How to choose the right word – course/coarse

Is it hard to choose the right word? – of coarse!

Especially with similar sounding and similar looking words such as course and coarse!

You can even add CAUSE confusion for non-native English speakers. People from non-English speaking backgrounds often have trouble hearing the difference between words such as course and cause. Native English speakers often  take hearing the differences in sounds for granted.

This post is about how to use the correct course/coarse words.

first course

Even native English speakers who are well educated can make word mistakes that can make them look not-so-smart – even coarse and unrefined.

Imagine you are a professional and you use the wrong word. Will some of your readers judge you unkindly?

Those who know the correct words may doubt the accuracy of the rest of your work if you choose the wrong word.

Here’s an easy way to remember how to choose the correct word in the course/coarse confusion.

golf course

Most times you will use COURSE – a golf course, a photography course, in the course of events, first course (on a menu)

The “other” similar word COARSE is for when something is rough – for example COARSE FABRIC, COARSE GRASS, or even COARSE language.

I had great “teachers”  through my school and work as a journalist who helped me (and my classmates) remember what word to use. I often share their memory devices.

Just think that coARSE language might use include the word ARSE. And ARSE rhymes with GRASS!

MBE course sign


If a love of language is coursing through your veins and you’d like more tips on how to choose the right words – you can follow this blog, of course! Or you can get me in for a quick, tailored course on how to help you remember the confusing word challenges in your business.

You’d be amazed how many big businesses let mistakes slip through on their websites and in their marketing collateral.




Don’t let it happen to your business!


word nerd CU

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I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips.



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One of the most common Business English word confusion mistakes – here’s an easy way to fix it >

Can you guess: what’s one of the most common word confusion mistakes –   for ESL (English as a Second Language) business people?

To native speakers this may seem so basic – but to ESL speakers/writers this mistake is  so common.

The mistake is: confusing ADVICE and ADVISE.

Mistakes such as:

Please advice us…

Thank you for your advise .

My advise to you is…

I advice you to…

TB training group

When I help organisations improve their writing, I’ll study samples of writing and look for “areas to improve”.

When I work in Asia (and even when I help people from French and Spanish backgrounds I see so many examples of writers mixing up advice (the noun) and advise (the verb).

Both words are proper words – so spell check doesn’t pick up the error.

It’s funny. I’m often helping these super-bright business people – and using such simple childlike memory devices to help them – often the same memory devices I use when helping my kids with their homework.

Often these little memory tricks are the same ones my wonderful teachers used when teaching me. I remember these tricks so many years later!

The ESL business people – especially the the busy senior execs – tell me they appreciate these simple memory “tricks” that help them  remember how to choose the right word.

An easy way to remember:

(remember the previous post about using a word you know as a prompt/anchor to remember something more complex?)


ICE – is a noun. Therefore advICE is the noun. AdVISE is the verb.

AdviCe is the thing. AdviSe is the verb  – the act of doing – giving the adviCe.

We asked him for his adVICE.

He will adVISE us on the best options.

Another memory device is:

N (noun) comes before V (verb) in the alphabet.

C comes before S.

PractiCE  (N) comes before practiSE. (V)

These memory devices will help you with other confusing c/s words that can be nouns and verbs.

Please try it for yourself. Identify the verbs and the nouns. (with some words you can hear the difference)


Practice/Practise (in the US , writers use practiCe for both noun and verb. Even in Australia, the Practise words is disappearing from use and writers are using practice for both noun and verb)

I’m confident this advice will help. I advise you to practise using the ICE memory device – because practice makes perfect.

(Did I get these correct? – please check)


Hi, I’m Tony Biancotti and I’ve  been helping people understand English and choose the right words since I was a student in the United States in the late 1980s.


I’m an Australian and I lived in the US after I won a scholarship to study Journalism at a top Journalism School.

Even though English was my first language – many Australian expressions were inappropriate in the US!

I made lots of mistakes – but I learned from my mistakes and I developed a deep sympathy for “foreigners” having to adapt to a different culture.

I experienced life as a “foreign” student and made lots of friends with other “foreigners” who were also studying in the US.

Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, and South American students would often confide in me and ask me lots of questions about how to speak and write English correctly (and all sorts of other interesting cultural questions too!)

“You are a very friendly and helpful American!” my foreign student friends would tell me with big, beaming smiles.

word nerd

Fast forward to the present – and I am working extensively in Australia and Asia – helping “Westerners” communicate effectively with people from different Asian backgrounds AND helping people from all sorts of  ”foreign” backgrounds choose the right words for their business communication.

English can be such a confusing language – so many words look or sound similar PLUS there are so many “colloquial” and slang expressions that baffle people who have English as a Second (or Third) language.

This project was inspired by discussions with many of my friends who are media and language professionals.

Many “foreign” students study hard to write and read English – yet often have challenges in speaking the language and choosing the right words – often words that are technically synonyms but not appropriate in the context.

The goal is to create an expert (and friendly) resource where people can dare to ask any questions they have.

Please feel free to either contact me “privately” with any questions or comments or examples you would like to share or ADD your comments to any of the posts.

Twitter @tonybiancotti

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