I see these more often in fantasy, since that’s mostly what I read, but they also occur in student papers, in professional writing, and damn near everywhere else.00

phase, faze.

The first of these is a noun most of the time and means a stage, like a phase of the moon. Rarely, I’ve seen it used as a verb to mean a kind of slow fading, as “phased out.” Faze is the verb that means to startle or set back on one’s heels.

Phase cannot be used as a substitute for faze. That means this is wrong:

“Rhonda blinked, but she wasn’t phased.”


This is another one, like the use of reign for rein or shinning for shining, that I will shout from the rooftops if I have to. They are completely separate words, not spelled the same, and just because they sound alike does not give the writer the license to use them however she wants.

loose, lose.

Another pair of completely separate words. “Loose” is an adjective most of the time, as in “The button was loose.” When it’s not, it’s a verb meaning to deliberately set free. “He loosed the horse from its picket line.” Lose implies no deliberate meaning, as in “He lost his way.”

These don’t often get mixed up in past tense, but in present form they do all the time. “She wanted to loose him” means something very, very different from “She wanted to lose him,” but people mix them up anyway.

choose, chose, chosen.

Yes, chosen does exist. It’s a form of the verb, and one can’t say “She was chose” or “She had chose to remain at his side.” Nor can choose be used as a substitute for chose, as in “She choose to stand there.”

drag, drug.

Drug is sometimes used as the past tense of drag in speech, but using it in fiction (unless it’s deliberate dialect) will usually get you marked as having an inferior knowledge of grammar. Drag is regular, and its past tense and past participle are both dragged.


This is not just the name of a computer game, but also an old past tense of a verb that’s rare now, “rive,” to break or tear or split asunder. If you use it as a name for a character, for all the gods’ sake make sure that the meaning fits. Naming a happy character Riven is going to look strange, since one of the meanings of rive is “to break or distress.”

raven hair.

Overused. The color that the writer usually wants to convey is a deep, dusky black, perhaps with shades of certain colors, but ravens don’t actually look like that; their feathers are a dull black most of the time. If you want a bird that has colors in its feathers, go for “hair like a starling’s wing” or “hair like the wing of a male grackle.” Both are prettier, and both will be less scraggly and less likely to be covered with bits of tattered corpses. The images are fresher, too.

luminescence, luminescent.

The problem with using this as a general synonym for light is that it literally comes from “chemical, biochemical, or crystallographic changes, the motions of subatomic particles, or radiation-induced excitation of an atomic system” (dictionary.com). If you say your character’s eyes are luminescent, you mean they’re literally glowing the way that fireflies do. The word you want is luminous, which can refer to self-generated light without it being the product of chemical changes.


It’s hard to agree on a definition of this color, but it’s generally a light yellowish-brown, with sometimes hints of other natural eye colors like blue, gray, or green. A character having hazel eyes is not an excuse for them to suddenly turn silver, or pure gold, or green with blue lightning bolts.

Also, hazel is not a hair color. Hazel hair would look very…strange is the politest word I can use.

azure, cerulean, cyan, cobalt.

These cannot simply all be used as names for blue eyes. Azure means both blue with a hint of purple and the color of the sky, in which case it’s a synonym for cerulean (but not in the purple sense). Cyan means bluish-green. Cobalt is a very dark blue, not the same color as most human blue eyes. Scattering them all about carelessly as if they mean the same thing will only confuse your readers, and probably make them wonder why you have the urge to describe the character’s eyes with all these different adjectives.


This means either pale or ashen, or bruise-colored, as if someone has been beating on you. It does not mean red. If your character is livid with fury, it means pale with fury, not red-faced or purple-faced with it.

I’m actually not sure why this word is used wrongly so often, unless it’s just that the use of it with skin color inspires people to think of flushed faces instead of pale ones.


Not a word. In a very few contexts, “wolfish” is usable, such as the sentence “He gave a wolfish grin.” If you’re just talking about a wolf or a character’s resemblance to a wolf, use “wolflike” or “lupine.”

A surprising part of that was about color adjectives. I’m not sure why it bothers me so much- other than that trying to picture a character with blue, azure, and cobalt eyes simultaneously gives me a headache.