Commonly Confused Words

In standard English, there are many words that are often confused because of similar spellings or pronunciation. Here’s a list to help you with editing. Each time you see any of these words in your writing, check to see if you used the right one.

accept / except

  • accept v. to receive; to approve of
    • example: I will accept late work if you are absent due to illness.
  • except prep. other than; but
    • example: Everyone went to the game except Jordan because she wasn’t feeling well.

advice / advise

  • advice n. a recommendation
    • example: Brittney was known for giving out good advice about relationships.
  • advise v. to give advice
    • example: A career counselor can advise you on which classes to take.

affect / effect

  • affect v. to influence
    • example: The gloomy weather affected Zac’s mood.
  • effect n. result; consequence
    • example: Giving rewards for behavior had no effect on those who already did what was expected.

all ready / already

  • all ready adj. all prepared
    • example: We finished packing, so we we are all ready to leave.
  • already adv. previously
    • example: Steven stayed with Katie even though he had already eaten lunch.

all right

(“alright” is not standard English)

  • all right adj. satisfactory; adv. satisfactorily
    • examples:
      • Luckily, Ronald was still all right after falling off his skateboard.
      • Tony did all right on his math test.

altar / alter

  • altar n. a table for a religious ceremony
    • example: Albert and Ashley were married in front of a beautiful altar.
  • alter v. to change
    • example: Ben’s pants were too long so he had them altered.

all together / altogether

  • all together adj. in the same place; adv. at the same time
    • examples:
      • Jacob didn’t know which part his brother had taken until he put the model all together.
      • Usually Alex, Dustin, and Nathan tap on their desks at different times, but when they wanted to vex the teacher they would tap all together.
  • altogether adv. entirely; completely
    • example: Erin was altogether relieved to find out that the test wasn’t today.

brake / break

  • brake n. a device to stop a machine
    • example: Brad used the brake on his car to slow down before reaching the stop sign.
  • break v. to fracture; to shatter
    • example: Desiree hated it when her pencil lead would break.

capital / capitol

  • capital n. a city
    • example: Sacramento is the capital of California.
  • capitol n. building
    • example: We took a field trip to visit the capitol in Austin.

choose / chose

  • choose v. to select
    • note: rhymes with “ooze”
    • example: Will you choose the cake or the pie for dessert?
  • chose v. selected (past tense of choose)
    • note: rhymes with “owes”
    • example: Byron chose to wear the green shirt instead of the blue one.

clothes / cloths

  • clothes n. what you wear (shirts, shorts, etc.)
    • example: In the morning, Matthew put on his clothes and went to eat breakfast.
  • cloths n. pieces of fabric
    • example: In the garage Shelby uses old cloths to wipe grease off her hands.

coarse / course

  • coarse adj. rough; crude
    • examples:
      • The surface of sandpaper is coarse, but silk is smooth.
      • Coarse language is not allowed in the hallways.
  • course n. path; route; unit of study
    • examples:
      • The navigator plotted a course to safely get through the shallow water.
      • Amy’s favorite course is always social studies.

complement / compliment

  • complement n. something that completes; v. to complete or make perfect
    • example:
      • The house painter had a full complement of brushes, so he could use the right size and shape for any surface.
      • Rachel’s earrings complement her blouse because her outfit would look too plain without them.
  • compliment n. a remark that expresses praise; v. to praise
    • examples:
      • Jill gave Joe a compliment, saying his shoes looked nice.
      • The players compliment each other when they win a game.

consul / council / counsel

  • consul n. a representative from a foreign government
    • example: The president met with the German consul at the German consulate in New York.
  • council n. a group of people who meet together
    • example: The student council discussed a proposition to put up signs to name each hallway.
  • counsel n. advice; v. to give advice
    • examples:
      • Seek counsel from a doctor even if you think you know what is wrong.
      • My dad counseled me about my decision.

councilor / counselor

  • councilor n. member of a council
    • example: The councilors from the Council on Environmental Quality work on nation wide environmental problems.
  • counselor n. one who advises
    • example: Tyler met with the counselor, so he could get help deciding what classes to take.

desert / dessert

  • desert n. a dry, sandy region
    • example: The Mojave is a beautiful desert in California.
  • desert v. to abandon
    • example: An true friend would never desert you when you need her.
  • dessert n. the sweet, final course of a meal
    • example: I chose strawberry shortcake because it’s my favorite dessert.

formally / formerly

  • formally adv. with dignity; according to strict rules and procedures
    • example: Lauren and Hunter dressed formally when going to the prom.
  • formerly adv. previously; in the past
    • example: Yvette was formerly a basketball player, but now she plays volleyball.

hear / here

  • hear v. to receive sounds through the ears
    • example: Melissa could hear David whispering.
  • here adv. in this place
    • example: We are all anxious for Josh to get here with the food.

its / it’s

  • its possessive form of it. belonging to it
    • example: The lawn had a brown spot in its center.
  • it’s contraction of it is or it has
  • examples:
    • I’m opening the package because it’s [it is] finally here.
    • I was so excited because it’s [it has] been such a long time since I ordered the book.

lead / led / lead

  • lead v. to go first; to be a leader
    • Note: rhymes with “feed”
    • example: The engine leads the rest of the train cars.
  • led v. went first (past tense of lead)
    • example: When the friends got lost, Conrad led the way home.
  • lead n. a heavy metal; graphite in a pencil
    • Note: rhymes with “red”
    • examples:
      • Lead is not used as much as in the past because we now know it is a poisonous substance.
      • Is #2 pencil lead the same in wood pencils and mechanical pencils?

loose / lose

  • loose adj. not securely attached; not fitting tightly
    • note: rhymes with “moose”
    • example: The handlebars on on Cole’s bike were loose, so it was difficult to steer.
  • lose v. to suffer loss
    • note: rhymes with “ooze”
    • examples:
      • Mariah did not want to lose the competition, so she tried her hardest.

passed / past

  • passed v. went by (past tense of pass)
    • example:
      • Aaron greeted Lexi as he passed her in the hallway.
  • past n. that which has gone by; prep. beyond; adj. ended
    • examples:
      • The dodo bird became extinct in the recent past.
      • Anna drove past the beltway to get to the countryside.
      • Chris’s reputation was based on his past victories.

peace / piece

  • peace n. quiet order and security
    • example: We hope there will be lasting peace when the war is over.
  • piece n. a part of something
    • example: Cameron ate the last piece of pie.

plain / plane

  • plain adj. simple, common; n. a flat area of land
    • examples:
      • The taco was too plain, only meat and cheese, so Silvia added some hot sauce.
      • Settlers decided to farm on the plains because they didn’t have to travel over hills to sell their crops.
  • plane n. a woodworking tool; an airplane; a flat surface (math)
    • examples:
      • In tech class, Tristan used a plane to smooth out the flat parts of his CO2-powered car.
      • Sam always dreamed of piloting a plane some day.
      • The intersection of two planes results in a straight line.

principal / principle

  • principal n. the head of a school; adj. main or most important
    • examples:
      • Mr. Dale worked with the principal to encourage students to turn work in on time.
      • The principal reason students read is for enjoyment.
  • principle n. a rule of conduct; a main fact or law
    • examples:
      • Kevin’s principles kept him from copying answers off of Brett’s homework.
      • One principle of science it that hypotheses should be testable.

quiet / quite

  • quiet adj. without noise; low volume; still and peaceful
    • example: Ms. Torres appreciated when the students were quiet while they worked.
  • quite adv. wholly or entirely; to a great extent
    • example: Summer in Houston is quite hot and humid.

shone / shown

  • shone v. gleamed; glowed (past tense of shine)
    • note: many people use the word shined instead
    • example: The sun shone very brightly this afternoon.
  • shown v. revealed (past participle of show)
    • example: Mr. Rogers expected Justin to do well on the test because he had shown him how to do this kind of problem already.

stationary / stationery

  • stationary adj. in a fixed position
    • example: You can’t ride stationary to the store because it is just for exercise.
  • stationery n. writing paper
    • example: Barbara bought pink Hello Kitty stationery at Target.

than / then

  • than conjunction used for comparisons
    • examples:
      • Cody wants to go to school rather than stay home.
      • Ben likes playing video games more than Ryan.
      • A mansion is bigger than a shack.
  • then adv. at that time
    • example: We will finish the project, then we will go to the movies.

their / there / they’re

  • their possessive form of they. belonging to them
    • example: They were late because of their habit of socializing during the passing period.
  • there adv. at or in that place
    • example: Madison left her jacket over there.
    • note: can also begin a sentence
      • There is no other option.
  • they’re contraction of they are.
    • example: They’re hoping to finish soon.

threw / through

  • threw v. tossed, pitched (past tense of throw)
    • example: Abby threw the crumpled paper into the trash can.
  • through prep. across, in one side and out the other side
    • example: Lauren made it through the doorway before the bell rang, narrowly avoiding a tardy.

to / too / two

  • to prep. in the direction of; toward
    • examples:
      • David went to the office.
    • note: also part of the infinitive part of a verb (to be, to see, to hold)
      • Melinda had permission to go home.
  • too adv. also; more than enough
    • examples:
      • Mr. Heyer has lived in California, Oregon, and Texas, too.
      • It is too late for Megan to call Amanda.
  • two n. cardinal number between one and three; adj. one more than one
    • examples:
      • Sarah took two of the slices of pizza at lunch.
      • Kevin had two pens, so he was able to lend one to Chad.

waist / waste

  • waist n. the middle part of the body
    • example: Michelle had to get a change of clothes because her outfit did not cover her waist.
  • waste n. unused material, trash; v. to get rid of
    • examples:
      • Tyler took the yard waste to the compost heap.
      • It is a waste of ink to color using a highlighter.

weak / week

  • weak adj. not strong
    • example: Nicole’s broken arm was too weak to carry all her books.
  • week n. seven days
    • example: Spring break is one week long.

weather / whether

  • weather n. atmospheric conditions
    • example: Samantha loved the warm weather because it meant she could go swimming.
  • whether conj. if
    • example: Stephen had to decide whether he would give away his extra note cards.

who’s / whose

  • who’s contraction of who is or who has
    • examples:
      • Who’s [who is] giving his or her speech next?
      • Who’s [who has] eaten dinner already?
  • whose possessive form of who. belonging to whom
    • example: Arthur wondered whose paper he had found in the hallway.

your / you’re

  • your possessive form of you. belonging to you
    • example: Scott is passing back your quiz from yesterday.
  • you’re contraction of you are
    • example: Class will begin when you’re seated and quiet.