Literary Life Hacks

They sound alike, and they’re different by only one letter, so it’s easy to confuse “compliment” and “complement.”

“Compliment” with an I is a noun and a verb referring to an expression of praise or admiration.

“Dr. Watson complimented Sherlock Holmes on his deductive reasoning skills. In return, Holmes paid Watson a compliment for his medical knowledge.”

“Complement” with an E is a verb that means go with, complete, enhance or work together well, and a noun referring to things (or people) that do so.

“Holmes and Watson work well together because their personalities complement each other. Watson’s steadiness is a complement to Holmes’ eccentricities.”

The adjective forms – “complimentary” and “complementary” are what trip most people up, especially when we’re talking about free stuff.

“Complimentary” with an I is the correct word to use when referring to tickets, drinks, meals or other things provided at no charge.

“For my birthday, I received a complimentary membership to the Sherlock Holmes Society. The coffee shop where we meet has complimentary Wi-Fi.”

Memory trick: Compliments are nice things to receive. So are freebies. When referring to either, use the word that shares a vowel with the word “nice.”


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Your Literary Life Hacker cringes whenever she sees the word “comradery,” and not because she’s old enough to remember the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

“Comradery” is a real word that describes the friendship and connection experienced among people who spend a lot of time together. So why the cringe?

The more commonly used word is “camaraderie,” from the French “camarade,” meaning roommate or companion. (Fun fact: Both “camaraderie” and “comrade” come from the same Latin root: “camera,”
which means “chamber.”) To someone accustomed to “camaraderie,” the spelling “comradery” just looks incorrect – even though it isn’t.

Be smart, Comrade, and avoid “comradery.” That way you will never be mistaken for someone who can’t spell “camaraderie.”


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“I am honored that Eleanor Expert has written the forward to my new book.”

Congratulations, Arthur D. Author, but Eleanor did not write a “forward.” She wrote a “foreword.”

This is a natural mistake, because the foreword appears “forward” of the book’s content, but the correct term is “foreword” – a word (idiomatically speaking) before the book begins.

Going forward, always use “foreword” when referring to the introduction to a book written by someone other than its author. If the author wrote it, it’s an “introduction.”


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“He is a bonified expert in his field.” “This is a bonified offer.”

Your Literary Life Hacker has seen this spelling everywhere, even in nationally syndicated newspaper columns and published books – but it’s wrong.

The correct term is “bona fide,” from the Latin for “in good faith.” It means genuine, without fraud or deception, or officially authorized. Latin scholars may cringe at this, but its English plural form can also be used as a noun: “I checked her bona fides.”

Fun fact: “Bonify” is a word, but it’s a very archaic word that means “to make something good, especially something that was bad before,” according to the business and technical writing resource

Avoid using “bonified” when you mean “bona fide,” and your readers will see you as a bona fide smart writer.


View ADG's Library of Literary Life Hacks defines “copyright” as “a collection of rights that automatically vest to someone who creates an original work of authorship like a literary work, song, movie or software. These rights include the right to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies, and to perform and display the work publicly.” In other words, the right to copy a work.

The past perfect tense of “copyright” is what trips people up. It is “copyrighted,” not “copywritten.” It’s an easy mistake to make, since “write” rhymes with “right,” and many copyrighted works are written.

The words “copywrite” and “copywritten” are seldom if ever used. Copywriters don’t copywrite; they write copy. An impatient account executive might ask them, “Is the copy written yet?” but that’s as
close as it gets.

When referring to a copyrighted work, use the word with “right” in it, and you’ll always be right.


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