It can be easy to mistake certain English words because they sound the same or quite similar and may also have similar spellings. However using the wrong word or using the word in the wrong sense reflects poorly on one’s language skills; so you should try and avoid this.
We look at some of the most commonly confused words in English as well as their correct usage. However, please remember that this is by no means an exhaustive list.
1. Accept and Except
Accept is to agree, say yes, or to consider to be true. Except on the other hand is the act of taking exception to or excluding something.
- I accept (agree to) your offer.
- Everything is good except (other than) this.
2. Access and Excess
Access is used to show that you have reach to something whereas excess refers to the large quantity of something (more than what is required or needed).
- I don’t have access to my brother’s login details.
- Giving excess money to children may spoil them.
3. Advise and Advice
Simply put these are different parts of speech. Advise is a verb and it refers to the act of giving guidance or wise counsel. Advice is a noun and it refers to the guidance or wise counsel given. So while you may want to ask for advice about traveling to Chile, you may find that that you have a neighbor who can advise you correctly. Another example of correct usage would be:
- She offered me sound advice about online shopping.
- Could you advise me about the right way to shop online?
Keep in mind that advice is pronounced with the ‘S’ sound whereas advise is spelled with the ‘Z’ sound.
4. Affect and Effect
These two words are also different parts of speech. Effect is a noun that refers to the change or the consequence of some other action. Affect is the verb; the action that resulted in that change or consequence.
- The movie affected him deeply.
- The movie had a deep effect on him.
Keep in mind that there is a subtle but perceptible difference in the pronunciation of the two words as well.
5. Altogether and All Together
Altogether means completely or wholly and all together means all at once or all in one place. While the former is one word the latter is two words.
- I am altogether fed up of this nonsense.
- It was overwhelming for her to see us all together.
6. Ascent and Accent
Ascent is an upward movement. Accent on the other hand is the way something is pronounced or expressed orally.
- Ascent of his career should be attributed to his hard work.
- He speaks with a mild German accent.
7. Alternate and Alternative
When talking about something that comes in turn, you use alternate. But if you are referring to something that can be used or chosen in place of something else, then alternative is the word.
- Drinking water comes on alternate days in my colony (it came today, so it will not come tomorrow; next day for it to come is day after tomorrow)
- I had no other alternative (choice) than to seek his help.
8. Brake and Break
Brake is the device used to slow down the speed of a vehicle. It is also used to refer to something that hinders or slows down the progress. Break on the other hand is the opposite of make or repair.
- You should apply the brakes slowly in order to prevent skidding.
- It has a steel body that will not break easily.
9. Bought and Brought
Bought is the past tense of buy (implying that you are paying for it) whereas brought is the past tense of bring.
- I bought this pen for 20 dollars.
- I brought lunch from home.
10. Breath and Breathe
Both of them refer to the process of respiration; difference being that breath is a noun whereas breathe is a verb. You breathe in and breathe out but you hold your breath.
- Try saying this whole sentence in a single breath.
- Animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon-di-oxide.
11. Carrier and Career
These two are totally different. Carrier is something or somebody that carries whereas career refers to occupation or profession.
- This tiffin carrier keeps the food hot.
- He started his career as a clerk.
12. Complement and Compliment
Complement refers to an addition or an improvement by that addition. Compliment refers to praise or approval or admiration. These words can be easy to confuse because they are pronounced exactly alike and even the spelling differs in only one letter. It doesn’t matter when you’re speaking, but you do need to take care when writing.
- I have to compliment you on your new haircut; it looks great.
- Your new hair cut really complements your outfit.
Also note that both complement as well as complement can be used as different parts of speech; as verbs and as nouns.
13. Conform and Confirm
Conform is to comply with or to be in line with something whereas confirm is to establish the truth or validity of something.
- The goods conform to the advertised description.
- Please confirm that you have received the goods.
14. Conscious and Conscience
Conscious is being aware of something whereas conscience refers to one’s internal self, voice or sense (of right and wrong).
- He was conscious for 2 hours after the accident.
- Even a thief’s conscience tells him what he is doing is wrong.
15. Defuse and Diffuse
While defuse means to make a situation less tense or to disable (as in a bomb), diffuse means scattered or spread out over a larger area.
- She managed to defuse a tense situation by being diplomatic.
- It was a cloudy day; so, the light in the room was diffuse.
16. Desert and Dessert
Desert is a dry land (usually full of sand) with no water or vegetation. Dessert on the other hand is totally different. It refers to the fruit salad, sweet, pastry, ice cream, etc. served after the meal.
- Sahara is among the hottest deserts of the world.
- Ice cream covered with sweet is one of the popular desserts in India.
17. Device and Devise
Device is an instrument for handling a specific piece of job; whereas, devise means to come up with a plan, idea or method to do something.
- How do I use this device to pick the garbage?
- We will have to devise a plan to keep our town clean.
18. Disinterested and Uninterested
Though the prefixes ‘dis’ and ‘un’ both indicate negation, here they change the meaning of the word interested. Disinterested means impartial or unbiased, whereas uninterested means having no interest; being indifferent.
- He is a disinterested party and so will be fair in his judgment.
- She is quite uninterested in music; alas.
19. Dissent and Decent
Dissent refers to the difference in opinion or disagreement over something. Decent on the contrary is something that is morally or socially correct.
- The (political) party was weakened by internal dissent on the issue.
- She was wearing a decent dress.
20. Elicit and Illicit
Elicit is to bring forth a feeling, emotion, response, etc. Illicit is illegal or immoral.
- The meeting elicited the desired response.
- He was illicitly holding the office.
21. Eligible and Illegible
Somebody is eligible if he is qualified or worthy for something. Illegible on the other hand refers to something that is not legible or capable of being read.
- He is the most eligible bachelor in town.
- His handwriting is so illegible that he himself can’t read it.
22. Eminent and Imminent
Eminent refers to somebody who important, famous or respected. Imminent refers to something that is about to happen or occur.
- He is an eminent member of the club.
- The pickpocket ran away sensing the imminent danger.
23. Ensure and Insure
Ensure is to make certain or sure. Insure is to protect by means of an insurance coverage.
- Ensure that the consignment reaches on time.
- You can now insure your house against fire.
24. Envelop and Envelope
Envelop is to cover, enclose or wrap something completely. Envelope is the paper/plastic cover for putting a letter into.
- The city was enveloped with fog.
- Put this letter in a bigger envelope.
25. Exceed and Accede
Exceed is to be more or larger than something. Accede is to yield or agree to something.
- Sales this month has exceeded our expected target.
- Government has finally acceded to grant a separate statehood.
26. Former and Formal
Former refers to the first of the two persons or things mentioned by the speaker. Formal refers to something that is in accordance with the established custom, tradition or culture.
- World War I and World War II both happened after my dad was born but he was a little kid during the former.
- You are required to come in formal dress for the interview.
27. Hare and Hair
Hare is a rabbit like animal. Hair on the other hand is what you comb every day (that dense growth on your head).
- Hare runs faster than a dog.
- This shampoo will keep your hair strong and healthy.
28. Hear and Here
Hear is what you do with the ears (listen). Here refers to something that is near the speaker (opposite of there).
- Speak louder, I can’t hear you.
- Here is the book you asked for.
29. Its and It’s
Its is the possessive form of it (something that belongs to it). It’s is the contracted form of it is.
- The case should be decided on the basis of its merit.
- It’s difficult to predict.
30. Kin and Keen
Kin is a relative (somebody related by blood). Keen denotes eagerness or interest.
- Some of his kins live in Europe.
- He was keen to start the work at the earliest.
31. Later and Latter
Later means afterwards. Latter refers to the second one of the two (opposite of former).
- I will do it later.
- Both suggestions are good but I prefer the latter.
32. Lightening and Lightning
Lightening is the act of becoming light (less heavy, less burdensome, etc.). Lightning is the electric discharge from the cloud (accompanied by thunder and flash of light).
- Thank you for lightening my burden.
- There was heavy rainfall accompanied by lightning.
33. Lose and Loose
Lose is to no more have something that you earlier had. Loose on the other hand refers to something that is not tight.
- Yoga can help you lose weight.
- These shoes are little loose for me.
34. Persecute and Prosecute
Persecute is to cause somebody to suffer (through harassment, ill treatment, etc.). Prosecute is to initiate legal proceeding against somebody.
- This government is known to persecute the minority.
- The leader was prosecuted for waging war against the nation.
35. Personal and Personnel
Personal refers to something that concerns a particular person or his personal life. Personnel, on the other hand, refers to a group of people employed in an organization.
- Please don’t interfere in my personal matters.
- This law concerns the personnel employed in hazardous undertakings.
36. Principal and Principle
Most of us learned about this in school, but in case you’ve forgotten: a principal is the dean or headmaster/headmistress of an institution (refers to the most important) whereas principle is a fundamental rule or belief.
- It is against my principles to even bend the rules.
- My principal reprimanded me for breaking the rules.
37. Propose and Purpose
Propose is to make a proposal. Purpose is the reason for which something is done.
- After long dillydallying, he finally proposed her.
- He came here for a different purpose.
38. Quiet and Quite
Quiet refers to silence or absence of noise. Quite is used to denote a higher degree or extent of something (just like very, pretty, etc.)
- Please be quiet, don’t make noise.
- He was quite sure to pass the exams.
39. Reality and Realty
Reality is what is actual or real. Realty refers to immovable property consisting of house and land (real estate).
- Official death toll was only 100 but in reality it was much higher.
- Realty prices skyrocketed all of a sudden.
40. Sell and Sale
This doesn’t have much difference in meaning except that one is verb and the other is noun. Sell is to give something in exchange for money. It is a verb. Sale refers to an instance of selling or the amount sold.
- I want to sell my house.
- There is a discount sale going on.
41. Site and Sight
Site is the location of something (area of land where something is located or something took place). Sight is the act of seeing or something that is seen.
- This site holds historical value.
- The baby started crying at the sight of cockroach.
42. Stationary and Stationery
While stationary means something that is at a standstill (not moving), stationery means writing materials. So interchanging the ‘a’ and ‘e’ completely alters the meaning and how you would use the words in sentences.
- The bus was stationary when the accident occurred.
- I need to buy some stationery from the shop.
43. Than and Then
Than is a conjunction used to compare things. It is usually preceded by a comparative adjective. Then denotes what happened immediately after.
- He is taller than me.
- We watched movie and then had lunch.
44. Their and There
Their is a possessive pronoun used to refer something belonging to ‘them’. There is the opposite of ‘here’ and is used to refer to something that is not near the speaker. It answers the question ‘where’.
- They have accepted their mistake.
- There is a squirrel on that tree.
45. Through and Thorough
Through is used to denote something moving from one side to another of an opening, channel, etc. On the contrary, thorough means accurate and complete.
- He went through lot of hardship.
- He is thorough with the process.
46. Weak and Week
Weak refers to lacking in strength (that is not strong). Week is the period of seven days (from Sunday to Saturday).
- The prolonged illness has made him weak.
- I work 40 hours a week.
47. Were and Where
Were is the past tense of ‘are’. Where is used to ask ‘at what place’?
- Very people were present in the event.
- Where are you going?
48. Whether and Weather
Whether is used to express doubt between two alternatives or choices. Weather is the atmospheric condition (rainy, sunny, humid, etc.)
- Only the court can decide whether or not he is a thief.
- Weather forecast says, we are likely to have rainfall today.
49. Whose and Who’s
Whose means ‘of which person?’. Who’s is the contracted form of ‘who is’ or ‘who has’.
- Whose house is this?
- Who’s responsible for this?
50. Your and You’re
Even native speakers sometime make this mistake when writing. Your refers to something that pertains to you. You can correctly use it as your phone, your cat and so on. You’re on the other hand is a contraction of ‘you are’.
- I think you’re (you are) wrong.
- This is your pen.
The rule of thumb is not to use you’re or any such contraction (can’t, would’ve, don’t, etc.) in formal speech or writing. Use the expanded form you are instead.
Here are some more words that you may find confusing. We suggest you to find out their meaning and note the difference in their usage.
- Bare and Bear
- Boy and Buoy
- But and Butt
- Cash and Cache
- Cue and Queue
- Dairy and Diary
- Got and Gut
- Lay and Lie
- Leisure and Ledger
- Literal and Literate
- Man and Men
- Mate and Met
- Nice and Niece
- Of and Off
- Patient and Patent
- Peace and Piece
- Plain and Plane
- Pray and Prey
- Rain and Reign
- Shoulder and Soldier
- Sit and Seat
- Statue and Statute
- Story and Storey
- To and Too
- Woman and Women