CompFAQ/Word Choice

From Gerald R. Lucas
📝 English Composition Writing FAQ 💬

A word choice error occurs when a chosen word is incorrect or inappropriate. For example:

Behind a wall of animosity, we can often speak with impunity.

While “animosity” is spelled correctly, it does not work in the sentence. The correct word is “anonymity.” Word choice relies on your knowledge of vocabulary and often on the subtle differences in word meanings. Because synonyms often mean the same generally, you should never randomly pick a synonym without knowing how it differs in meaning from the word you would like to replace. Often a stronger, more accurate word should be chosen:

The Clinton administration formed a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

“To form” means “to shape or give structure to” and does not accurately convey the proper meaning in the context of the sentence. Try:

The Clinton administration adopted a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

“To adopt” means “to select and take or approve.” Here, “adopted” suggests a willing initiation of a policy, rather than a structure that “formed” implied.

Word choice errors will often occur with homonyms, or words that sound the same, but have different meanings and often different spellings:

They did not notice there errors.

Be careful with these errors: spell checkers are not smart enough (yet!) to catch them. “There” should be “their”:

They did not notice their errors.

More Examples

Incorrect word choice:

The media often personifies teenagers as irresponsible, violent, and carefree.

“Personify” means “to give or take on the characteristics of a person” and therefore is and inappropriate word choice. An accurate word would be “portray” (among others):

The media often portrays teenagers as irresponsible, violent, and carefree.
Written: 2002; Revised: 07-12-2021 Version: Beta 0.1