Homonyms are words that sound alike but that two words that don’t always have the same meaning. The most often commonly confused words are provided here with examples. If you are ever in doubt which one to use, check your dictionary.
Affect is most commonly a verb, usually meaning “influence.” (An easy way to remember this is that affect starts with an “a,” as does action.) As a noun, it is a psychological term for emotion.
Effect is most common as a noun meaning “result.” Effect used as a verb means to “bring about” some kind of change.
The game affected the standings. Its effect was overwhelming. It effected a change in the affect of the winning team’s captain.
Afterward, Afterwards, Afterword
Afterward and afterwards are synonymous adverbs meaning that an event occurs later than another. An afterword is an epilogue.
Aid is a noun meaning “assistance” or a verb meaning “assist.”
An aide is a person who serves or offers assistance.
The aide will aid the victim.
It’s is a contraction, short for either “it is” or “it has.”
Its is the possessive form of “it.” This usually means that the following noun phrase belongs to “it.” It is important to recognize that “its” in the possessive form does not have an apostrophe; it is in the same category as “his.”
- It's [It is] my dog.
- What is its [possessive pronoun] name?
- The computer crashed a few minutes ago, and it’s [it has] done it again.
Lay is the action word.
Lie is the state of being or a telling someone something untruthful on purpose.
- I will lay the book on the desk.
- I plan to lie in bed most of Saturday.
- Jim will probably lie to get out of being punished for breaking the window.
To, Too, Two
To is generally used to describe a relationship between things. It is also used as an infinitive verb, as in “I love to eat.”
Matt is going to the doctor.
Too is usually used when you are describing an excess or is used when noting something is in addition.
- I usually eat too much on Thanksgiving.
- Joe cleaned the house, washed the car, and mowed the lawn, too.
Two is the word you use for the number 2.
You have two minutes left before class starts.
Then indicates time.
First we went to dinner, and then we went to the show.
Than is comparative.
I would rather see the comedy than see the horror movie.
Versus indicates opposition.
Verses is the plural of verse, as related to poetry.