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11.4: Commonly Confused Words

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    Just as a mason uses bricks to build sturdy homes, writers use words to build successful documents. Consider the construction of a building. Builders need to use tough, reliable materials to build a solid and structurally sound skyscraper. From the foundation to the roof and every floor in between, every part is necessary. And builders must use the right part for the job. If they try to use nuts and bolts where nails or screws are needed to hold together a building, the building may fall apart during the first earthquake. Just as builders need to use the right hardware, writers need to use strong, meaningful words from the first sentence to the last and in every sentence in between.

    You already know many words that you use everyday as part of your writing and speaking vocabulary. You probably also know that certain words fit better in certain situations. Letters, e-mails, and even quickly jotted grocery lists require the proper selection of vocabulary. Imagine you are writing a grocery list to purchase the ingredients for a recipe but accidentally write down cilantro when the recipe calls for parsley. Even though cilantro and parsley look remarkably alike, each produces a very different effect in food. This seemingly small error could radically alter the flavor of your dish!

    Having a solid everyday vocabulary will help you while writing, but learning new words and avoiding common word errors will make a real impression on your readers. Experienced writers know that deliberate, careful word selection and usage can lead to more polished, more meaningful work. This chapter covers word choice that will improve your writing.

    Vocabulary and the Reading-Writing Connection

    Adults gain most of their vocabulary simply by reading. The best way to improve your vocabulary is to read a wide variety of texts at the reading level you are at or slightly above. This will expose you to a wider range of words than you might be exposed to if you read the same sort of texts all the time. And such reading needn't just be academic in nature. Reading magazines about various hobbies, and with a variety of focuses (business, economics, fashion) will expose you to a wider vocabulary.

    Some people complain that while they read a variety of different kinds of texts, they just can't retain the new words they meet. XXXXX

    Commonly Confused Words

    Some words in English cause trouble for speakers and writers because these words share a similar pronunciation, meaning, or spelling with another word. These words are called commonly confused words. For example, read aloud the following sentences containing the commonly confused words new and knew.

    I liked her new sweater.

    I knew she would wear that sweater today.

    These words may sound alike when spoken, but they carry entirely different usages and meanings. New is an adjective that describes the sweater, and knew is the past tense of the verb to know. To read more about adjectives, verbs, and other parts of speech see Chapter 12.

    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Commonly Misused & Confused Words -- Part 1. Authored by: Vocabulary TV. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

    Recognizing Commonly Confused Words

    New and knew are just two of the words that can be confusing because of their similarities. Familiarize yourself with the following list of commonly confused words. Recognizing these words in your own writing and in other pieces of writing can help you choose the correct word.

    Commonly Confused Words

    A, An, And

    • A (article). Used before a word that begins with a consonant

      a key, a mouse, a screen

    • An (article). Used before a word that begins with a vowel sound

      an airplane, an ocean, an igloo

    • And (conjunction). Connects two or more words, phrases, or clauses together.

      peanut butter and jelly, pen and pencil, jump and shout

    Accept, Except

    • Accept (verb). Means to take or agree to something offered.

      They accepted our proposal for the conference.

    • Except (conjunction). Means only or but.

      We could fly there except the tickets cost too much.

    Affect, Effect

    • Affect (verb). Means to create a change

      Hurricane winds affect the amount of rainfall.

    • Effect (noun). Means an outcome or result

      The heavy rains will have an effect on the crop growth.

    Are, Our

    • My cousins are all tall and blonde.
    • Are (linking verb). Use to create the right verb tense

    We are thinking about going to the movies tonight.

    • We will bring our cameras to take pictures.

    By, Buy

    • By (preposition). Means next to

      My glasses are by the bed.

    • Buy (verb). Means to purchase

      I will buy new glasses after the doctor’s appointment.

    Capital, Capitol

    • Capital (adjective). Means upper case or excellent

    That is a capital idea!

    Proper nouns begin with capital letters.

    • Capitol (noun). The place where government is headquartered.

    Sacramento is the capitol of California.

    Its, It’s

    • Its (pronoun). A form of it that shows possession

      The butterfly flapped its wings.

    • It’s the most beautiful butterfly I have ever seen.

    Know, No

    • Know (verb). Means to understand or possess knowledge

      I know the male peacock sports the brilliant feathers.

    • No. Used to make a negative

      I have no time to visit the zoo this weekend.

    Lessen, Lesson

    • Lessen (verb). Means to reduce

    I will lessen the amount I spend on entertainment this month.

    • Lesson (noun). Something that one is taught

    The teacher taught the lesson about phonics to the kindergarteners.

    Loose, Lose

    • Loose (adjective). Describes something that is not tight or is detached

      Without a belt, her pants are loose on her waist.

    • Lose (verb). Means to forget, to give up, or to fail to earn something

      She will lose even more weight after finishing the marathon training.

    Of, Have

    • I studied maps of the city to know where to rent a new apartment.
    • Have (verb). Means to possess something

      I have many friends to help me move.

    • Have (linking verb). Used to connect verbs

      I should have helped her with that heavy box.

    Patience, Patients

    • Patience (noun). To wait without complaining

    The driver showed patience while following the slow truck in front of him.

    • Patients (plural noun). More than one person at the doctor's office or in the hospital.

    The patients did not have to wait to see the doctor.

    Principal, Principle

    • Principal (noun or adjective). The highest level position or the most important something.

    The principal component of a cup of tea is water.

    The principal of the high school hired a new vice principal.

    • Principle (noun). A philosophical point or fundamental truth

    She argued about the ethical principle.

    Quite, Quiet, Quit

    • My work will require quite a lot of concentration.
    • Quiet (adjective). Means not loud

      I need a quiet room to complete the assignments.

    • Quit (verb). Means to stop or to end

      I will quit when I am hungry for dinner.

    Right, Write

    • Right (adjective). Means proper or correct

      When bowling, she practices the right form.

    • Right (adjective). Also means the opposite of left

      The ball curved to the right and hit the last pin.

    • Write (verb). Means to communicate on paper

      After the team members bowl, I will write down their scores.

    Sea, See

    • Sea (noun). A body of water slightly smaller than an ocean; a portion of an ocean that is partly surrounded by land

    They set sail from the Adriatic Sea.

    • See (verb). To use the sense of the eyes

    I see all the flowers in the garden!

    Set, Sit

    • Set (verb). Means to put an item down

      She set the mug on the saucer.

    • Set (noun). Means a group of similar objects

      All the mugs and saucers belonged in a set.

    • Sit (verb). Means to lower oneself down on a chair or another place

      I’ll sit on the sofa while he brews the tea.

    Suppose, Supposed

    • Suppose (verb). Means to think or to consider

      I suppose I will bake the bread, because no one else has the recipe.

    • Suppose (verb). Means to suggest

      Suppose we all split the cost of the dinner.

    • Supposed (verb). The past tense form of the verb suppose, meaning required or allowed

      She was supposed to create the menu.

    Than, Then

    • Than (conjunction). Used to connect two or more items when comparing

      Registered nurses require less schooling than doctors.

    • Then (adverb). Means next or at a specific time

      Doctors first complete medical school and then obtain a residency.

    Their, They’re, There

    • Their (pronoun). A form of they that shows possession

      The dog walker feeds their dogs everyday at two o’clock.

    • They’re the sweetest dogs in the neighborhood.
    • There (adverb). Indicates a particular place

      The dogs’ bowls are over there, next to the pantry.

    • There (pronoun). Indicates the presence of something

      There are more treats if the dogs behave.

    Though, Tho

    • Tho (not a word). This is shorthand but is not really a word.
    • Though (subordinating conjuntion). Joins a less important idea to a more important idea

    Though many people may disagree, I get excited before finals week.

    Threw, Through

    Till, Until

    • Till (verb). Means to prepare soil for planting

    The farmer tilled the soil before planting lettuce seed.

    • Until (subordinating conjunction). Joins a clause that talks about something that happens before a certain time.

    We can't go on vacation until we have turned in our work.

    To, Two, Too

    • To (preposition). Indicates movement

      Let’s go to the circus.

    • To A word that completes an infinitive verb

      to play, to ride, to watch.

    • Two is the number after one. It describes how many.

      Two clowns squirted the elephants with water.

    • The tents were too loud, and we left.

    Use, Used

    • Use (verb). Means to apply for some purpose

      We use a weed whacker to trim the hedges.

    • He used the lawnmower last night before it rained.
    • Used to. Indicates something done in the past but not in the present

      He used to hire a team to landscape, but now he landscapes alone.

    Vain, Vein

    • Vain (adjective, noun compliment). Conceited, stuck on one's self.

    The vain people couldn't stop admiring themselves in the mirror.

    • Vein (noun). A cavity in the body through which blood flows that is smaller than an artery by larger than a capillary.

    The nurse had to find a vein in my arm in order to draw some blood.

    • Vein (noun). A metaphoric usage meaning "along those lines."

    I will continue in that vein when I take over the acting role.

    Who’s, Whose

    • Who’s the new student? Who’s met him?
    • Whose (pronoun). A form of who that shows possession

      Whose schedule allows them to take the new student on a campus tour?

    Your, You’re

    • Your (pronoun). A form of you that shows possession

      Your book bag is unzipped.

    • You’re the girl with the unzipped book bag.

    Tip: If you know you tend to confuse certain words, search for those words (the way you normally spell them) using the "find" feature in your word processing program. Then check to see if you have used and spelled that word correctly in the context you have written.

    The English language contains so many words; no one can say for certain how many words exist. In fact, many words in English are borrowed from other languages. Many words have multiple meanings and forms, further expanding the immeasurable number of English words. Although the list of commonly confused words serves as a helpful guide, even these words may have more meanings than shown here. When in doubt, consult an expert: the dictionary!

    Exercise 1

    Complete the following sentences by selecting the correct word.

    1. My little cousin turns ________(to, too, two) years old tomorrow.
    2. The next-door neighbor’s dog is ________(quite, quiet, quit) loud. He barks constantly throughout the night.
    3. ________(Your, You’re) mother called this morning to talk about the party.
    4. I would rather eat a slice of chocolate cake ________(than, then) eat a chocolate muffin.
    5. Before the meeting, he drank a cup of coffee and ________(than, then) brushed his teeth.
    6. Do you have any ________(loose, lose) change to pay the parking meter?
    7. Father must ________(have, of) left his briefcase at the office.
    8. Before playing ice hockey, I was ________(suppose, supposed) to read the contract, but I only skimmed it and signed my name quickly, which may ________(affect, effect) my understanding of the rules.
    9. Tonight she will ________(set, sit) down and ________(right, write) a cover letter to accompany her résumé and job application.
    10. It must be fall, because the leaves ________(are, our) changing, and ________(it’s, its) getting darker earlier.

    Exercise 2

    Complete the following sentences by filling in the blank line with the correct homynym or frequently misspelled words.

    1. Kevin asked me a serious question and ____________ (than/then) interrupted me when I attempted to answer.

    2. A hot compress will _________________ (lessen, lesson) the pain of muscle cramps.

    3. Ashley was not a graceful _________________ (looser, loser) because she knocked her chair over and stormed off the basketball court.

    4. (Accept, Except) _____________ for A. J., we all had our tickets to the play.

    5. I am ______________ (threw, through) with this magazine, so you can read it if you like.

    6. I don't care ____________ (who's, whose) coming to the party and _________________ (who's, whose) not.

    7. Crystal could ___________ (sea, see) the soaring hawk through her binoculars.

    8. The ____________________ (principal, principle) gave a long-winded speech about peer pressure.

    9. Dr. Fox nearly lost her ________________________(patience, patients) with one of her __________________ (patience, patients).

    When writing, you need to choose the correct word according to its spelling and meaning in the context. Not only does selecting the correct word improve your vocabulary and your writing, but it also makes a good impression on your readers. It also helps reduce confusion and improve clarity. The following strategies can help you avoid misusing confusing words.

    1. Use a dictionary. Keep a dictionary at your desk while you write. Look up words when you are uncertain of their meanings or spellings. Do not rely on spell check for commonly confused words. These are all words, and because word processing programs don't really understand meaning, they won't catch words that are correctly spelled but are used incorrectly.
    2. Keep a list of words you commonly confuse. Be aware of the words that often confuse you. When you notice a pattern of confusing words, keep a list nearby, and consult the list as you write. Check the list again before you submit an assignment to your instructor.
    3. Study the list of commonly confused words. You may not yet know which words confuse you, but before you sit down to write, study the words on the list. Prepare your mind for working with words by reviewing the commonly confused words identified in this chapter.

    Writing at Work \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    All employers value effective communication. From an application to an interview to the first month on the job, employers pay attention to your vocabulary. You do not need a large vocabulary to succeed, but you do need to be able to express yourself clearly and avoid commonly misused words.

    When giving an important presentation on the effect of inflation on profit margins, you must know the difference between effect and affect and choose the correct word. When writing an e-mail to confirm deliveries, you must know if the shipment will arrive in todays, too days, or two days. Confusion may arise if you choose the wrong word.

    Consistently using the proper words will improve your communication and make a positive impression on your manager and colleagues.

    Exercise 3

    The following paragraph contains eleven errors. Find each misused word and correct it by adding or changing a word to the proper word.

    The original United States Declaration of Independence sets in a case at the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom as part of the National Archives in Washington, DC. Since 1952, over one million visitors each year of passed through the Rotunda too snap a photograph to capture they’re experience. Although signs state, “No Flash Photography,” forgetful tourists leave the flash on, an a bright light flickers for just a millisecond. This millisecond of light may not seem like enough to effect the precious document, but supposed how much light could be generated when all those milliseconds are added up. According to the National Archives administrators, its enough to significantly damage the historic document. So, now, the signs display quit a different message: “No Photography.” Visitors continue to travel to see the Declaration that began are country, but know longer can personal pictures serve as mementos. The administrators’ compromise, they say, is a visit to the gift shop for a preprinted photograph.

    Once you have found the errors, compare what you found with a classmate. If you disagree about any changes, bring up the question in class.

    Exercise 4

    Proofread the following paragraph and correct any commonly confused or misspelled words.

    Grunge, or the Seattle sound, is a type of rock music that became quiet popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It began in Seattle, Washington. Grunge musicians rejected the dramatic an expensive stage productions that were trendy at the time. There music was striped down with an emphasis on distorted electric guitars. Grunge musicians did not ware makeup or sport extravagent hairstyles like many of the day’s rock musicians and bands. Many grunge musicians would by they’re clothes from secondhand stores. The lyrics too grunge songs were also quit different compared two what was populer at the time. Grunge lyrics are charecterized by dark or socially conscience themes. Grunge music is still admired today buy music lovers of all ages.

    Writing Application

    Review the latest assignment you completed for school or for work. Does it contain any commonly confused words? Circle each example and use the circled words to begin your own checklist of commonly confused words. Continue to add to your checklist each time you complete an assignment and find a misused word.

    Contributors and Attributions

    This page titled 11.4: Commonly Confused Words is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .