

Who’s vs. whose: I find this is an easy one to keep straight once you break down the use of each word. Who’s is a contraction of who is. Who’s going to clean up this mess? Whose indicates possession. Whose trombone is this?

Whet vs. wet: I think these two get confused, because there is a very specific expression that uses the word whet, but I don’t think everyone knows that there is a different way to spell wet in that instance. So let me start with whet. Whet means to stimulate appetite or to sharpen a weapon or tool. These appetizers should whet your appetite. The blacksmith whet the sword. By contrast, wet is to dampen something with liquid. Why is the floor all wet?

Compliment vs. complement: This comes from Rachael Dixon, a fellow horror writer. A compliment is a positive remark. Steven complimented Rebecca on her performance. Complement is to add or complete something in a favorable manner. Their personalities really complement each other. That blue shirt complemented Theodore’s eyes.

Fazed vs. phased: Faze is to disturb something or someone. Sara was a professional during her speech, she didn’t even seem fazed when the mic cut out. Phase is one part of a cycle, or the gradual change to something. The university phased out the microbiology program.


Look for future installments of “Words to Write By.” You can find links to the first two below.

Part 1: Peak vs. peek vs. pique, further vs. farther, blonde vs. blond, and gray vs. grey.

Part 2: Alleged, hung vs. hanged, a vs. the, and bring vs. take.


Did any of these words surprise you or ever give you trouble, or have you ever seen them used incorrectly? What other words either give you trouble when you write, or bother you when they’re misused? If I use the word(s) you suggest in your comment in a future post in this series, I’ll not only add your name, but I’ll include a link to your website if you have one.


    1. // Reply

      That’s why we have writing groups and editors, to help catch some of those things for us. Sometimes with these words, it just takes the right explanation to stick in our heads too. I’ve read differences between word meanings in books before and thought the definitions both sounded exactly the same, and then I’ll read an explanation between the differences somewhere else and it’ll finally click.
      My biggest problem is that I’ll know the difference between something like their/there/they’re, but my fingers will type whatever they want, and I won’t notice the error until much later.

      1. // Reply

        I have a similar issue. My fingers have their own mind about things. I don’t pick up on these things when I’m reading either, so I have to resort to search and replace to find lingering issues. I think I’m getting better at catching them as I edit more things, but my eyes don’t care as long as I get the meaning of what I’m reading. So it’s really hard for me to catch these little typos.

        When it comes to odd finger habits, even when writing with a pen, my problem is more with adding or missing letters where they belong. Thing and think, adding trailing e’s to random words, writing ‘on’ instead of ‘one,’ or ‘of’ instead of ‘off;’ that kind of thing.

        1. // Reply

          I used to be unable to turn off the editor in my head when reading. Reading other people’s blogs and free stories has taught me to turn it way down. For me, it’s easier to catch those errors in other people’s writing because the information is new. I know things get past me in my own writing because I’m too familiar with the story and what is supposed to be on the page that I sometimes fail to read what is actually there.
          Writing by hand – yes! I have some of those same issues. The one that irritates me the most, but which my hand refuses to quit doing is when I write “with the” my hand always combines them and writes “withe.”

    1. // Reply

      They’re both fun to talk about and pesky when they enter our writing. For some reason, this series is one of the most soothing posts I write. I’m relieved that other people are enjoying them too.

    1. // Reply

      I don’t have this problem as much in the program I use for writing, but if I send a text message, I find autocorrect likes to change words for me, even if I spelled them correctly, it assumes I typed in the wrong word. I thought of that because I can see autocorrect swapping complacent and complicit on me.

  1. // Reply

    I don’t think I’ve used them wrongly… maybe when I was younger I used who’s and whose inappropriately.

    1. // Reply

      I think some of these errors creep into writing from mistyping them, and then spellcheck or editors miss them. I think it’s easy to mistaken the homophones for each other or sometimes not to know or remember there is an alternate spelling.

  2. // Reply

    Compliment vs. complement were the ones I misuse the most. I read most of my stuff at writers group meetings and they correct me when I go astray. One of my worst habits is leaving out little words like “a” or “the.” Fortunately, I have a beta reader who catches almost every one of those. I’ve found similar errors in other people’s books.

    Great topic. Looking forward to the next installment.

    1. // Reply

      It’s so easy to leave out those small words. I have a tendency of getting too wordy. I’ll edit a passage and find that I used the most complicated way to say something. I’ll use ten words when the same thing could have been said in three. I think errors like that, whether it’s forgetting words or using too many, happen as a result of the brain creating the story. I’m often caught up in the imagery and not paying all that much attention to the words I’m typing. And the story comes fast, so I’m sure my fingers have a hard time keeping up. I’m not sure why that leads to certain wordy passages, but at least they’re easy to identify and fix.

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