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English is a wonderfully flexible language full of foreign words, subtlety of meaning and quirky spelling. This means we have to keep our wits about us and not rely too heavily on the spell checker. Words that sound the same or similar is an area where many people trip up.

Savvy or suave?

If you’re a savvy business person you’ll have practical knowledge and make good judgements. If you’re a suave business person, you’ll be confident and elegant but you may or may not be savvy. It always pays to become savvy when it comes to understanding the meanings of words. Being suave at the same time is a bonus.

Practical or practicable?

‘Practical’ and ‘practicable’ are two words commonly confused in business writing. ‘Practical’ means ‘relating to practice or action.’ We can have ‘a practical application of rules’, ‘a practical procedure’ or ‘a practical person.’ ‘Practicable’, on the other hand, means capable of being put into practice or done, especially with the available means. An example would be to ‘escalate the issue as soon as practicable.’ Practicable can also mean ‘capable of being used or traversed, or admitting of passage’, as in ‘a practicable path.’

Depose or dispose?

Some word mix-ups can have more serious fallout. If you depose someone it means you are forcefully and suddenly removing them from office. In law, depose can mean to testify to or give evidence under oath, typically in a written statement. ‘Dispose’, on the other hand, means to get rid of by throwing away or giving or selling to someone else. That could make for an interesting change of office.

Becoming word savvy

Your best way to avoid embarrassing word blunders is to increase your vocabulary by learning meanings and spellings of words. Search online for a list of commonly misused English words. Don’t guess meanings – always check definitions and spellings in the Oxford or Macquarie dictionary. Get a good grammar guide and easy-to-understand school texts (even if you have already left school), or download an app. Keep these tools handy or dip into them on the train or whenever you have a spare moment.

Finally, always proofread your work carefully. It’s easy to type the wrong word when you’re in a hurry or not concentrating. If you misspell a word, the spell checker may even ‘correct’ the spelling but change it to the wrong word.

Have a question about grammar, punctuation, sentences or spelling? As a subscriber, you can email your query to us and we’ll send you a personalised response.