Confusing These Words Can Harm Your Career Trajectory – Part 2

This is the second of a two-part series. View Part One here.

Most of us recognize the lovable misspoken mailman Cliff Clavin from his years on the TV sitcoms Cheers and Frasier.  Cliff was always finding a way to butcher the King’s English with the things he said, confusing his choice of words.  No one could ever take what Cliff said seriously.  But you’d tune in each episode just hoping he’d say something outrageous that was sure to draw a laugh.  

Unless your career is that of comedian, there’s nothing funny about using the wrong word by mistake.  People draw conclusions about someone’s education, intelligence, and competence by what they say and what they write. 

Here are eight more commonly confused and misused words of which to be mindful in your written and spoken communications.

Precede & Proceed

Precede is to go before or be in front of.  Proceed is to move forward or ahead. Examples:

  1. “Susan preceded you and arrived first.”
  2. “Susan, you may proceed with handing out the tests.”

Principal & Principle

Principal means first or of high importance, while principle means fundamental or a belief.  Examples:

  1. “This provision is of principal importance to the negotiation.”
  2. “The principle of fairness is what will be used to evaluate the proposals.”

Than & Then

Than is used to express difference, while then means a time or followed by.  Both sound the same. Take care in your writing to distinguish which is the proper word to use.   Examples:

  1. “Increased sales by more than 50% in the second year of the product’s launch.”
  2. “Started in an entry level position and then advanced to a managerial position in two years.”

Their, There, & They’re

Their is a possessive (his, her, and their).  There is a place.  They’re is a contraction of they are.  Examples:

  1. “Secured their standing on the market by… ”
  2. There are 100 employees at the company.”
  3. They are [or they’re] the top three marketers of… ”

To, Two, & Too

To is a preposition that often means destination.  Two is a number.  Too means also or in addition to.   Examples:

  1. “I am going to meet with an interviewer.”
  2. “I will be meeting with two interviewers today.”
  3. “I will be meeting with a second interviewer, too.”

Verses & Versus

Verses refer to a song, poem or Bible passages.  Versus places two things in opposition.  Examples:

  1. “I wrote the first verseto the song.”
  2. “My project lead to savings of 60 percent, versusthe potential loss of… ”

Who’s & Whose

Who’s is a contraction of who is or who hasWhose is the possessive of who.   Examples:

  1. “Who’s got change for a ten dollar bill? Who’s upset that I don’t have change?”
  2. “Whose signature is on the letter?”

Your, Yore & You’re

Your is a possessive, like his, her and their.  Yore is something that happened a long time ago.  You’re is a contraction of you and are.  Examples:

  1. “I am interested in yourjob posting on… ”
  2. “Let me tell you a tale of yore…”
  3. You are [or you’re] going to see a link below to my writing samples.”

Career Implications

English is one of the world’s most challenging languages because of words that sound the same, or have multiple but unrelated meanings.  There are a number of other commonly confused words to be aware of in your job search, such as “principal” or “principle” and “incite” or “insight.”  Your ability to write a professional and error-free cover letter and résumé is a reason for an employer to want to follow up with you. Even if you have the specific qualifications to meet what the employer is looking for, poor proofreading of your documents can disqualify you.  


Incorrect word usage holds employees back from progressing to positions for which their technical skills and expertise might otherwise qualify them.  Given a choice of two individuals competing for a promotion, communication skills could be the deciding factor where the evaluation between the two is close.  This is especially true in leadership and public-facing roles, where poor communication skills on the part of key employees could erode an employer’s brand. 

Considering that jobs, assignments, and promotions are often won by people who have mastered the art and science of effective communications, the stakes are high for you as you assess yourself in this area.  Fortunately there are a multitude of self-help resources at low or no cost on the Internet.  Continually improving your communication skills and effectiveness will help propel your career, regardless of your chosen field, age, and employer.

Author’s note: This post first appeared on the BMG blog, a terrific source for career, sales, and leadership best-practices advice.  Part 1 of this post appeared Tuesday, February 1st

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