Words are the building blocks of our language, and choosing the correct words is vital for communicating effectively. Choosing the correct word in a given situation can make the difference between getting your point across clearly and offending your audience unintentionally.

Unfortunately, English is a tricky language, filled with many confusing words and phrases. And as a result, it’s often difficult to remember which words you need to use in a particular context.

 

Commonly confused words and phrases

 

As you can probably tell from the image above, using the wrong word can sometimes have amusing (and embarrassing) results. In some situations, however, the effect of using incorrect words may be more serious. In academic or business writing, for example, the words that you choose will influence the reader’s opinion of you.

 

Incorrect word choice in an exam or assignment may cause you to lose marks, while using the wrong word in a business letter may create a bad first impression.

 

To help you choose the right words in various situations, we’ve compiled a list of commonly confused words in the English language, along with examples of how to use them correctly:

 

Accept/Except

To “accept” something means to receive or approve of it.

E.g. Jane accepted the apple gratefully.

“Except” means that something is being excluded.

E.g. She would eat any fruit except oranges.

 

Advice/Advise

“Advice” is a noun.

 E.g. John gave him advice regarding his bank loan.

“Advise” is a verb.

E.g. John advised him that it was a bad idea to take out a third bank loan.

 

Affect/Effect

To “affect” something is to make some change to it.

E.g. The power cuts affect the company’s ability to manufacture goods.

To “effect” something is to bring it about, to put it into effect.

E.g. He effected the change in schedule when he realised that production was too slow.

An “effect” is a change that occurs as a consequence of something else.

E.g. The power cuts had a negative effect on the company’s ability to manufacture goods.

 

Approve/Approve of

To “approve” something is to give consent.

E.g. The director approved the budget.

To “approve of” something is to express a favourable opinion about it.

E.g. The mother did not approve of the way her daughter was dressed for the school dance.

 

Borrow/Lend

To “borrow” something is to take it with the intention of giving it back.

E.g. He borrowed the book from his colleague.

To “lend” something is to give it to someone with the expectation that they will give it back.

E.g.  She is lending the car to him so that he can drive to work today.

 

Compliment/Complement

You “compliment” someone when you make a favourable comment about them.

E.g. He complimented her by telling her that she was a good writer.

You “complement” something (or someone) when you add something else to it that suits or fits it well.

E.g. That scarf complements her dress.

 

Continual/Continuous

If something happens frequently, it is “continual”.

E.g. The trains were continually late.

If something happens all the time without interruption, it is “continuous”.

E.g. It rained continuously for three days.

 

Its/It’s

“Its” indicates possession.

E.g. The company improved its performance by hiring new staff members.

“It’s” is a contraction of “it is”.

E.g. It’s uncertain whether the company will meet the financial targets this year.

 

Principal/Principle

A “principal” is the head of a school or college.

E.g. The principal declared that the school term would be extended by a week.

A “principal” thing is a main or most important thing.

E.g. His commitment to the task was the principal reason for his success.

A “principle” is a fundamental rule or belief.

E.g. It goes against my principles to eat meat. 

 

Stationary/Stationery

“Stationary” means not moving.

E.g. The stationary truck held up the traffic.

“Stationery” refers to writing materials.

E.g. She needed new stationery for school.

 

There/Their/They’re

“There” is a preposition that refers to a place.

E.g. He will be there in ten minutes.

“Their” is a possessive pronoun. It indicates that something belongs to them.

E.g. Due to unforeseen circumstances, their meeting was cancelled.

“They’re” is a contraction of “they are”.

E.g. They’re not going to be pleased when they find out that he lost the report.

 

To/Too/Two

“To” is a preposition, and indicates the relationship between one thing and another.

E.g. I gave the letter to him.

“Too” means “also”, “additional” or “more than what is necessary or desirable”.

E.g. He is going on holiday too. As a result, there are too few people available to work over December.

“Two” is a number.

E.g. There are only two staff members in the office.

 

Uninterested/Disinterested

“Uninterested” means not interested.

E.g. The spectator was uninterested in the outcome of the game, as he did not support either of the teams on the field.

“Disinterested” means impartial or unbiased.

E.g. The judge was disinterested in the matter.

 

Your/You’re

“Your” is a possessive pronoun.

E.g. Your assignment was due two days ago.

“You’re” is a contraction of “you are”.

E.g. You’re supposed to be at work today.

 

Look out for the next part of this series, in which we’ll be sharing tips on how to fill in your college registration form.

 

In the meantime, feel free to leave us a comment about your thoughts on the Commonly Confused Words and Phrases!