Some words seem forever doomed to incorrect usage — not by everyone, but often enough to turn them into real problems. Fewer and less are prime examples.
Fewer is correctly used only when numbers can be attached. “Fewer than 15 items,” for instance. That is, it should only be used with a “countable” noun. Less is needed when the noun it accompanies is “uncountable,” e.g., “less honour,” “less money.”
Flair and flare don’t share a meaning. A flare is a sudden burst of flame or light. Or, it is the process of flaming. Flair suggests aptitude, talent, knack.
Flaunt refers to a boastful display. Flout means to scoff, to scorn. Thus:
• “Alexander flaunted his ability to play the fiddle by ear.”
• “The so-called laughing girl has continued to flout the law.”
Many people confuse informer and informant. An informer tells on someone in hope of reaping some reward. An informant helps, or hopes, to ensure prosecution of a guilty party.
To initiate is to start or originate something. To instigate is to get someone else to do the starting.
Kith and kin, though nearly always used together, are not synonyms. Kith refers to friends, neighbours, colleagues, etc. Kin means people related by blood or marriage. Both kith and kin are plurals and take plural verbs.
Largely means generally, in great part. Chiefly means principally, essentially, mainly.
Alright is a misspelling of all right. There’s no standard word called alright, and there’s no correct way to use it.
Anyways is non-standard for anyway. Anyway and any way are used differently. Anyway means, “no matter what; in any case.” Any way is used in this manner:
• “I don’t know any way to solve that problem.”
• “Elizabeth isn’t in any way responsible.”
A forebear is an ancestor. To forbear is to hold back, to exercise self-control. To forego is to precede, to go before. To forgo is to abstain, renounce, do without. Note that fore which occurs in both forebear and forego, means, “before; at the front.”
Relation and relative are interchangeable when used in reference to kinsmen.
House and home are widely misused as synonyms, which they are not. A house is a structure erected by a builder. A home is an occupied dwelling, a structure someone lives in.
In regards to is sub-standard and should never ever be used. The correct forms are with regard to, or, in regard to.
Disinterested is, “impartial; unbiased.” Uninterested means indifference; lack of interest.
Treason and treachery are interesting. Treason is properly used only in reference to the betrayal of one’s country or sovereign. It means the violation of allegiance to, in our case, Canada. Treachery is the wilful betrayal of trust, perhaps of a friend.
Although the two words have similar spellings and share the common idea of disloyalty, they spring from different sources. Treason is from the Middle English word treason, and came through French from the Medieval Latin tradition (a handing over). Treachery comes from the Middle English tricherce, which is from the Old French trichier (to trick).