A List of Commonly Confused Words

A List of Commonly Confused Words
December 4, 2019 Rachel Tirabassi

By University of Richmond Writing Center

Words that sound alike or nearly alike but have different meanings often cause writers trouble. Here are a few of the most common pairs with correct definitions and examples:

  1. ACCEPT-to receive
    ex: He accepts defeat well.
    EXCEPT-to take or leave out
    ex: Please take all the books off the shelf except for the red one.
  2. AFFECT-to influence
    ex: Lack of sleep affects the quality of your work.
    EFFECT-n., result, v., to accomplish
    ex: The subtle effect of the lighting made the room look ominous.
    ex: Can the university effect such a change without disrupting classes?
  3. A LOT (two words)-many.
    ALOT (one word)-Not the correct form.
  4. ALLUSION-an indirect reference
    ex: The professor made an allusion to Virginia Woolf’s work.
    ILLUSION-a false perception of reality
    ex: They saw a mirage: that is a type of illusion one sees in the desert.
  5. ALL READY-prepared
    ex: Dinner was all ready when the guests arrived.
    ALREADY-by this time
    ex: The turkey was already burned when the guests arrived.
  6. ALTOGETHER-entirely
    ex: Altogether, I thought that the student’s presentation was well planned.
    ALL TOGETHER-gathered, with everything in one place
    ex: We were all together at the family reunion last spring.
  7. APART-to be separated
    ex: The chain-link fence kept the angry dogs apart. OR My old car fell apart before we reached California.
    A PART-to be joined with
    ex: The new course was a part of the new field of study at the university. OR A part of this plan involves getting started at dawn.
  8. ASCENT– climb
    ex: The plane’s ascent made my ears pop.
    ex: The martian assented to undergo experiments.
  9. BREATH-noun, air inhaled or exhaled
    ex: You could see his breath in the cold air.
    BREATHE-verb, to inhale or exhale
    ex: If you don’t breathe, then you are dead.
  10. CAPITAL-seat of government. Also financial resources.
    ex: The capital of Virginia is Richmond.
    ex: The firm had enough capital to build the new plant.
    CAPITOL-the actual building in which the legislative body meets
    ex: The governor announced his resignation in a speech given at the capitol today.
  11. CITE-to quote or document
    ex: I cited ten quotes from the same author in my paper.
    ex: The sight of the American flag arouses different emotions in different parts of the world.
    SITE-position or place
    ex: The new office building was built on the site of a cemetery.
  12. COMPLEMENT-noun, something that completes; verb, to complete
    ex: A nice dry white wine complements a seafood entree.
    COMPLIMENT-noun, praise; verb, to praise
    ex: The professor complimented Betty on her proper use of a comma.
  13. CONSCIENCE-sense of right and wrong
    ex: The student’s conscience kept him from cheating on the exam.
    ex: I was conscious when the burglar entered the house.
  14. COUNCIL-a group that consults or advises
    ex: The men and women on the council voted in favor of an outdoor concert in their town.
    COUNSEL-to advise
    ex: The parole officer counseled the convict before he was released.
  15. ELICIT-to draw or bring out
    ex: The teacher elicited the correct response from the student.
    ex: The Columbian drug lord was arrested for his illicit activities.
  16. EMINENT-famous, respected
    ex: The eminent podiatrist won the Physician of the Year award.
    IMMANENT-inherent or intrinsic
    ex: The meaning of the poem was immanent, and not easily recognized.
    IMMINENT-ready to take place
    ex: A fight between my sister and me is imminent from the moment I enter my house.
  17. ITS-of or belonging to it
    ex: The baby will scream as soon as its mother walks out of the room.
    IT’S-contraction for it is
    ex: It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
  18. LEAD-noun, a type of metal
    ex: Is that pipe made of lead?
    LED-verb, past tense of the verb “to lead”
    ex: She led the campers on an over-night hike.
  19. LIE-to lie down (a person or animal. hint: people can tell lies)
    ex: I have a headache, so I’m going to lie down for a while.
    (also lying, lay, has/have lain–The dog has lain in the shade all day; yesterday, the dog lay there for twelve hours).
    LAY-to lay an object down.
    ex: “Lay down that shotgun, Pappy!” The sheriff demanded of the crazed moonshiner.
    ex: The town lay at the foot of the mountain.
    (also laying, laid, has/have laid–At that point, Pappy laid the shotgun on the ground).
  20. LOSE-verb, to misplace or not win
    ex: Mom glared at Mikey. “If you lose that new lunchbox, don’t even think of coming home!”
    LOOSE-adjective, to not be tight; verb (rarely used)–to release
    ex: The burglar’s pants were so loose that he was sure to lose the race with the cop chasing him.
    ex: While awaiting trial, he was never set loose from jail because no one would post his bail.
  21. NOVEL-noun, a book that is a work of fiction. Do not use “novel” for nonfiction; use “book” or “work.”
    ex: Mark Twain wrote his novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when he was already well known, but before he published many other works of fiction and nonfiction.
  22. PASSED-verb, past tense of “to pass,” to have moved
    ex: The tornado passed through the city quickly, but it caused great damage.
    PAST-belonging to a former time or place
    ex: Who was the past president of Microsquish Computers?
    ex: Go past the fire station and turn right.
  23. PRECEDE-to come before
    ex: Pre-writing precedes the rough draft of good papers.
    PROCEED-to go forward
    ex: He proceeded to pass back the failing grades on the exam/
    Thanks to Shelley for showing us we had “proceed” misspelled as “procede” in one spot!
  24. PRINCIPAL-adjective, most important; noun, a person who has authority
    ex: The principal ingredient in chocolate chip cookies is chocolate chips.
    ex: The principal of the school does the announcements each morning.
    PRINCIPLE-a general or fundamental truth
    ex: The study was based on the principle of gravity.
  25. QUOTE-verb, to cite
    ex: I would like to quote Dickens in my next paper.
    QUOTATION-noun, the act of citing
    ex: The book of famous quotations inspired us all.
  26. RELUCTANT-to hesitate or feel unwilling
    ex: We became reluctant to drive further and eventually turned back when the road became icy.
    RETICENT-to be reluctant to speak; to be reserved in manner. Note that The American Heritage Dictionary lists “reluctant” as a synonym for “reticent,” as the third definition. For nuance and variety, we recommend “reticent” for reluctance when speaking or showing emotion (after all, even extroverts can become reluctant).
    ex: They called him reticent, because he rarely spoke. But he listened carefully and only spoke when he had something important to say.
  27. STATIONARY-standing still
    ex: The accident was my fault because I ran into a stationary object.
    STATIONERY-writing paper
    ex: My mother bought me stationery that was on recycled paper.
  28. SUPPOSED TO-correct form for “to be obligated to” or “presumed to” NOT “suppose to”
    SUPPOSE-to guess or make a conjecture
    ex: Do you suppose we will get to the airport on time? When is our plane supposed to arrive? We are supposed to check our bags before we board, but I suppose we could do that at the curb and save time.
  29. THAN-use with comparisons
    ex: I would rather go out to eat than eat at the dining hall.
    THEN-at that time, or next
    ex: I studied for my exam for seven hours, and then I went to bed.
  30. THEIR-possessive form of they
    ex: Their house is at the end of the block.
    THERE-indicates location (hint: think of “here and there”)
    ex: There goes my chance of winning the lottery!
    THEY’RE-contraction for “they are”
    ex: They’re in Europe for the summer–again!
  31. THROUGH-by means of; finished; into or out of
    ex: He plowed right through the other team’s defensive line.
    THREW-past tense of throw
    ex: She threw away his love letters.
    THOROUGH-careful or complete
    ex: John thoroughly cleaned his room; there was not even a speck of dust when he finished.
    THOUGH-however; nevertheless
    ex: He’s really a sweetheart though he looks tough on the outside.
    THRU-abbreviated slang for through; not appropriate in standard writing
    ex: We’re thru for the day!
  32. TO-toward
    ex: I went to the University of Richmond.
    TOO-also, or excessively
    ex: He drank too many screwdrivers and was unable to drive home.
    TWO-a number
    ex: Only two students did not turn in the assignment.
  33. WHO-pronoun, referring to a person or persons
    ex: Jane wondered how Jack, who is so smart, could be having difficulties in Calculus.
    WHICH-pronoun, replacing a singular or plural thing(s);not used to refer to persons
    ex: Which section of history did you get into?
    THAT-used to refer to things or a group or class of people
    ex: I lost the book that I bought last week.
  34. WHO-used as a subject or as a subject complement (see above)
    ex: John is the man who can get the job done.
    WHOM-used as an object
    ex: Whom did Sarah choose as her replacement?