Annexure II

Confused and misused words

A, an, the : "a" or "an" is the correct article when the subject of the noun it precedes can exist in more than one form or as more than one case, for example, "A new species of Vibrio was identified by ... …". Some species already exist or new ones could be identified in the future. The is appropriate, as in "The organism identified as responsible for this outbreak was Vibrio cholerae."

After, following : The word after can mean simply later than a particular time or event [as in "He died of anaphylactic shock soon after you saw him."]; after can also imply cause and effect [as in "He died of anaphylactic shock after swallowing a capsule of the wrong antibiotic."]; following is a preposition that can be used synonymously with 'after' but is best reserved in science as an indicator of position not related to time, for example, "The following reagents were supplied by .......

Aliquot, sample : An aliquot is the part of a total amount of a gas, liquid, or solid that has been completely divided into several equal parts; for example, 10 ml is an aliquot of 100 ml of a liquid that could be, or has been, divided into 10 equal parts; a sample is a part taken as representative of its source, for analysis or study.

Among, between : among is a preposition indicating a relationship involving more than 2 units of the same kind ["Among the drugs recommended, 'x' is the best choice."]; between is a preposition indicating a relationship involving two units of the same kind ["The choice was between penicillin and ampicillin."].

As, because, since: as is preferably used only in the temporal sense ["As we were completing the paper, new evidence came to light."] and not in the causal sense, to avoid ambiguity [not "As we were away in USA, he thought he could pilfer our data."]; because is used to show cause; since is used to show a temporal relation, although it is technically not incorrect to use "since" in the causal sense.

Average, typical : in scientific usage, the word average should be reserved, if possible, as a synonym for statistical "arithmetic mean"; typical or "characteristic" is often a suitable adjective in place of a non-statistical "average".

Case, patient : case is an instance, example, or episode [as of disease, "She had a case of measles"; or "The worst case would be two earthquakes within two days"]; patient is a person ["We studied 12 patients in the trial", not "We saw 12 cases....."].

Compared to, compared with : compared to may only imply finding resemblances or similarities in dissimilar objects but tends to connote a stronger, subjective desire in making the comparison, looking for contrast, or judging against a standard ["Compared to the Americans and Japanese, Indians are good in mathematics"]; compared with implies looking for similarities or differences in compared objects ["In the clinical trial, the low-fat diet was compared with a high-fat diet."].

Congenital, genetic : congenital means "born with", "present at birth"; genetic means having to do with genes, chromosomes, or their effects in producing phenotypes or determining heritable characteristics. A disease or abnormality caused by genetic effects is not necessarily congenital (apparent at birth).


Database, data set, data : database is a formal structure (computer file, printed document) containing data organized for retrieval and analysis and representing a conceptually coherent subject; data set is a particular coherent body of data maintained in a database; data are a group of individual items of information.

Determine, evaluate, measure : these terms are frequently used synonymously but distinct and differing meanings for them can make for clearer expression; determine is best reserved to mean "set a limit on" or "establish conclusively" (despite its common use in chemical jargon as a synonym for "measure"); evaluate means to ascertain or fix a value on the object of the action (as in "evaluating an examination note book"); measure is "to proceed to examine an object for its quantitative characteristic" [as in "measuring blood glucose"].

Different, diverse, disparate: different means having at least some dissimilar characteristics ["The fossil evidence establishes that this out-cropping is a different formation."]; diverse, having a notable range of differences ["The department of chemistry has a staff with diverse interests and skills."]; disparate, distinctly different ["They reached disparate conclusions from the same evidence."]. Also see varying.

Different from, different than : the "from" phrase is usually a better choice because of its parallel with "differs from" ["The flora of the Quaternary is distinctly different from that of the Cretaceous." "The flora of the Quaternary differs distinctly from that of the Cretaceous."].

Dosage, dose : dosage implies not only an amount but also frequency of administration; it is not synonymous with a single dose; dose is the amount of a drug administered at one time. An example of dosage is '500 mg orally every 6 hours for 7 days'; in this, the dose is '500 mg'.

Effect, affect : effect as a verb means to bring about a change ["He effected a budgetary change."}, but as a noun means the result of some action ["The effect was a cut in the budget."];

affect as a verb means to influence ["His budget cut affected all members of the staff."] but as a noun means the impression of feeling or emotion conveyed by a person's demeanor, action, or speech [The diagnostic feature in this case was the patient's flat affect."]. Also see impact.

Few, fewer, less : few and fewer are adjectives indicating small and smaller in number, or infrequent; they are used with counted or countable items; less, a cognate of "little", is used with uncounted or uncountable quantities applied to mean a smaller total amount ["We have fewer women per capita now than in 1900." "We have less information on the genome of the mosquito than on that of man."].

General, generally, generic, generically, usual, usually : general and generally, adjective and adverb, indicate as modifiers a broad or group-typical application, relevance, or characteristic; generic and generically are cousins of general and generally but imply "of the same category" as in "generic drugs", drugs of a group representing a particular type in effect, in contrast to specifically trademarked individual drugs; usual and usually are preferably applied with the connotation of likely, expected or more frequent.

Homogenous, homogeneous : having closely similar or identical characteristics, such as components, structure, origin, and so on; homogeneous is generally preferred in science (because of its derivation from "homo", meaning "same", and "genesis", meaning "origin"). Homogenous, as an adjective derived from "homogeny", has been used in biology specifically to mean having similar structure throughout ("Homogenous solution"). Similar distinctions can be drawn between heterogenous and heterogeneous ("hetero", meaning "different").

Identical to, identical with : the 2 forms are regarded as equally acceptable in some usage guides, but the "with" form should be preferred because of the parallel form in the use of the noun "identify".

Impact, effect : impact should be reserved for the meaning of the striking of a body against another and not be used in its clichéd, hyperbolic, and jargon sense to mean simply effect. Also see effect.

Incidence, prevalence, point prevalence, period prevalence: incidence is the number of new cases occurring in a population of stated size during a stated period of time; it is not synonymous with prevalence, the number of cases existing in a population of stated size at a particular time; point prevalence indicates cases known to exist on a particular date, and period prevalence, all cases known to exist during a stated period.

Infectious, infective, contagious : a useful distinction is to apply "infectious" to mean harboring a potentially infecting agent or having been caused by an infecting agent ["an infectious disease"] and "infective" to indicate an agent that can cause infection ["not all the bacteria found in our environment are infective."]; contagious is an adjective meaning that the infecting agent in an infectious disease has a high probability of being transmitted("smallpox is a contagious disease").

Infested, infected with : infested means harboring or carrying visible lower organisms, notably worms or insects, not causing inflammation or other immunologic consequences (her hair were infested with lice) of their presence as viruses or bacteria would, for which the parallel term would be infected with (the mice were experimentally infected with Escherichia coli).

Localize, locate : localize means to confine, restrict, or attribute to a particular place or to have the characteristic resulting from such action ["The infection localized in the antecubital space."]; locate means to specify, place, or find in a particular place ["We finally located the infection in the right pleural cavity."]; localize should not be used to mean "find" [not "We localized the primary site of the disseminated cancer in the pancreas."].

Majority, most : majority, a number of items greater than half of the total items of a particular class [general and scientific use]; frequently used as a synonym for most, but "most" is the preferred term when a quantitative expression is not needed and a preponderance needs to be implied. For example, in an election where 100 persons cast votes for 8 candidates, a candidate obtaining 40 votes may win provided other candidates get fewer votes; the winning candidate has then obtained most votes but not a majority (more than fifty) of votes.

Manuscript, paper, article : manuscript should refer only to the physical representation (paper sheets typed or written on; word-processing file on a diskette) of a scientific paper (the intellectual document itself, its words and numbers); a peer reviewer reviews a paper (the intellectual material), not a manuscript; the reviewer is sent the paper in the form of its manuscript; a journal publishes a paper [often preferably called an article], not a manuscript. Also see report.

Mutant, mutation : mutant as a noun refers to an organism carrying or expressing one or more genetic mutations, but it is also applied as an adjective as in a "mutant gene"; mutation is a stable and heritable change in a nucleotide sequence in DNA or RNA.

Number, numeral, digit : number is the count of some class of objects; a numeral is a single character in the group of numbers from zero to nine. The number 345 is made up of three Arabic numerals, namely 3, 4 and 5 in that sequence. Digit can be used synonymously with numeral but is sometimes used in science to refer to the number of numerals and their representation of magnitudes in the decimal system ["He reported his data upto three digits after the decimal."].

Nutrition, nutritional, nutritious : nutrition is the discipline concerned with desirable foodstuffs and feedings, also desirable feeding itself; nutritional means having to do with nutrition; nutritious means having the character associated with desirable nutrition.

Ologic, ological : both forms are used as suffixes in adjectives formed from nouns ending in "ology"; generally, use of the ologic form is recommended over ological (e.g. "historic" is preferred over "historical").

Outbreak : an imprecise term often applied to mean a sudden appearance of a disease, especially of an infectious disease, or of some other kind of social phenomenon; alternative terms (nouns) could be "episode", "sudden occurrence", "epidemic", "epizootic".

Parameter : parameter means a potential variable to which a particular value can be assigned to determine the value of other variables; it should not be used loosely and pompously as a jargon term synonymous with "variable", "index", "indicator".

Patient : see case.

Percent, percentage : percent is a term meaning "units per 100 units", often represented by the symbol % ["45 percent" or "45%" standing for "45 units per 100 units"]; percentage is a statement of a quantity or rate expressed as the unit percent ["45%" is a percentage]. Note that the difference between two percentages should be stated as a difference between 25% and 50% is 25 percentage points, not a "25% difference".

Perform, carry out, execute : such verbs can often be replaced by a more specific verb such as analyze, operate, do, or other possible choices [not "He performed an appendectomy despite the patient's unstable condition" but "He did an appendectomy despite ... ..." or "He removed the appendix despite... …"].

Presently, at present : presently, used by some as a synonym for "currently", is reserved by careful writers to mean "soon", "shortly", "in the near future"; at present means "now".

Prior to, before: prior to should be reserved for an event preceding in time or sequence in which being first has an importance or value above the event that comes next ["He recalculated all of his data prior to making new observations."]; before is adequate to introduce a simple sequence ["He had no illnesses before his first stroke", not "He had no illness prior to his....."].

Regime, regimen : these terms can be used synonymously to mean a regular pattern of occurrence, but in medical contexts regimen implies a stipulated or controlled program or scheme for treatment or activity [as in a "dietary regimen aiming to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis"; regime is also used to mean "government in power"

Regular, consistent, frequent : regular as an adjective indicates "ordered", "consistent", "at fixed times or points"; frequent means occurring at relatively short intervals or often.

Report, paper, study, trial : a report (or paper) describing a study or clinical trial should be distinguished from the research itself ["We published a report on this drug in IJMR last year"]. Also see manuscript, paper, article.

Sacrifice : a euphemism for "kill", "exsanguinate", and other terms that do not imply a religious rite.

Sensitivity, specificity : when applied to describe the use of diagnostic tests, sensitivity is the capacity to detect desired or predefined findings even if undesired findings are also found in relatively large numbers; specificity is the capacity to detect only desired findings and exclude undesired findings.

Significant : significant should be used to mean serving as a sign of or pointing to; this precise use is especially needed in contexts with proper use of significant in the statistical sense of reaching a predefined numeric threshold and hence pointing to a specific statistical conclusion ["The mean blood pressure was significantly lowered, with a P value of 0.05."]. Other adjectives such as "great", "important", "influential", "major", "valuable", "useful", "desirable" are preferred choices when "pointing to" or "indicating" is not intended.

Technique, method : both words are widely used to mean an analytic, quantitative, observational, or another similar kind of procedure, but a valuable distinction is made by using method for "procedure" and reserving technique for the skill, good or bad, applied in carrying out a procedure ["This bioassay is a reliable method when the analyst applies careful technique."]. The form technic is a variant spelling, but has been used as a synonym for "technology".

Upon, on : in most contexts on is preferred by writers striving to write economical and unpretentious prose.

Utilize, use, employ : these words are often used synonymously, but in most uses of utilize the less stuffy and more straightforward use is adequate for the meaning of applying or drawing on for a purpose; when "consumption" through a use is implied, either the phrasal verb "use up" or the verb "consume" is more specific. Reserve employ for its meaning of putting a person to work.

Vaccinate, immunize : these terms are often used as synonyms, but to vaccinate means to purposely expose a person or animal to an antigen in hopes of eliciting protective antibody; to immunize implies that exposure to an antigen through infection or vaccination successfully elicits protective antibody.

Varying, differing, different : varying should be used to mean changing, and differing or different to mean having unlike characteristics; "New Delhi and Chennai have varying mean annual temperatures in a long-term cycle" means each city has a mean temperature that changes in the cycle; "New Delhi and Kolkata have differing [or "different"] mean annual temperatures" means that their mean annual temperatures are not the same; various can be a near-synonym for differing ["Various ethnic groups make up the population of Los Angeles."].

Which, that : that should be used as the relative pronoun introducing a restrictive clause ["This is the house that Rao built."] and which to introduce a nonrestrictive clause ["This house, which Rao built, had a shoddy construction."].

While, although : while should be used to indicate a period of time under consideration ["While he was waiting for surgery, his angina pectoris because steadily more frequent."] and although for a conditional state ["Although he was being treated for the staphylococcal infection while waiting for surgery, he succumbed to rupture of his aortic valve."].