9 troublesome word pairs

If you’re wondering whether you should use ‘can’ or ‘may’ in your copy, this list can shed some light on that question and several others.

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I’ve been writing about them for years, and I had thought I had the topic well covered.

Apparently I don’t. Here are nine more pairs to pay attention to:

1. Can vs. may


Use “can” when referring to the ability to do something.

Example: “I don’t think your brother can make you unconscious just by looking at you.”


Use “may” when asking for permission to do something or when referring to the possibility of something.

Example: “You may not throw knives at each other.”

Example: “Your excessive use of exclamation points may annoy readers.”

2. Continual vs. continuous

“Continual” means to recur at regular and frequent intervals.

Example: “Because she was new to the copy desk, Amy checked the style guide continually.”

“Continuous” means to go on without pause or interruption.

Example: “The continuous flow of alcohol made last night’s happy hour quite entertaining.”

3. “Compare to” vs. “compare with”

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