Word Confusion: “Irregardless, I Could Care Less”

Dear Copy Bitch: My girlfriend says that when I say something like “Irregardless of what you think, I’m really a sensitive guy,” that I’m wrong and the word is “regardless.” Who’s right?

—Betrothed in Sioux City

Answer: Dear Betrothed…in this case, your girlfriend is right, at least regarding the word “irregardless” (Madame Copy Bitch makes no claim about your sensitivity one way or the other). Use “regardless.”

Here’s another phrase that confuses many: “could care less” vs. “couldn’t care less.” The proper use is “couldn’t care less.” For example, “I couldn’t care less about George’s supposed ‘other’ woman.”

UPDATED IN 2017: I learned something new. “Irregardless” IS a word. But it probably doesn’t mean what you think. And you probably shouldn’t use it. Here’s the explanation.

Word Confusion: Compliment vs. Complement

Dear Copy Bitch: Any tricks for keeping compliment and complement straight in my thick skull?

—Confused in Colorado

Answer: Dear Confused: Think “complete” when thinking “complement,” which means “to go with or complete” (when used as a verb) or “something that completes” (when used as a noun). As a trick, just think of the “e”–there are two in complete and two in complement. Think of flattery when thinking of “compliment” as in “I love receiving compliments.”


1. “I love it when George compliments me on my fashion sense and sassiness.”

2. “I think a George Clooney Love Nest would complement my lifestyle quite nicely.”

Word Confusion: Fewer vs Less

Dear Copy Bitch: Should I use the word “fewer” or “less” in this sentence? Fitness industry statistics indicate that about 75% of health club members are interested in personal training, but fewer/less than 5% ever purchase it due to its perceived high cost.

–Todd, Boston

Answer: Use “fewer” with items that can be counted. Use “less” with general amounts. So, in your example, I’d use “fewer” since the statistic would be based on real numbers (i.e., things that can be counted).

More examples:

  1. The older I get, the fewer suitors I have.
  2. George doesn’t like kissing girls with stinky breath, so please make the dish with less garlic.

Word Confusion: Affect vs Effect

Hey, Copy Bitch: Got any tips for keeping affect and effect straight? I can never remember which word is correct in a sentence like “This marketing campaign will affect/effect conversions.”

—The Copy Bastard, Sacramento

Answer: Both affect and effect can be used as verbs and nouns, which is why these words cause so much confusion. In my experience in business writing, however, I see more instances where affect is used as a verb (meaning “to influence”) and effect is used as a noun (meaning “result” or “consequence”). (Grammar experts, I realize that there are multiple definitions, but I’m trying to keep it simple for my readers.)

When we think verbs, we tend to think “action.” So when you’re writing, ask yourself if there’s an action taking place. Think “a” for “action,” and think “a” for “affect.” In your example, the correct answer is “affect,” since the marketing campaign will influence conversions (an action). This isn’t a foolproof method, but it will likely help you keep them straight most of the time. Here are some more examples:

  1. George, your rejection of my love will affect me for the rest of my life.
  2. George, your rejection of my love has had a profound effect on my life.

If anyone has a better way of remembering the differences between these two pesky words, I’d love to hear it. Leave your tricks or strategies in the comments thread.

Word Confusion: No Peeking at my Peak!

Dear Copy Bitch: Got any tips for remembering how to use peek and peak correctly?

Answer: Sure. You need your eyes to look quickly–or “peek”–at something. There are two e’s in eyes. Same for peek. (You also have two eyes, so you can use that hint as well.)

The peak is the top of something, often a mountain. Think of the Alps (“a” in Alps; “a” in “peak”). By the way, if you “pique” someone’s interest, it’s spelled p-i-q-u-e. Think of it this way: Q is one of the craziest, coolest letters in our alphabet (and worth 10 points in Scrabble). If something interests you, it’s probably because it’s cool. So think “cool Q” and write pique correctly.

Word Confusion: Using “Then” & “Than” Correctly

Q: Dear Copy Bitch: I always misuse “then” and “than.” Do you have any tips for using these correctly?

A: I learned a great tip a couple of years ago from a writing magazine (I don’t remember which one, which is why I’m not naming names). Think of it like this: than has to do with comparisons. Then has to do with time. There’s an “a” in comparisons as there is in than. There’s an “e” in time as there is in then.


  • I think George Clooney is hotter than Brad Pitt. (comparing George to Brad)
  • First, I’m going to eat ice cream, and then I’ll work out. (giving the timing of my eating and exercising)

The Difference Between “Hone” & to “Home in on Something”

Question: I think you made a mistake in my copy because you used the word “home,” and I think it should be “hone”: She knew exactly what area of the artwork to home in on.

Answer: The Copy Bitch is not above admitting to mistakes, but this isn’t one. The word hone is often misused in print and electronic media. When you “hone” your skills, you improve them. When you “home in on something,” you aim your attention to a direct target (think of a homing device). In this example, “she” knew what area of the artwork to direct her attention to. (And, yeah, it’s okay to end sentences with prepositions, too.)