Nearly two weeks ago, I posted about some commonly confused words and how to choose the right one. Since then, I’ve had a few people ask about other commonly confused words, so I’ve compiled another list with suggestions for choosing the right word.
A/An/The – These three little words are called articles. Some languages do not have articles, so when speakers of those languages learn to write in English, they also need to learn when to use each of these articles. “A” and “an” are indefinite articles; that is, the noun that appears after them could refer to any ol’ thing, nothing definite. “The,” on the other hand, is a definite article. When a noun appears after “the,” the writer means for you to know that that noun is something specific. For example, if I write, A court would hold the defendant liable, I’m saying any court, not a specific court, would hold the defendant liable. But if I write, The court would hold the defendant liable, I mean that a specific court would hold him liable, and which court that is would likely be clear from the context of the sentence in a larger document. As well, in both examples above, I’ve used the defendant, meaning a specific defendant about whom I am writing.
One other thing to note: “An” is used before nouns that begin with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) or words that sound like they begin with a vowel, even if they don’t. An example would be: An honest person would return an item she found that didn’t belong to her. In that sentence, “honest” gets an “an” before it, even though it doesn’t begin with a vowel, but it sounds like it does. “Item” does begin with a vowel and gets an “an.” Conversely, some words that begin with vowels get “a” before them because they sound like they begin with consonants. E.g., There’s a one-hour delay for my flight.
Counsel/Council – In short, law students will become “counsel” when they become lawyers. This is because they will counsel their clients. They may also be called “Counselor.” “Council” is a governing body of some sort, like a city council. A member of that governing body would be a councillor. Read more »