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5.9: Common Spelling Problems

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    Learning Objectives

    Upon completion of this chapter, readers will be able to:

    1. Identify and correctly spell commonly misspelled words.
    2. Define and distinguish between similar-sounding words.

    Who Made Up This Language?

    For some writers, their main spelling problem is similar-sounding words, for example, principle and principal or affect and effect. These problems cannot be flagged by software spell-checking functions.

    Here is a list of these commonly confused homophones (different spelling; same or very similar pronunciation), with examples of their correct use.

    All definitions in this section are from the Merriam Webster dictionary via the Merriam Webster Dictionary mobile application.

    accept, except

    The construction form accepted the offer to build the bridge.

    Everything has been finished except for the paint job.

    Accept (verb) to receive or take (something offered): to take (something) as payment: to be able or designed to take or hold (something)
    Except (preposition) not including (someone or something): other than (something or someone)

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    advice, advise

    The construction firm ignored the engineer's advice.

    The engineer advised the firm to use single-suspension walkways.

    Advice (noun) an opinion or suggestion about what someone should do
    Advise (verb) to give an opinion or suggestion to someone about what should be done: to give advice to (someone): to recommend or suggest (something): to give information to (someone)

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    affect, effect

    The effect of the increased oil prices has been devastating on our economy.

    The increased oil prices have affected our economy drastically.

    Affect (verb) have an effect on; make a difference to
    Effect (noun) a change that results when something is done or happens: an event, condition, or state of affairs that is produced by a cause: a particular feeling or mood created by something: an image or a sound that is created in television, radio, or movies to imitate something real

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    cite, site, sight

    The consulting engineer cited a paragraph from the building code.

    At the construction site, the workers carefully erected the scaffolding.

    The collapse of the walkways was a terrible sight.

    Cite (verb) to write or say the words of (a book, author, etc.): to mention (something) especially as an example or to support an idea or opinion: law: to order (someone) to appear before a court of law
    Site (noun) the place where something (such as a building) is, was, or will be located: a place where something important has happened: a place that is used for a particular activity
    Sight (noun) the sense through which a person or animal becomes aware of light, color, etc. by using the eyes: the ability to see: the act of seeing someone or something: a position in which someone or something can be seen

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    complement, compliment

    The programmer has received many compliments on her new system.

    The colors that have been selected for the room do not complement each other.

    Complement (noun) something that completes something else or makes it better: the usual number or quantity of something that is needed or used: grammar: a word or group of words added to a sentence to make it complete
    Compliment (noun) a remark that says something good about someone or something: an action that expressed admiration or approval

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    counsel, council, consul

    She was appointed consul to the embassy in Beirut.

    There was lengthy debate on the tax proposal at city council last night.

    He counselled her to get a degree in technical communication.

    Counsel (verb) to give advice to (someone): to suggest or recommend (something)
    Council (noun) a group of people who are chosen to make rules, laws, or decisions about something: a group of people who provide advice or guidance on something
    Consul (noun) a government official whose job is to live in a foreign country and protect and help the citizens of his or her own country who are traveling, living, or doing business there: either one of two chief officials of the ancient Roman republic who were elected every year

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    its, it's

    It's time to go home; it's getting late.

    The car has lost one of its headlights.

    Its (adjective) relating to or belonging to a certain thing, animal, etc.: made or done by a certain thing, animal, etc.
    It's (contraction) it is: it has

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    lose, loose

    Your car loses power when it is out of tune.

    I have some loose change in my pocket.

    Don't let Mamie get loose!

    Lose (verb) to be unable to find (something or someone): to fail to win (a game, contest, etc.): to fail to keep or hold (something wanted or valued)
    Loose (adjective) not tightly fastened, attached, or held: not pulled or stretched tight: of clothing: not fitting close to your body: not tight

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    personal, personnel

    They plan to take out a personal loan to build the deck.

    Send your application to the personnel office.

    The CEO wants to have a personal chat with all this company's personnel.

    Personal (adjective) belonging or relating to a particular person: made or designed to be used by one person --used to describe someone whose job involved working for or helping a particular person
    Personnel (noun) the people who work for a particular company or organization: a department within a company or organization that deals with the people who work for it

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    principal, principle

    The principal component of the solar panel is the collector.

    Explain to me the principle of convection.

    Principal (adjective) most important
    Principle (noun) a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions: a basic truth or theory: an idea that forms the basis of something: a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    stationary, stationery

    Use company stationery for company business purposes only.

    The derrick may not remain stationary during the gale-force winds.

    Stationary (adjective) not moving: staying in one place or position: not changing
    Stationery (noun) materials (such as paper, pens, and ink) that are used for writing or typing: paper that is used for writing letters and that usually has matching envelopes

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    than, then

    My utility bill was higher this month than it was last month.

    The hurricane reached the Texas coast; then it plunged right into the heart of Houston.

    Than (conjunction) rather than: other than: when
    Then (adverb) at that time: at the time mentioned --used to indicate what happened or happens next --used to indicate what should be done next

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    their, there, they're

    Their calculus course is much harder than ours.

    Over there on the table is your calculus book.

    They're not taking calculus this semester.

    Their (adjective) relating to or belonging to certain people, animals, or things: made or done by certain people animals, or things: his or her: his: her: its
    There (adverb) in that place: at that location: to or into that place: at that point ina process, activity, story, etc.
    They're (contraction) they are

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    to, too, two

    Are they going to pave the street today?

    It is still too rainy to pave the street.

    Two hours ago, the sky was clear.

    To (preposition) --used to indicate the place, person, or thing that someone or something moves toward --used to indicate the place where someone participates in a particular activity --used to indicate the direction of something
    Too (adverb) in addition: more than what is wanted, needed, acceptable, possible, etc.: to a high degree or extent: very or extremely
    Two (adjective) being more than one in number: being the second

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    whose, who's

    Whose technical writing book is this?

    There is the woman whose technical report won top honors.

    Do you know who's in charge around here?

    He's a man who's not afraid of criticism.

    Whose (adjective) --used in questions to ask who owns something, has something, etc. --used to show which person or thing you are talking about --used to give more information about a person or thing that has already been mentioned
    Who's (contraction) who is

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    your, you're

    Your technical writing book is on the table.

    You're going to have review to Part 1 before writing that report.

    Your (adjective) relating to or belonging to you: made or done by you --used to refer to any person or to people in general --used in the titles or royalty, judges, etc.
    You're (contraction) you are

    Merriam-Webster Definitions

    This page titled 5.9: Common Spelling Problems is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Tiffani Reardon, Tammy Powell, Jonathan Arnett, Monique Logan, & Cassie Race.