It’s mixed nuts day here at Grammar Snacks, which means today’s post features a tasty assortment of mixed-up words, helpful tips, and an annoying phrase to avoid. So sit back, crack open something cold and refreshing and dig into this grab-bag of salty grammar goodness.

Confusion intrusion Farther vs. Further
Two words we regularly confuse are farther and further. We use them interchangeably, but the notion that they mean the same thing, however, couldn’t be, ahem, further from the truth. Here’s the distinction: Farther relates to physical distance, while further refers to figurative distance (e.g., the extent of time or degree). Let this simple sentence be a lesson: Francesca did further training to swim farther distances.

Cache vs. Cachet
When we talk about a something having prestige, status, and respect, that something does not have cache; it has cachet. A cache is a supply or a reserve (as in a “weapons cache” or a “cache of treasure”); in computing, which is where we often encounter this term, we know cache to mean “a component that stores data so future requests for that data can be served faster.” (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

Principal vs. Principle
These homonyms always stir up trouble in a sentence. Principal is an adjective and a noun. As a noun, principal means leader or chief or, according one dictionary, “a big-shot.” As an adjective, it means major, chief, primary, et al. Principle, meanwhile, is a noun only, and is defined as a basic truth, law or assumption; a belief, a standard, a rule. You get the idea. Example sentence: The high school principal was a man of principle.

Tenant vs. Tenet
If we’re speaking to a something’s core principles, we do not mean its tenants. The word we actually mean to use is tenets. A tenant occupies things like apartment buildings or office spaces. A tenet is a principle, a belief, an opinion, etc.

Libel vs. Liable
When you knowingly publish false, defamatory information about someone that damages their reputation, you are committing libel. If a jury finds that you libeled someone, you may be liable—that is, responsible—for monetary damages.

Home in vs. Hone
You’ve probably seen writers deploy the phrase “hone in” when they’re talking about zeroing in on a particular detail. However, the phrase they’re actually looking for is “home in.” Home in means “to aim” or “to be directed (toward).” For example: We home in on the right target audience to make our message heard. Hone as a noun is defined as “a fine-grained hard stone, or whetstone, used to sharpen cutting tools.” As a verb, it means “to sharpen with a hone.” For our purposes, we generally use hone in the metaphorical sense. For example: We hone our skills to meet the increasingly challenging demands of our business.

Show some gratitude
There’s a certain sentence I encounter all the time that ruffles my feathers because it can be easily interpreted as mildly insulting. The offender: “Thank you in advance.” Sounds like a pretty silly thing to get worked up about. After all, the author is expressing gratitude for something that has yet to be done. But here’s the problem: When you drop that four-word bomb into your missive, you’re suggesting that your gratitude is only conditional—contingent on the reader’s fulfillment of your request. In effect, you’re saying: “On the condition that you do exactly as I ask you to do, I thank you.” Really, avoid conditional gratitude; strike “in advance” and simply say, “Thanks.”

Joe Ehrbar is a senior editor at SMITH.

Tags: grammar, Strategy and Intelligence