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Easily Confused Words

Affect or effect? Farther or further? When writing, it is sometimes difficult to remember the correct word.

Listed below are some commonly misused words and examples of their correct usage.

Affect vs. Effect

Affect is a verb meaning “to influence.” How did the play affect you?

Effect is a noun meaning “result.” This drug may have many side effects.

All Ready vs. Already

All ready means “completely prepared.” I was all ready for the final exam.

Already means “previously” or “before.” I already completed the final exam.

A lot

Often we see the incorrect version, “alot.” The correct usage is “a lot.” Our area received a lot of snow.

Between vs. Among

Among is used when three or more entities are involved. The money was divided among several participants.

Between is usually with two. She drove the car between the two buildings. However, between may be correctly used to describe more than two entities. There was a disagreement between the five candidates.

Bring vs. Take

Bring is a verb used when an object is being moved toward you. Please bring the book.

Take is a verb used when the object is being moved away from you. Please take the book to the library.

Conscience vs. Conscious

Conscience is a noun referring to “moral principles.” His conscience told him to return the stolen money.

Conscious is an adjective meaning “aware” or “awake.” Were you conscious of the speed limit?

Emigrate vs. Immigrate

Emigrate means to “leave one country or region to live in another.” My grandmother emigrated from Europe to avoid religious persecution.

Immigrate means “to enter another country and live there.” Many Mexicans immigrate to the United States because of better working conditions.

Everyday vs. Every Day

Everyday is an indefinite pronoun. We use our everyday dishes.

Use every day when referring to individual days. We wash our dishes every day.

Farther vs. Further

Farther usually describes distance. Nebraska is farther from Pennsylvania than I thought.

Further usually suggests a quantity or degree. I extended my presentation time further than I should have.

Fewer vs. Less

Fewer refers to items that can be counted. The census determined that fewer people live in the city.

Less refers to general amounts. For better health, people should use less salt in their diet.

Good vs. Well

Good is an adjective. She hasn’t felt good about playing since her injury last season.

Well is an adverb. She played well throughout the concert.

Imply vs. Infer

Imply means “to suggest or state indirectly.” She implied she knew all about the job description.

Infer means “to draw a conclusion.” Her boss inferred that she did not know about all of her tasks.

Its vs. It’s

These are quite possibly the most misused words in the English language. Its shows possession. Its color is yellow.

It’s is a contraction of it is. According to the weather report, it’s going to snow this afternoon.

Lead vs. Led

Lead is a noun referring to a metal. The fishing sinker was made of lead.

Led is the past tense of the verb lead. The maps led the pirates to the treasure.

Leave vs. Let

Leave means “to exit.” I will leave during intermission.

Let means “to permit.” Let me help you move the table.

Lay vs. Lie

Lay is a verb meaning “to put or place.” She lays it down, laid it down, has laid it down, is laying it down.

Lie is a verb meaning “to recline or rest on a surface. She lies down, lay down, has lain down, is lying down.

Loose vs. Lose

Loose is an adjective meaning “not securely fastened.” The button is loose on my shirt.

Lose is a verb meaning “to misplace” or “not to win.” Did you lose your keys?

OK, O.K., Okay

All three spellings are acceptable. However, in formal speech and writing, avoid these expressions.

Passed vs. Past

Passed is the past tense of the verb pass. He passed the examination with flying colors.

Past means “belonging to a former time” or “beyond a time or place.” In the past, horses were used as transportation. The restaurant is just past the next intersection.

Principal vs. Principle

Principal is a noun meaning “the head of a school or organization” or “a sum of money.” It is also an adjective meaning “most important.” The principal of our high school is Dr. Smith.

Principle is a noun meaning “a basic truth or law.” Most Americans believe in the principle of free speech.

Raise vs. Rise

Raise is a verb meaning “to move or cause to move upward.” It takes a direct object. I raised my hand in class.

Rise in a verb meaning “to go up.” The sun rises.

Set vs. Sit

Set is a verb meaning “to put” or “to place.” Its principle parts are set, set, and set. She set the book on the table.

Sit is a verb meaning “to be seated.” The cat likes to sit on the windowsill.

Shall vs. Will

The word shall is usually used in polite questions and in legalistic sentences suggesting duty or obligation. Shall I bring you an extra blanket? The applicant shall file an appeal by December 31.

In other situations, use will.

Than vs. Then

Than is a conjunction used in comparisons. That pizza is more than I can eat.

Then is an adverb denoting time. Joe took off his mask, and then we recognized him.

That vs. Which

The word which can be used to introduce both restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, although many writers use it exclusively to introduce nonrestrictive clauses; the word that can be used to introduce only restrictive clauses. Think of the difference between: The garage that my uncle built is falling down and the garage, which my uncle built, is falling down.

There, They’re, Their

There implies direction. We are driving there tomorrow.

They’re is the contraction of they are. They’re driving there tomorrow.

Their is possessive. They’re going to drive their car there tomorrow.

Toward vs. Towards

Toward and towards are usually interchangeable. However, toward is the preferred usage in American English.

Wait For vs. Wait On

Wait for means “to be in readiness for” or “await.” We are waiting for the bus to arrive.

Wait on means “to serve.” We thought the waiter would wait on us.

Were, We’re, Where

Were is the second-person past-tense of the verb be. We were going to leave at noon.

We’re is the contraction of we are. We’re leaving at noon.

Where refers to location. Where are you going at noon?

Weather vs. Whether

The noun weather refers to the state of the atmosphere. Storm clouds were building; the weather looked bad.

Whether is a conjunction referring to a choice between alternatives. We wondered whether it would rain or be sunny tomorrow.

Who, Which, That

Do not use which to refer to persons. Use who instead. Fans wondered how the football player, who was injured earlier in the game, could continue playing.

That, though generally used to refer to things, may be used to refer to a group or class of people. The group that comes up with the most correct answers will win the prize.

Who vs. Whom

Who is used for subjects and subject complements. The trophy goes to the swimmer who has the fastest time.

Whom is used for objects. You will work with the senior engineers, whom you will meet later.

Who’s vs. Whose

Who’s is a contraction of who is. Who’s ready to watch the movie?

Whose is a possessive pronoun. Whose books are these?

Would of vs. Would Have

Would of is considered nonstandard. Instead, use would have. I would have returned the book to the library on time, but I forgot.

Your vs. You’re

Your is a possessive pronoun. Is that your new car?

You’re is a contraction of you are. You’re buying a new car.

Still looking for the correct word usage?  Try the Guide to Notorious Confusables.


The information on this page was adapted from
A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker.
This information was compiled by Erin Fulton.

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