Tag Archive - usage

Are You Likely or Apt to Read This?

Here are four words that are often confused: apt, likely, prone, liable. Their differences are a bit subtle, but they do mean different things, so you might want to write these in your notebook for future reference.

Apt: Means one is habitually inclined: A frog is apt to gobble up a fly if it gets too close.

Likely: Means one is inclined or tending toward something: She is likely to win (implying the odds are with her).

Prone: Means one is inclined but usually implies undesirable results:  He’s prone to tripping.

Liable: Means one is likely to suffer (always undesirable consequences): She’s liable to have accidents (implies probability).

These words have no bearing on other meaning of these words, such as a likely story, he’s lying prone, she’s an apt pupil, not liable for the accident (legally responsible). Being a copyeditor, I’m apt to look for misuse of these words! And I’m likely to find some!

Some More Confusables

Here are some more confusing pairs of words that you might want to jot down in your notebook. In these kinds of words, remember that the letter C sounds the way it does in the word ice and the letter S like a Z–as in the word size:

Advice and Advise: You give advice (noun) and you advise (verb) a friend to not drink and drive.

Device and Devise: If you can’t get that device (noun) to work, you might try to devise (verb) a plan to jerry-rig it.

Another common mix-up I’ve seen is with the use of prophecy and prophesy. It’s easy to keep this straight if you remember the letter C sounds like see. A prophet sees a prophecy, but he will sigh when he prophesies (a good way to remember the difference). And I often see something like “He prophesized.” There is no such word, but people (including pastors at the pulpit) say it a lot.

Act First, Talk Later

Here’s something I see a lot in manuscripts and although it’s not a strict rule, it’s just something to consider in tweaking your sentence structure to make the writing flow more smoothly in time. It’s very possible you mean for the action to be happening before the speech, but if you place it after the speech, it will feel as if the character first stops speaking, then acts. So unless sequence in time requires otherwise, always try to put action before speech:


“I knew you were going to say that.” John sighed and slapped the table.


John sighed and slapped the table. “I knew you were going to say that.”

If the speech spurs on an action, then you’ll want to put it after the speech:

“I can do that in a split second!” Cindy snapped her fingers in Bill’s face, then marched out the door.


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