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English Lesson 17: Correct Use of Site, Cite, and Sight

July 12th, 2008

sight-site-cite-sign-error.jpgThis group of homonyms is an issue that I have wanted to cover for several weeks. There are few things that give me that “fingernails on the chalkboard” feeling more than seeing someone spam a forum or email address by advertising their “web sight”. Now that I have worked through most of the others on my list, I hope to provide some enlightenment for people who are still misusing these words and unwittingly displaying their ignorance all over the Internet.

First of all, sight primarily refers to the ability to see or the act of seeing, that is, actually looking at something with your eyes. It is sometimes used in the more figurative sense of having a mental vision or focus. This word does not have anything to do with websites or references to academic sources. For example:

  1. After nearly a month at sea, we sighted land and looked for a place to dock our ships.
  2. The Republican Party has long ago lost sight of its purported philosophy of reducing the size of government and increasing individual liberty.

If the word is spelled as site, however, this can refer to a web site (a place on the Internet), or to a physical location where something is situated (such as a building or historical monument). For example:

  1. When considering whether or not to purchase real estate for investment purposes, it is a good idea to inspect the site first so that you can make an honest assessment of the property’s real value.
  2. Karlonia.com is a web site dedicated to increasing the personal and economic freedom of people throughout the world.

Finally, cite is a verb that means to quote or refer to another source as an authority or example. If used in a strictly legal context, it can also mean to summon before a court of law. For example:

  1. While it is easy for students to cite Wikipedia as a reference, for academic papers it is generally recommended that they use more scholarly or less controversial sources of information.
  2. It is common for attorneys to cite previously decided cases as legal precedent in the interest of gaining a favorable ruling for their clients.

Now we can look at examples of incorrect usage from other web pages:

Incorrect: This web sight will be updated regularly right up until Christmas. — message from the site owner of TravelingDogs.com/xmas

Correct: This web site will be updated regularly right up until Christmas.

Incorrect: Using information you find from other sources can make your site even more valuable, just make sure you site your sources and that your original works make up the majority of the information on your site. — Renee C. Quinn, “Making Your Website Better”, published at ipwatchdog.com

Correct: Using information you find from other sources can make your site even more valuable; just make sure you cite your sources and that your original works make up the majority of the information on your site.

Incorrect: Do carrots really improve your eye site or is that myth? — question asked by user “dwdrums” at askville.amazon.com

Correct: Do carrots really improve your eyesight or is that a myth?

Incorrect: Do you have any suggestions for what you would like to see here or on my web cite? — Daniel Mann at always-reforming.blogspot.com

Correct: Do you have any suggestions for what you would like to see here or on my web site?

Quick Summary: Sight is what you do with your eyes, cite is what you do with your sources, and site is a place where you try to make money on the Internet.


3 Responses to “English Lesson 17: Correct Use of Site, Cite, and Sight”

  1. comment number 1 by: ireland5

    Bravo as always! Like your ‘quick summary’ - hope everyone is benefiting from these posts. I’ve found myself finding more mistakes than I used to - a good habit to have.

  2. comment number 2 by: Renee C

    Thank you for “quoting” me in your article. When you are the one writing and proofing your own work, things like that get missed. We are all human. Even published books from major authors, that are proofed time and time again, have some typos.

    Your post makes us all look like idiots that do not know the difference between these three words. I assure you, I do. Your English lesson is one you would give to a bunch of middle school students, not professionals. When you write as much in a day as I do and as most bloggers do, and you have to proof your own work, simple mistakes like that WILL be missed.

    What gives me that “fingernails on the chalkboard” feeling more than anything else is when people such as yourself, are critical of others for being human and making mistakes yet are not even willing to include their real names to the criticism’s they post. I for one do not think I am perfect, it’s a shame however, that you think you are.

    -Renée

  3. comment number 3 by: Karl Erfurt

    @ Renee:

    I do not recall ever claiming that I was perfect. For the first couple of years of this blog’s history I actually did the writing and proofreading for all of the posts (this was before I discovered the wonders of outsourcing), and after 720 such posts I managed to accidentally omit a word from a sentence and somehow missed it during the proofreading phase. Fortunately one of my readers caught the mistake and pointed it out in the comment section, after which I quickly corrected it and saved myself from further embarrassment. This is one of the nice advantages of website publishing as opposed to the traditional print media — with our sites we can correct typos and grammatical errors almost instantly after they are detected, whereas mistakes in books, newspapers, and magazines cannot be “unprinted”.

    This particular post may seem to have a “middle school” vibe to it, but this is because the majority of visitors to this page (and all other pages in the English Usage category) are coming from search engines and specifically searching for information relating to these words and their proper usage. Most of these people are not professional writers, many of them are still learning English grammar in school, and many others are foreigners who do not use English as their primary language but are trying to learn it and are hoping to find some simple lessons.

    By the way, for whatever it’s worth I have included my real name in the name field for this comment, although when it comes to educational endeavors the message is probably more important than the messenger.

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