40 Easily Confused Words Authors Should Know


How to correctly use commonly confused English words and avoid embarrassing blunders

Most spellcheck and grammar check programs are useful, but they are far from perfect. An author might have spelled a word correctly but used it incorrectly, or we might have used the wrong homonym. These are issues that free grammar and spelling tools are not likely to correct. Raise your hand if you’ve been guilty of mixing up words that sounded similar but had different meanings. Hand raised! Sometimes, those mistakes can even be embarrassing, right? Well, never fear! We are here to explain how to correctly use 40 of the most easily confused English words and save you from embarrassing blunders!

Accept vs. Except

accept vs. except

Advice vs. Advise

advice vs. advise

Affect vs. Effect

affect vs. effect

Among vs. Between

among vs. between

Assure vs. Ensure vs. Insure

Assure vs. ensure vs. insure

Bare vs. Bear

bare vs. bear

Climatic vs. Climactic

climatic vs. climactic

Complement vs. Compliment

Complement vs. compliment

Disinterested vs. Uninterested

Disinterested vs. uninterested

Economic vs. Economical

Economic vs. economical

Elicit vs. Illicit

elicit vs. illicit

Farther vs. Further

farther vs. further

Historic vs. Historical

historic vs. historical

Imply vs. Infer

imply vs. infer

It’s vs. Its

it's vs. its

Lay vs. Lie

lay vs. lie

Principal vs. Principle

principal vs. principle

Stationary vs. Stationery

stationary vs. stationery

Than vs. Then

than vs. then

Their vs. There vs. They’re

They're vs. their vs. there


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Accept vs. Except
Accept (v): to consent or receive
Except (v): to not include; (prep.) not include
When we truly accept ourselves, we may even love our silly side with no exceptions!
Advise vs. Advice
Advise (v): to recommend or suggest an action plan
Advice (n): recommendation or suggestion about a future action
The greatest advice I received was from a teacher who advised me to always consider my options before deciding.
Affect vs. Effect
Affect (v): to impact
Effect (n): a result; Effect (v): to bring about a certain result
When we litter, we affect our planet’s health, causing an unwanted effect: pollution and global warming.
Among vs. Between
Among (prep): in the company of two or more (emphasis on distributive nature of something)
Between (prep): shared by two or more people or things (emphasis on one-to-one/ individual relationship)
Among the many flowers of the meadow, a pair of daisies shared the sun’s warmth between them.
Assure vs. Ensure vs. Insure
Assure (v): to tell someone something positive to erase doubt
Ensure (v): to make sure that something will happen;
Insure (v): to arrange for compensation in the event damage occurs
Can you assure me that the store was well insured? Yes, and I will ensure that our company will process your claim.
Bare vs. Bear
Bare (v): to uncover or expose
Bear (v): to carry or support
A bear might bare its teeth or simply bear its young while climbing up a tree.
Climatic vs. Climactic
Climatic (adj): relating to the climate or weather
Climactic (adj): exciting or acting as the climax of a series of events
Monkeys escaping a climatic event like a hurricane approaching a rainforest might lead be a climactic situation!
Complement vs. Compliment
Complement (v): to complete and make perfect or complete; (n) the thing that makes something else complete or perfect
Compliment (n): a phrase of praise or admiration (v): to praise someone or say a statement of admiration
Saying, “You complement me,” might earn you a hearty thanks for the compliment.
Disinterested vs. Uninterested
Disinterested (adj): neutral; impartial; not influenced to take sides
Uninterested (adj): to have no interest in something
It would be good to have a judge who was disinterested, but an uninterested judge wouldn’t even listen to the facts!
Economic vs. Economical
Economic (adj): relating to economics
Economical (adj): a good bargain; good value compared to the money spent
Using economical products like energy-saving light bulbs will help ensure our company’s economic stability.
Elicit vs. Illicit
Elicit (v): to draw out a response from someone
Illicit (adj): illegal, forbidden
Trying to elicit private information like social security numbers by phone is an illicit activity!
Farther vs. Further
Farther (adv): at a greater distance (physically); (adj) more distant
Further (adv) at a greater length (more common for non-physical distance); (adj) additional (e.g., “no further concern”)
The farther you travel, the further your mind will expand.
Historic vs. Historical
Historic (adj): famous or potentially important in history
Historical (adj): relating to past events or history
A historic event is famous, and it could be held at a historical site.
Imply vs. Infer
Imply (v): to strongly suggest the truth or existence of something (facts imply)
Infer (v): to conclude based on evidence (people infer)
The facts imply that we’re missing something. I can only infer that we need to dig a bit deeper into the matter.
It’s vs. Its
It’s (contraction): it is
Its (pronoun): possessive form of it; belonging to it
It’s common belief that if a groundhog sees its shadow, we’ll have another six weeks of winter!
Lay vs. Lie
Lay (v): to put down; to put in position for use
Lie (v): to be in a horizontal resting position [**CAUTION: past tense is "lay"; do not confuse with present tense "lay"]
While I lay out the baby clothes, the puppy lies down to sleep.
Principal vs. Principle
and Principal (adj): main; most important; Principal (n): head of a secondary school; money invested
Principle (n): the basic truth or foundation upon which other ideas are based
The principal reason for supporting your strategy is because of its underlying principle of teamwork.
Stationary vs. Stationery
Stationary (adj): not moving
Stationery (n): writing paper
My poor cat remained stationary while I wrote a letter on my new stationery.
Than vs. Then
Than (conjunction/preposition): an element used for comparison
Then (adv): at that time
Travel is faster now than it was back then.
Their (pronoun): possessive form of they
There (adv): in or at that place
They’re (contraction): they are
They’re happy that their masters haven’t found them hiding over there…

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