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Avoid Errors of Popularly Misspelled and Misused Words: Collectible vs. Collectable, Compliment vs. Complement, and Separate vs. Seperate

With more than 170,000 English words identified as currently in use by the Oxford American Dictionary, it’s no wonder than writers, both professional and amateur, struggle with finding, using and spelling the proper term.

As marketing professionals, we’re called (though not always trained) to proofread for a living which means I look for and find uses and abuses everywhere. Here are a few that have rubbed me wrong this week that hopefully by sharing I can steer you away from using in error.

Collectible vs. Collectable

Both terms are in fact spelled correctly but the proper use is not interchangeable.

Collectible is a noun used to describe items which might be acquired by a hobbyist or investor. Postage stamps, baseball trading cards and even some Madame Alexander Dolls are considered collectibles.

Collectable is an adjective used to describe a noun which is to be collected. An example would be money owed to you or homework assigned by a teacher. Both items would be collectable.

Compliment vs. Complement

It seems that I encounter this error almost every week, yet it is one of the easiest to use correctly.

Here’s the tip on how to keep it straight. I can pay a compliment to someone else when I express admiration for their hat, their work or their good taste. When you see the “i” in compliment, think I showed admiration and paid a compliment.

A complement is intended to complete something else. The easiest example to consider is angles in a triangle. One acute angle completes the next to form the right angle or, if you’re not a math person, one pair of shoes completes the outfit.

It’s Separate not Seperate

I thought writers figured this one out a long time ago, but I realize that phonetics continue to get in the way and people keep spelling it the way it sounds. Here’s a trick you can use to always remember to get it right: there is “a rat” in separate. Not a great visual but with this aid, you’ll never make the mistake again.

Bonus: Should You Use Canceled or Cancelled?

This one gets me every time I see a news story about travel delays, and they light up the board at the airport showing timely and delayed arrivals. Interestingly, you’ll notice that even between airports and among airlines they don’t treat it the same. Why is that? In fact, both canceled and cancelled are proper past tense forms of the work cancel so the important part here is to use them consistently. (Note the inconsistency in the example below.)

Canceled spelled with one L is more common in American English, whereas cancelled spelled with two L’s is more common in British English. Why? Apparently, it is proper when writing American English terms to double the consonant when the stress is on the syllable attached to the suffix, as in remit and remitting.

This post is courtesy of MMC Principal Jennifer Koon.

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