Lead, sneak peak, reign, eek and other words even smart people get wrong

In our tricky language, certain words are out to trick you. Sometimes, they succeed. It doesn’t matter how grammar-savvy you are or how many degrees you have in English lit. Some misused words can and will pop up in your writing. Vigilance won’t save you, but it can help. So watch out for these seven words that even smart people get wrong.

Lead. You may know all about the verb “to lead.” You may know that in the present tense it has an “a” but in the past tense it doesn’t: “He led them astray.” That knowledge is worthless if you let your guard down. The metal, “lead,” is lurking in your subconscious waiting to ambush your sentence. It’s spelled just like the verb’s present tense, but it’s pronounced just like the verb’s past tense. That’s why so many people who know better use the wrong form, as in “He lead me astray.” That should be “led.”

Sneak peak. In any other context, “peak” isn’t a problem. Most people know not to say, “I peaked out the window.” But, true to its name, “sneak” is trying to pull a fast one here. The human brain has a thing for patterns — and shortcuts. So when we see with our eye the spelling s-n-e-a-k and we hear in our mind the “eek,” our brain goes on autopilot and repeats the spelling at served us so well in our last “eek” sound, causing us to write “peak” instead of the correct “peek.”

Five more are here in my recent column.

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