Weekly Writing Tip #24

This post was written by James Hayashi. James is the writing advisor for USC Rossier Online and Rossier’s Masters Programs office. He earned his Master of Professional Writing from USC, and enjoys writing in the field of creative non-fiction in his (limited) free time.

Common Confused Words (pt 4)

Dear Trojans,

It’s here at last: the final part of our Confused Words series. I hope this has been a practical set of writing tips for everyone. If you have any suggestions for future writing tip ideas (whatever area of writing about which you’d like to know more), please email me.

Discreet vs. Discrete

Discreet (adj): showing good judgment (esp. in keeping confidential information)

Discrete (adj): separate, distinct

E.g. Although he is the king’s spymaster, Varys is far from discreet with the information he obtains.

E.g. There are no fewer than four discrete beheadings in the pilot episode of Game of Thrones.

Tip: Remember that the e’s of discete are separated by the t.


Than vs. Then

Than (conj): (used to compare one thing to another)

Then (adv): at that time; following that (in time)

E.g. Barkley likes bones more than he likes cats.

E.g. Barkley buried his bone, and then he went to chase a cat.


Complacent vs. Complaisant

Complacent (adj): smug; overly self-satisfied

Complaisant (adj): desiring to please others; compliant

E.g. Perhaps the Dowager Countess could have won the Downton Village Flower Show, had she worked harder and not been so complacent.

E.g. Although Daisy is not truly in love, her complaisant nature inclines her to marry William to please him and others who supported the match.

Tip: Complaisant is spelled similarly to compliant.


Imply vs. Infer

Imply (verb): to hint at; to communicate something indirectly

Infer (verb): to guess based on evidence; to speculate

E.g. Penny implies that because the Pirate Puffs cereal and rat poison boxes look so similar, they could easily be confused.

E.g. Rather than letting Dave infer that the use of gruyere in “the Big Dave” steak sandwich is a bad idea, Jane declares it outright.

Tip: Think alphabetically: first one person implies something; then another person infers it.

Even if you feel confident about these confused words, don’t get too complacent, because careless mistakes are easy to make.


Happy writing!