Precision is critical when it comes to legal writing – a single misused word could potentially negate an entire contract – so it is important that legal support professionals study up on commonly misused legal terms. Here are ten examples of terms that are often misused and tips for avoiding incorrect usage in the future.
One: Moot and Mute
A “moot” point is an issue that is open to argument, debatable or just plain irrelevant. “Mute” refers to the inability to speak or refraining from speaking. Therefore, a point can be moot but it cannot be mute.
Two: Ensure and Insure
To “insure” something is to guard against loss, like insuring a home or a life through an insurance policy. To “ensure” is to make certain of. For example, you can ensure you never use these words incorrectly in your legal writing by learning the difference between the two terms.
Three: Forego and Forgo
“Forego” means to come before something or to precede something. “Forgo” means to reject something or to go without. For example, you might forgo a medical procedure in favor of physical therapy.
Four: Imminent vs Eminent
“Imminent” means something is about to occur. For example, black clouds overhead mean rain is imminent. “Eminent” means something respected, distinguished or noteworthy. An accomplished violinist with global name recognition is eminent.
Five: Imply and Infer
This one is tricky because the meanings of the two words are quite similar. Someone speaking or writing implies or strongly suggests something that is not directly communicated. However, the person listening or reading infers the notion.
Six: Emigrate and Immigrate
This is another tricky one. “Immigrate” is always used with the word “to.” Your great uncle immigrated to Canada, for example. “Emigrate” is always used with the word “from.” Your great uncle emigrated from Spain.
Seven: Due Diligence and Do Diligence
This one often trips up people new to the legal field. “Due diligence” is a term that means conducting thorough research on a business, an entity or a person before entering into a business deal. There is no such thing as “do diligence.”
Eight: Less and Fewer
If you are speaking abstractly about items that can’t be counted, use the word “less.” If the items can be counted, use “fewer.”
Nine: Principle and Principal
The word “principle” is a fundamental truth. A “principal” is a major party in a business. The best way to remember the difference is that “principal” refers to a person and the word “pal” is embedded right there to remind you it’s a human.
Proscribe and Prescribe
To “proscribe” means to forbid, but “prescribe” means to administer, command, or issue. This is a very important distinction in legal writing that can take people years to remember.
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