By Judy Vorfeld
Criteria vs. Criterion
“Criteria” is plural (like “phenomena”), while “criterion” is singular, like “phenomenon.” You have one criterion or many criteria. It’s easy to be confused, since some words (e.g., “data” and “media”) are the same whether singular or plural. Examples: Angela Allen detailed the six basic criteria for accepting a client…The restaurant has one criterion for entry: every customer must wear shoes or sandals.
Continuous vs. Continual
“Continuous” refers something happening without interruption. Examples: Living near the freeway means listening to continuous road noise from dawn to dusk…I sat watching the continuous flow of water from Multnomah Falls. “Continual” suggests a close, prolonged recurrence, happening again and again (regularly). Examples: Their neighbor’s dog barks continually…The red light blinks continually when the train is nearby.
Compliment vs. Complement
“Compliment” is more commonly used. It means saying something nice about someone. Examples: Mari Bontrager complimented Bob McElwain on his latest book. Marsha Kopan complimented Claudia Slate on her technical support tips. My compliments to the chef.
“Complement,” much less common, has a number of meanings associated with matching, completing, or perfecting. Examples: My new yellow socks complement my orange shoes…His purple hair complements his green eyes…The Air Force base has a full complement of pilots.