Here are more pairs of words I run across in manuscripts I’m editing that get confused. One that puzzles me is the word wracked. I see this a lot in published novels, and particularly with novels published by one publishing house in particular (sorry, not naming names, but it is a bit weird how that word comes up in just about every novel of theirs I read and is spelled wrong). I’ve been tempted to write them, but I have to use some self-control. Just so you know–we editors can get a little carried away. It takes a lot of scolding myself not to dig a pen out of my purse and start marking up menus at restaurants.
If you are racking your brain right now, or you’re racked with pain, then you are spelling the word correctly. The spelling wracked means wrecked. It’s a old variation of that word. Or it can mean a rack (noun) or a type of seaweed. But it does not mean to suffer pain or anguish or torture, or to strain violently (rack your brain). I don’t know why this word bugs me so much but it does.
Another pair of words I see used incorrectly a lot is lightning and lightening. It should be pretty obvious that if you plan to make something whiter, you will be lightening it (verb). The stuff that shoots out of the sky in a storm is lightning.
And then there’s compliment and complement (as well as complimentary and complementary). Pay attention to that little easy-to-miss difference in the vowel there. I pay you a compliment when I see how well your shoes complement your dress. If I give you complimentary tickets to the game, you might compliment on my shoes just to be nice (and hope I’ll give you more in the future).