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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Legal Writing Tip: Troublesome "Twin" Words


By Leslie A. Gordon BASF Bulletin Contributor


Are you anxiously or eagerly awaiting your son’s graduation? Are you uninterested or disinterested in Above the Law? Here are some commonly misused, niggling “twin” words that can stump legal writers.

Allude, Elude

You elude capture. To allude means to make an indirect reference.

Anxious, Eager

Anxious implies worry (“anxiously awaiting the test results”). Eager refers to a positive excitement (“eagerly waiting to get started”).

Continually, Continuously

Continually refers to frequency (“continual interruptions were irritating”). Continuously means having no interruption (“a continuous line of traffic”).

Disinterested, Uninterested

Disinterested means impartial, lacking bias. Uninterested means bored, having no interest.

Discrete, Discreet

Discrete means separate and distinct. Discreet means exercising discretion or diplomacy.

Ensure, Insure

To ensure means you see to it that something happens. Insure means guaranteeing against loss or harm.

Hardy, Hearty

Hearty means vigorous (“a hearty welcome”). Hardy means brave (“hardy men”) or capable of withstanding harsh conditions (“hardy patio furniture”).

Incredible, Incredulous

Incredible means so extraordinary as to seem impossible. Incredulous means unbelieving or skeptical.

Stand, Stance

Stance refers to your literal or figurative position – you perfect your golf stance. When you’re resisting opposing forces, you take or make a stand.

Than, Then

When comparing one thing to another, use than; when talking about time, choose then. While most lawyers know the difference, this is an extremely frequent typo so be alert to this pair when proofreading.

Undo, Undue

Undo is a verb meaning the opposite of do – you undo your shoelaces. Undue is an adjective that means unwarranted or improper.

360 Degrees, 180 Degrees
A complete circle is 360 degrees, which brings you back to where you started; 180 degrees is half of that. So if you want to describe something completely opposed to another, use 180 degrees.

What word pairs trouble you? Contact

A former lawyer, Leslie A. Gordon is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco.

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