Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

The occasional typo can surely be forgiven. Heaven knows that I’ve written “the” as “teh” more times than I care to count, but these types of errors are clearly not made on purpose. They’re just a slip of the finger on the keyboard. It happens to the best of us. But when you see the same people making the same mistakes over and over again, you begin to question whether they actually know the difference. One such example is casual versus causal.

Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest parts to this problem is just how similar the two words appear. They use exactly the same six letters, the first two letters are the same, and the last two letters are the same. Only the middle two letters have swapped positions. Of course, this makes an astronomical difference, both in meaning and in pronuncation.

Casual, pronounced as three syllables (ka-zhoo-uhl), is most commonly used as an adjective to mean relaxed, without formality, unplanned, or without regularity. These meanings are all somewhat related, I suppose, and you can usually figure out what the speaker means based on context.

  • Jerry sparked up some casual conversation with Elaine.
  • It’s just a casual dinner, so there’s no need to dress up.
  • If it were not for that casual encounter, I would not be here today.
  • Jackie picked up some casual shifts at the hospital.

Related to that last usage, casual can also be used as a noun to refer to someone employed on an irregular or temporary basis. Jackie works as a casual. The hospital employs many casuals.

Causal, pronounced as two syllables (kaw-zuhl), is an adjective used to indicate that something is related to or acting as the agent to make something happen. It’s related to a cause, not in terms of advocacy for a principle or movement, but as in the cause that leads to an effect.

  • A correlation does not necessarily imply a causal relationship.
  • The possible existence of a causal link between vaccines and autism is a hotly debated topic.
  • We have yet to determine the causal agents of the zombie outbreak.

It is both a blessing and a curse that most word processors, web browsers, and other computer software automatically check for spelling errors. When we don’t see the squiggly red line, we assume everything is correct. However, since casual and causal are both spelled “correctly,” you can easily mistype one for the other.

Take a moment to double check for casual mistakes or they could cause some rather unnecessary grief.