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Confusing Words: Time Expressions

TimeHere is another installment in our  series on “Confusing Words.”  Understanding confusing words – an important language skill – is always a work in progress, even in your first language.   I remember back to my early school days when I would keep a vocabulary notebook of difficult or confusing words. It has served me well throughout my writing career.

As a non-native speaker of the language, you need to pay attention to confusing words, particularly troublesome time expressions, to be crystal-clear to your colleagues, your boss, and especially your clients. Your image is on the line.

In my book, Write Now  –  Business Writing That Gets Results (p. 111),  I refer to such confusing words as affect  (vb. to influence) versus effect  (n. a result) and its (pronoun, belonging to) versus it’s (a contraction, it is).

Confusing Words – troublesome time expressions

Let’s look at some confusing time expressions that make a world of difference:

a.m. vs. p.m. vs. m.

These three expressions come from Latin, but since I failed Latin in high school – the only course I ever botched – I forgot what they mean.  Some business writers use capitals; I prefer lowercase versions.  The term a.m. refers to time after midnight and before noon, p.m. refers to afternoon and before midnight,  and m. refers to noon – which is better to use than m. 12 :01 a.m. refers to 1 minute after midnight and 12 :00 p.m. means midnight.

I had a power lunch at 6 a.m. (early morning)
My business partner usually takes a power nap at 4 p.m. between writing tasks (in the afternoon)
The Business English HQ team usually has weekly meetings at noon.

biannually vs. biennially

These two adverbs can make a monumental difference when you’re writing a report or a proposal.  Biannually means twice a year, whereas biennially means every two years.

Start-up businesses should review their business plan biannually, in January and in June.
It could make a big difference to your pocketbook if your adjustable mortgage rate changes biannually or biennally.

bimonthly vs. semimonthly

Strictly speaking, bimonthly means every two months, and nothing more.  But some people use it to mean  twice a month. I would avoid the expression entirely. Depending on your meaning, say every 2 months or twice a month.  On the other hand, semimonthly means twice a month.

The government sends out business tax updates bimonthly (every 2 months).
I speak to my accountant semimonthly during the tax season (twice a month).

continuous vs. continual

Continuous means unbroken or without interruption.  On the other hand, continual means over and over again.

To easily remember what continuous means, Theodore Bernstein in his book The Careful Writer : A Modern Guide to English Usage, says think of O U S for one uninterrupted sequence.

There is always continuous activity on the Business English HQ website.
We like to make continual improvements to our website.

Let us know if there are any more time expressions that you find confusing.

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