Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

Once again, we encounter a couple of words that sound exactly the same when they are said but have entirely different spellings and meanings when they are written out. As with so many of these word pairs, the confusion between phase and faze is further exacerbated by the fact that the latter is uttered far more often than it is written. This may explain why so many people write phase when they really mean to write faze.

Let’s start with a couple of core definitions. The word “phase” actually has several different meanings, depending on the context. When used as a noun, it most commonly refers to a distinct period of time. If a child is acting strangely, someone might say that it’s “just a phase.”

In this way, “phase” can sometimes be used interchangeably with similar terms like period, chapter or stage. You might recall when I wrote about the five phases of using Twitter; the title to that post could have just as easily referred to the different stages of using Twitter, like how we sometimes talk about the five stages of grief and loss (Kubler-Ross Model). The word “phase” is also used in chemistry and physics to describe certain phenomena. This isn’t a science post, so I won’t go into detail there.

“Phase” can also be used as a verb, meaning to do something in a series of gradual steps or stages. We’ve talked about phasing out the penny, for example. The definitions of “phase” as a verb and as a noun are inherently very related.

On the other hand, “faze” has nothing to do with periods of time or distinct stages of development. Instead, “faze” is a transitive verb meaning to disturb, unnerve or unsettle. Someone is “thrown off their game” if they are “fazed” by something. I can’t say for certain, but I’ve found that “faze” is more often used in the negative:

J. K. Rowling was unfazed by rejection and continued to push her Harry Potter books.

If something “fazes” you, then it bothers you in such a way to disturb your concentration and determination.

Learning English as a second language can be incredibly daunting and even native English speakers struggle with their spelling and grammar. Don’t let the pressure faze you. With more practice reading and writing, you’ll learn that it’s all just a phase.