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I'm a Seattle-ite, retired from computer programming. I'm a mere dilettante of the market.
  • Common Usage Errors on the Seeking Alpha Site 10 comments
    Nov 7, 2009 1:53 PM


    Here are some common usage errors that I hope SA contributors will avoid in the future or that SA editors will correct for them. In each entry below, the first line contains a word or phrase that is incorrectly used (with a strike-through), followed by the correct item. The next two lines give the definitions of the two terms. The remaining lines give an example or two of misuse, with the erroneous term struck out and replaced by a boldfaced correction.


    Adverse / Averse

    Adverse = harmful, unfriendly (Adjective);

    Averse = opposed (Verb);

    “I'm not adverse averse to risk”

    Here’s “adverse” used correctly (as an adjective):

    “While there will be adverse economic consequences ….”


    Amount / Number

    Amount refers to an item that does not come in discrete units;

    Number refers to an item that is countable (comes in units);

    “wait till you see the amount of number of retailers closing shop in 1st quarter”

    “I came away … pleasantly surprised at the amount of number of homes under construction.”


    Baited breath / Bated breath

    Bated is a contraction of abated, meaning reduced or annulled.

    “I'm waiting with baited bated breath to see what happens geopolitically this weekend.”


    Compliments / Complements 

    Compliments = praises, flatters;

    Complements = completes or makes perfect;

    As a general rule, people compliment each other; things complement each other.

    “The Moody’s/REAL CPPI data series is … complimentary complementary to their alternative transaction based index (NYSE:TBI).”

    “insofar as possible, compliment complement rather than compete.”


    Comprised of / Composed of, or Constitutes

    Comprised of = (always an error);

    Composed of = made up of;

    Constitutes = makes up or composes;

    The whole comprises the parts: “The flag comprises the colors red, white, and blue.” The whole is composed of the parts: “The flag is composed of the colors red, white, and blue.” The parts constitute the whole: “Red, white, and blue constitute the colors of the flag.”

    Comprise means "includes, exhaustively.” It is a very specialized word that beautifully serves its particular purpose: avoiding the need to tack on "in toto" or “, exhaustively,” after "includes." Hence "comprised of" is as grating as "included of" would be: “The flag is comprised composed of the colors red, white, and blue.” Here are other incorrect examples:

    “Puts and calls comprise constitute less than 1% of my portfolio”

    “The prime market is not comprised of composed of folks who are better insulated."

    “G-20 economies comprise constitute 85% of global production.”

    Whenever you see the word comprise, 95% of the time it is being misused. Here’s a rare example of correct use (from Felix, naturally): “The top five now comprise JP Morgan, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup.”


    Discreet / Discrete

    Discreet = prudent, circumspect;

    Discrete = distinct, separate;

    “These ‘explanations’ for market direction based on discreet discrete news events are a sad attempt …”


    Effects / Affects

    Effects = (noun) a result or consequence;

    Affects = (verb) acts upon;

    “I would like to know how the falling dollar effects affects LNG imports”

    (Note—Effects can sometimes be used as a verb: “A single glass of brandy may effect (bring about) his recovery.”)


    Elude / Allude

    Elude = avoid, escape;

    Allude = refer, cite;

    “I think what Jim Rogers was eluding to alluding to with teaching your children Mandarin …”

    “The uncharted waters (non-traditional headwinds) Kass is eluding to alluding to …”


    Exasperating /  Exacerbating

    Exasperate = irritate, annoy

    Exacerbate = worsen

    “If banks continue to pound away at small business the problems in this country will only continue to be exasperated exacerbated.”

    “Both the 'Stress test' and the AIG problem will only exasperate exacerbate BAC's problems.


    Flare / Flair

    Flare = a blaze, a widening;

    Flair = talent, taste;

    “As boutique companies grow and expand their product line, the high end appeal for their products begins to lose its flare flair.”


    Forego / Forgo

    Forego = go before, precede (rare);

    Forgo = renounce, do without;

    “What city or state will forego forgo the property taxes …?”


    Horde / Hoard

    Horde = a multitude, pack, or swarm;

    Hoard = an accumulation of something put away for future use;

    “We are far more likely to horde hoard what we have than risk an uncertain payoff.”

    “The cash horde hoard does concern me.”


    Imply / Infer 

    Imply = to indicate, suggest;

    Infer  = to deduce, conclude;

    Generally, the author implies, the reader infers:

    “I find results like that, when I imply infer the empirical returns of commodities for the last years.”

    Sometimes the error is the reverse:

    “Your statement infers implies that real estate values always go up.”


    It’s / Its

    It’s = it is;

    Its = belonging to it;

    “If the California court reverses it’s its decision …”

    This is the most common usage error. Just remember this: “NEVER POSSESSIVE” (i.e., no apostrophe in the possessive instance).


    Jives with / Jibes with

    Jive = nonsensical or meaningless talk;

    Jibe = to agree, be in accordance;

    Their own reports, for example, do not jive with jibe with the servicer reports”

    “This absolutely jives with jibes with what I see on the street.”


    Less / fewer

    Less is used for things that don’t come in discrete, countable units;

    Fewer is used for countable items and numbers;

    “Foreigners are buying less fewer U.S. bonds with a maturity date beyond 10 years.”


    Literally / Virtually or Figuratively

    Literally = in accordance with the wording exactly;

    Virtually = in accordance with the wording in essence or effect;

    Figuratively = not literal, but rather a figure of speech; not in accordance with the wording;

    It’s best to just omit literally rather than replace it with one of the alternatives above, but here is how the alternatives might be employed:

    “The cash is so huge that prices are literally figuratively running away from fundamentals”

    “At a maximum, the sky is literally figuratively the limit.”

    “the US (and the rest of western world) is literally virtually choking on their debt …”

    Here’s a rare case where the usage is justified:

    “10% of the global capesize fleet of 855 vessels was literally sitting dead in the water …”


    Loathe to / Loath to

    Loathe (drawn-out “th”) = abhor;

    Loath (short “th”) = reluctant;

    “The Federal Reserve will remain loathe to loath to raise interest rates.”


    Peaked / Piqued

    Peaked = having a summit or peak;

    Piqued = stimulated or aroused;

    “My curiosity was very much peaked piqued when I noticed …”


    Peek / Peak

    peek = glance quickly or surreptitiously

    peak = top

    “there's slack in the labor markets with unemployment peeking peaking above 10 percent”


    Pours over / Pores over

    Pours = decants;

    Pores = studies with care;

    “… office workers still pour over pore over paper files; …”


    Principle / Principal        

    Principle = a basic truth, law, force, etc.;

    Principal = the capital of an estate; also, “first in rank”;

    “Once you add principle principal and interest with a 80% LTV mortgage”


    That / Who

    That refers to things;

    Who refers to persons, or sometimes animals;

     “… people that who want to buy homes”

     “it is coming from a firm who that has its hand in all different types of markets.”


    Tow the line / Toe the line

    Toe the line = (From Wikipedia) “an idiomatic expression meaning to conform to a rule or a standard. The term has disputed origins. … In days of sail, ‘toe the line’ was used as a command for the sailors to line up along a crack in deck planking, similar to the modern ‘Attention!’ Over the years the term has been attributed to sports, including toeing the starting line in track events and toeing a center line in boxing which boxers were instructed to line up on either side of to start a match. In modern usage, it appears often in the context of partisan or factional politics, as in, ‘He's toeing the party line.’"

    So “tow the line” is always a mistake, although a common one:

    “The Japanese, Chinese and OPEC are expected to tow toe the line.”



    Second Group – Matters of Taste:


    Absent / Without, or Except, or Lacking, or Unless there is

    In legalese, “absent” is sometimes used in place of the synonyms listed above. In ordinary use it sounds affected and awkward, and can sometimes momentarily misdirect the reader.

    “So, absent without higher interest rates …, a reversion to the mean would fuel a massive rally.”

    “Sony is probably leading in the rest of the world absent except China”

    “the absurd belief that, absent without exponential productivity gains, the economy can expand …”

    Absent Lacking any evidence to the contrary, we have yet another example …”


    Begs the question / Raises the question

    Begs the question means takes for granted or assumes the truth of the very thing being questioned. For example, “Shopping now for a dress to wear to the ceremony begs the question: ‘Has she even been invited?’” (The definition here is based on one given at

    Raises the question = provokes the question

    “Now, the fact that bonds and equities in general are both firm seems to beg raise the question - which rally would end first?”


    Below chart / Chart below

    It’s smoother and more conventional to use the second form:

    “I presented the below chart chart below to illustrate this”


    Grow / Expand or Increase

    Grow = to increase itself (lacks an “object”);

    Expand = to enlarge something (takes an “object”);

    The occasional deliberate use of “grow” in place of “expand” or “increase” can sometimes be fresh, but mostly it’s “ungainly” (R.H. Fiske):

    “this company is still growing expanding sales and earnings rather quickly.”


    The reason is because / The reason is that

    It’s redundant to use both reason and because; one of them should be dropped.

    “The reason option volumes have surged in the last 5 years is because that they are a great way to hedge …”

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Comments (10)
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  • Aiki14
    , contributor
    Comments (14) | Send Message
    Where are you when I am deciding between affect and Effect? That one gives me trouble. Thanks for the tips
    8 Nov 2009, 09:47 AM Reply Like
  • JeffDB
    , contributor
    Comments (1460) | Send Message
    You put some work into that. Good job.
    8 Nov 2009, 11:30 AM Reply Like
  • Dan Katz
    , contributor
    Comments (21) | Send Message
    Very useful, thanks.
    9 Nov 2009, 03:41 AM Reply Like
  • Boaz Berkowitz
    , contributor
    Comments (84) | Send Message
    Thank you for putting this together! Nice job.
    9 Nov 2009, 03:43 AM Reply Like
  • Michal Slawny
    , contributor
    Comments (5) | Send Message
    Great Job! This will be very helpful to our contributors.
    9 Nov 2009, 04:58 AM Reply Like
  • Alan Young
    , contributor
    Comments (2421) | Send Message
    BRAVO. I have noticed most of these errors; having worked as an editor and English teacher from time to time, I never cease to find them annoying. It's so refreshing to see people actually caring about standard usage.


    Editors, please take note!


    The one that surprised me was "comprised [of]," which I've very often heard used—and probably used myself—in the way you say is wrong. I'm shocked to find a rule of which I've been completely ignorant. I'll have to do more research!


    Thanks again for posting this.
    9 Nov 2009, 03:23 PM Reply Like
  • Cliff Wachtel
    , contributor
    Comments (1766) | Send Message
    Excellent, consider a follow up piece on guidelines that contributors should know about but often don't or forget. Little known SA guidelines like:


    10 word max title
    2500 word max text
    SA doesn't like articles solely on thinly traded non US stocks (consider dropping that one, rules out some of the best income stocks out there)


    Keep up the great work, Cliff
    10 Nov 2009, 06:33 AM Reply Like
  • Cliff Wachtel
    , contributor
    Comments (1766) | Send Message
    I'd add another few I often see


    weary = tired
    wary = suspicious of, cautious about...


    f/eg: I'd be weary (sic) of entering the market now.(use wary)


    benefactor: one who grants something
    beneficiary: one who receives from the benefactor


    f/eg: The euro has been the benefactor (sic) of USD weakness (use beneficiary)
    10 Nov 2009, 06:36 AM Reply Like
  • SA Editor Jeanne Yael Klempner
    , contributor
    Comments (176) | Send Message


    As a Seeking Alpha copy editor, I commend you on this excellent and useful post. Of course, we correct errors such as these (and many more besides) all day long, but there are always those that slip through. I've added a link to your post to our in-house style sheet, and I hope that editors will read and absorb it!


    If you ever find errors that you want to send to me directly, please feel free to email me - jeanne [@] seekingalpha [dot] com.
    10 Nov 2009, 11:22 AM Reply Like
  • Roger Knights
    , contributor
    Comments (4830) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Hi, everybody. Thanx for the pats on the back. They've motivated me to put together a follow-up article describing about two dozen more errors that slipped through my net the first time around. I'll have it done in a couple of weeks. I'll incorporate the pair of items suggested by Cliff (with credit).
    10 Nov 2009, 08:50 PM Reply Like
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