CONFUSING WORDS AND THEIR MEANINGS

A 
 
a lot / allot

A lot is two words meaning "much": A lot of bologna was left over from the party. Allot is a
 verb meaning "distribute proportionately, to portion out": You guys need to allot a lot more
time to practice!
 
a while / awhile

A while is two words meaning "a short period of time": I will meet you in a while. These two words are never spelled together.
 
a / an / and

a is an indefinite article used before nouns beginning with a consonant: a photograph, a tree, a horse. An is to be used before nouns beginning with a vowel (sound): an apple, an hour, an elephant. And is a conjunction used between nouns in a list: A blanket and picnic basket are needed for the afternoon.
 
abdicate / abrogate

To abdicate means that a monarch resigns from office, e.g. The king abdicated in favour of his son. Abrogate means to end an official agreement or law.
 
accede / exceed

Accede means "to agree or allow": Hiram Cheaply finally acceded to accepting the presidency of the company. Exceed means "to go beyond, to surpass": The amount of alcohol in his blood exceeded the previous record.
 
accept / except

Accept means "to take willingly": Miss Deeds accepted the cup of hot tea even without a saucer. Except is a preposition meaning "excluding": Everyone was disappointed with the party except Ida Goodtime.
 
adapt / adept / adopt
Adapt means "to adjust": Minnie Miles quickly adapted to working 20 miles away from home. Adept means "skilled": Lucille is adept at speaking languages. Adopt means to "accept as your own": It was difficult to adopt only one puppy from the animal shelter.
 
adjacent / adjoining

Adjacent means nearby but adjoining means directly connected.
 
adverse / averse

Adverse means "unfavorable, hostile": Those driving in adverse winter conditions may be putting themselves at risk. Averse means "repulsed or repelled": She was immediately averse to the idea.
 
advice / advise

Advice is a noun meaning "an opinion given with the intention of helping": My mother still gives me advice even though I'm 40 years old. Advise is a verb meaning "to give counsel or advice": The meteorologist advised listeners to stay indoors because of the extremely cold temperatures.
 
affect / effect

Affect is most often used as a verb meaning "to influence and change": The president's speech affected his views of the upcoming election. The verb effect means "to cause": Batting her eyes so flirtatiously effected a strong desire in Rathbone to embrace Mirabelle.
 
afflict / inflict

Something bad afflicts someone (He was afflicted by malaria.). Someone inflicts themselves or something else on someone. (The Australians inflicted a stunning defeat on the English cricket team.)
 
aggravate / exacerbate

Aggravate means to annoy someone, probably in an on-going way not just one-off. Exacerbate means to make a situation worse.
 
aid / aide

Aid is help or assistance given: Every Christmas the community gives aid to those less fortunate. An aide is a person who helps: Frieda Gogh worked five years as a teacher's aide.
 
airs / heirs

Airs refers to snobbish and artificial behavior: Portia Radclyffe put on airs at the fine dinner party just because she had a few diamonds dangling from her neck. Heirs are people who, because they are family, will inherit an estate or title: Portia was the heir to her mother's diamonds.
 
all right / alright

All right is a phrase meaning "everything is right": Is all right here? Alright is a single word meaning "OK": All are alright here.
 
all together / altogether

All together is applied to people or things that are being treated as a whole: We always had fun when we were all together. To double check this usage, try separating the two words: We all had fun when were together. Altogether is an adverb that means "completely or totally": Using a flashlight in bed is an altogether new approach to reading at night.
 
all ways / always

All ways means "by every means or method": Dirk tried all ways to navigate the storm. Always means "forever": Sue St. Marie always responded calmly during emergency situations.
 
allude / elude

Allude means "to suggest indirectly": Leticia can't speak to her husband without alluding to his affair with Martha Snodgrass. Elude means "to dodge or escape": Serious relationships always seemed to elude him. Also beware of illude "to deceive, trick", the verb underlying illusion. It isn't used often but it is out there.
 
allusion / illusion

An allusion is a subtle reference or hint: Rita Book made an allusion to the most recent novel she read in our conversation yesterday. An illusion is a deception, mirage, or a wild idea: The teacher said she had no illusions about how much work teaching demands.
 
almost / most

Almost means "nearly all": Almost all my friends have graduated from college by now.  Most is superlative of more, meaning "the greatest or to the highest degree": Chuck is the most computer savvy guy I know, or Chuck cooked a most delicious supper.
 
aloud / allowed

Aloud
means "speaking out so that someone else can hear you": Read this paragraph aloud.
Allowed
means "having permission": His boss allowed him to take the weekend off.
 
already / all ready

Already
is an adverb that indicates an action is completed by a certain time: Herschel had already finished the whole pie by the time his guests arrived. All ready means "everyone or everything is completely prepared": The children were all ready and bundled up warmly to go caroling on the snowy evening.
 
alternately / alternatively

Alternately
means "taking turns": We paddled alternately so neither of us would get too tired. Alternatively means "as an option": Instead of going by train, we could have gone alternatively by car.
 
altar / alter

An altar is a table used in communion and other services in a church: The priest conducted the ceremony at the altar." To alter means "to change": Don't alter a thing; leave everything as it is.
 
ambiguous / ambivalent

Ambiguous is describes a phrase or act with more than one meaning, or one that is unclear: The ending of the short story is ambiguous; we don't know if he died or continue his journey.

Ambivalent
means "uncertainty and having conflicting attitudes and feelings": He was ambivalent as to which candidate to vote for.
 
amiable / amicable

Amiable
refers to a person who is friendly, good-natured, and pleasant: Susan was very amiable and liked by all. Amicable means "friendly and peaceable", and is used to describe agreements or relationships between groups or people: After years of disagreement, the two countries came to an amicable agreement.
 
among / between

Among
is used for three or more: Shirley had to choose among four universities she might attend. Between refers to only two two things: I couldn't decide between blue and green.
 
amoral / immoral

Amoral
means "having no principles at all, good or bad": Percy is totally amoral; he is either helping others or helping himself at their expense. Immoral means "bad, lacking good principles": Everything his brother does harms others whether it benefits him or not.
 
amount / number

Amount
is used with uncountable and abstract nouns: a large amount of money, amount of work, amount of happiness or amount of dirt. Number is used with countable and concrete plural expressions: a number of people, a number of attempts, a number of novels, a number of trials.
 
amused / bemused

Amused
is when something is entertaining: The children were amused by watching the kittens play. Bemused means "bewildered" or "lost in thought": George was bemused by the unexpected ending to the movie.
 
annual / annul

Annual
means "yearly": We must pay an annual tax. Annul means "to make void or invalid": They want to annul the marriage.
 
any one / anyone

Any one
means "any one person": Any one of you may go, but not all of you. Anyone means "anybody, any person at all": Anyone can chew gum and walk at the same time.
 
anyway / anywhere / nowhere

Anyway
, anywhere, and nowhere are the correct forms of these words.
 
apart / a part

Apart
is an adverb meaning "in pieces": My plan for my vacation fell apart. A part is a noun meaning "one section of": A part of my heart left when he did.
 
appraise / apprise

Appraise
means "to assess or estimate the worth of": The jeweler appraise a diamond at $5000. Apprise means "to inform or notify": the officer apprised us of our rights.
 
arcane / archaic

Arcane
refers to things known and understood by few people: Amanda Lynn teaches arcane theories of modern music at the college. Archaic refers to things very, very old and outdated: The Oxford English Dictionary contains many words that are archaic.
 
as / like

As
may be used as a conjunction that introduce dependent clauses: George talks as his father does. Informally, it may also be used as a preposition in comparative constructions like: Jean-Claude is as forgetful as me (or as I am). Like is a preposition is followed by a noun or pronoun: George looks like his mother. It may also be used as an adjective meaning "similar": George and I have like minds.
 
ascent / assent

Ascent
is an upward movement, physical or abstract: Leo's ascent to the presidency of the company came slowly. Assent means "to agree to": Greta could not begin the project unless management assented.
 
ascetic / aesthetic

An ascetic is a person who renounces all material comforts, often for religious devotion: the young man became an ascetic despite his parents' hopes that he would be a dentist. It can also be used as an adjective: Ethan Asia led an ascetic lifestyle. Aesthetic refers to the philosophy of beauty or the pleasing qualities of something: The statuette Leander created was lacking in aesthetic qualities.
 
ascribe / describe

Ascribe
means "to attribute to": She ascribed her feelings of jealousy to insecurity. Describe means "to show what something is by drawing a picture with words": Describe in detail what the man looked like.
 
aspersion, dispersion

Aspersion
is slander, a damaging remark: The campaign was filled with one aspersion after another. Dispersion is the act of scattering: The dispersion of seeds was irregular because he sowed the seeds by hand.
 
assistance / assistants

Assistance
is help or aid: the nurses gave assistance to the patients. Assistants are more than one assistant, a person who gives help: the emergency room assistants were ready to help anyone who came through the door. (See also patience and patients.)
 
assure / ensure / insure

Assure
means "to guarantee": He assured her it was a quality item. (Outside the US this word can also mean "insure".) Ensure means "to make sure by double checking": The custodian ensured the doors to the school were locked at night. Insure means "to provide insurance": It is wise to insure your house against flood, fire, or theft. (Insurance may be assurance outside the US.)
 
astronomy / astrology

Astronomy
is a science and it deals with observing stars and planets while astrology is a belief that life is influenced by the stars and planets.
 
atheist / agnostic

An atheist believes that god does not exist; an agnostic is not sure whether god exists or not.
 
auger / augur

An auger is a tool used for digging holes: If you want to ice fish, you need to first drill a hole in the ice with an auger. Augur means "to predict, forecast": Leroy's inheritance augured happiness for him in the near future.
 
ambiguous / ambivalent

Ambiguous
means that there are two or more possible meanings to a sentence (Below the garage was burning.).  Ambivalent refers to someone who is unsure about something; He was ambivalent about the proposal.
 
amiable / amicable
Amiable= friendly and easy going, generally used for people; amicable also relates to easy going relationships and describes the relationship between two people or perhaps it describes an agreement or even disagreement. (They agreed to have an amicable disagreement.)
 
amoral / immoral
Amoralmeans that a person has no morals; immoral means that someone has low or poor morals.
  
aural / oral
The word aural relates to what we hear and the word oral to what we say.
 
B
backward / backwards
If my son does poorly at school someone could regard him as backward. The word backwards simply describes the direction of movement. He tried to walk backwards.
 
bad / badly
Badis used after some verbs like am to indicate the condition of the subject: They felt bad. (Using badly here would mean that their skill at feeling is poor). Badly is used to indicate the manner in which the action of the verb is carried out: They played badly. (Badly can also mean "greatly": They needed food badly.)
 
baited / bated
Baitedusually refers to traps: Baiting deer in order to hunt them is illegal in most states. Bated is seldom used but means "reduced, abated": Jessica waited with bated breath for news of her success.
 
bale / bail
He has many bales of hay on his farm.The word bail relates to emptying a boat of water to stop it sinking. Another meaning relates to the payment that someone makes to a court so that person can stay out of prison while waiting for a case to come to court.
 
 bare / bear
Baremeans "naked": Walking in grass with bare feet is refreshing. Bear is the animal, and also means "to carry": Sherman must bear the burden of flunking math twice.
 
bazaar / bizarre
Bazaaris an exhibition, market, or fair: The Saturday morning bazaar is worth seeing even if you buy nothing. Bizarre means "weird and unworldly": Barry told us a bizarre story last night.
 
belief / believe
Beliefis a noun: He had strong beliefs. Believe is a verb: She believes she can do anything.
 
beside / besides
Besidemeans "next to": Place the dishes beside the sink. Besides is an adverb or preposition that means "also, additionally": I would enjoy going on a vacation besides working all the time.
 
better / had better
Had betteris the correct form, used when giving advice that hints at an undesirable consequence if not followed: You had better go to the doctor. Don't leave out have.
 
between / among
See among, between.
 
biannual / biennial
Biannualis twice in one year: My trip to the dentist is a biannual event. Biennial means "every two years": These flowers are biennial; they bloom every two years.
 
bimonthly / semimonthly
Bimonthlymeans "every two months": We order from the co-op bimonthly. Semimonthly means "twice a month (biweekly)": We have our house cleaned semimonthly.
 
blithe / lithe
Blithe, an adjective, means "lighthearted and carefree": A blithe mood overcomes us in the spring. Lithe is also an adjective but it means "flexible, graceful, and supple": The lithe movements of the yoga instructor impressed us all.
 
blonde / blond
Blondedescribes women: Brunettes have just as much fun as blondes (blonde women).  Blond describes men: Sean was not a natural blond. This distinction is not necessary though: blond is now generally accepted for both men and women.
 
board / bored
Boardmeans a few things. One is "a long sheet of wood": Hiram had to cut the board to make the shelves. It also means "a management committee": The board of directors met to decide the fate of the school. Lastly, it can mean "to get onto": She boarded the ship.
Boredmeans "not interested": She is bored by the dry lecture.
 
bore / boar / boor
A bore is a boring or tiresome person: Jasper is such a bore when he talks about his cats!
A boar is a male pig: Wild boars abound in this forest. A boor is an unrefined, vulgar person: What a boor Guy was to get drunk at the wedding and embarrass everyone.
 
born / borne
Bornis newly coming into life: A child was born at 12:01 New Year's day. Borne means "carried": All gossip is borne by an ill wind.
 
borrow / lend / loan
Borrowis to receive something from someone temporarily: to borrow a book and then return it.Lend is a verb that mean "to temporarily give something to someone": Henry will lend (or loan) Francine a book. Loan is a noun: a bank loan. Loan is often used in American English as a verb meaning "to lend": Loan me a book, please.
 
braise / braze
Braisemeans "to cook (usually meat) slowly in liquid": Braised meat is usually tender. To braze is to solder or create with metals such as bronze: Shirley brazed a statue of a famous Civil War leader.
 
brake / break
Brakemeans "to stop": You should brake slowly on ice. Break means "to smash": To break a mirror brings seven years of worse luck than you are having now.
 
breath / breathe
Breathis a noun meaning "the air pulled into the lungs": Take a deep breath and relax. Breathe, with an E on the end, is a verb: Just breathe deeply and calm down.
 
bridal / bridle
Bridalhas to do a bride and her wedding: June May threw her bridal bouquet to the screaming crowd of single women. A bridle is a halter or restraint, such as a horse bridle: Old Frosty didn't like the bridle over her head.
 
brunet / brunette
A brunet is an unspecific person or man with brown hair. A brunette is specifically a brown-haired female.
 
burned / burnt
When we use the verbburn in the past tense we use burned. He can't cook. He burned a chicken last week. We use burnt as an adjective to describe something: the burnt
 
by / buy / bye
Byis a preposition meaning "next to": Park the car by the house. Buy means "purchase": Grandpa buys an ice cream cone every Sunday afternoon. Byemeans "farewell or good-bye": Bye, now; I'll see you later.
 
C
 
cache / cash
A cache is a storage place for valuables or the valuables in such. Cash is available money whether cached or not.
 
cannon / canon
A cannon is a very, very large gun. A canon is an ecclesiatical code of laws or an official list of acceptable writings for a field or organization.
 
can't hardly
This expression is a nonstandard double negative (hardly is considered negative), so avoid it. It is better to say can hardly: I can hardly hear you over the noise of the party!
 
canvas / canvass
Canvas is cloth or fabric: a canvas bag to bring to the beach. Canvass means "to conduct a survey or examine thoroughly", or "to seek votes": She canvassed all the stores before she found the right dress.
 
capital / capitol
A capital is where the seat of government is: The capital of the United States is Washington DC. Capital can also mean "wealth" or "a large letter". The Capitol (usually capitalized) is the actual building in which the government and legislature meets: We will travel to the Capitol this weekend.
 
caret / carat / carrot
A caret is a proof-reader's symbol that indicates where something (letter, word, phrase) is to be inserted in a line (^). A carat (or karat) is a unit of measure of the purity of gold or the weight of a gem. A carrrot is an orange root vegetable once thought to improve vision.
 
careen / career
To careen is to swerve and tilt to one side while turning at high speed. A career is a long-term occupation to which you devote yourself.
 
censor / sensor / censure
Censor is to prohibit free expression: The principal censored all references to smoking in school publications. A sensor is something that interprets stimulation: The lights are turned on by a movement sensor. Censure is rebuke, harsh criticism: Morty Skustin was severely censured for putting the frog in the water cooler.
 
cereal /serial
Cerealis breakfast food made of things like wheat and barley. A serial often relates to a programme on the radio or tv which goes on for a long time and is built around a set of characters.
 
cite / site / sight
Citemeans "to quote or mention": He cited a famous theorist in his speech. Site is a noun meaning "a place": At which site will we stage the party? Sight is a noun meaning "view": The sight of the New York City skyline is spectacular.
 
climactic / climatic
Climacticrefers to the peak: Wendell sneezed right at the climactic moment of a movie.
Climatic refers to the climate and weather: New Monia is known for its dramatic climatic changes.
 
cloths / clothes
The first is pieces of cloth e.g. cleaning cloths; the second is the clothes or garments that we wear.
 
chord / cord
Chordrelates to music and is a combination of notes; cord is a type of thick-ish string or rope.
 
coarse / course          
Coarseis an adjective meaning "rough, big-grained, not fine": We need to use coarse sandpaper to remove the paint from this wood. Course is a noun referring to a direction (the course of a ship) or a series of lectures on one subject (a history course in college): The poetry course Stu deBaker took in colldge changed the course of his life.
 
collaborate / corroborate
Collaborate means "to work together": Collaborate with the people on your team. Corroborate means "to support with evidence" or "prove true": The testimony was corroborated with evidence of his innocence.
 
complement / compliment
Complementmeans "to supplement" or "make complete": Their two personalities complement each other. Compliment means "to praise or congratulate": She received a compliment on her sense of fashion.
 
compose / comprise
Composemeans to "make up" and is often used in the passive voice: The class is composed of students of several nationalities. Comprise means "have, consist of, or include": The class comprises students of several nationalities. A rule to remember would be that the whole comprises its parts and the parts compose the whole.
 
concurrent / consecutive      
Concurrentsimultaneous or happening at the same time as something else: concurrent blizzards in three different states. Consecutive means "successive or one after another": The state had three consecutive blizzards that month.
 
conform / confirm    
Conform means "to be similar to": In some schools, students must conform by wearing uniforms. Confirm is to make sure or double check: to confirm a flight reservation.
 
congenial / congenital
Congenialdescribes something likeable, suitable to taste: They enjoy the congenial surroundings in their home. Congenital refers to a condition present at birth because of heredity: Raymond has a congenital heart defect.
 
connote / denote
Connotemeans to "imply or suggest": Home connotes warmth and safety. Denote means to "indicate specifically, to mean": The word home denotes the place where you live.
 
conscience / conscious
Conscienceis the feeling or knowledge of right and wrong: My conscience wouldn't allow me to compete with someone so much weaker than me. Conscious refers to being awake and aware: Molly Coddle was still conscious after banging her head on the headboard.
 
continual / continuous          
Continualmeans "repeated with breaks in between": We need continual rain throughout the summer for crops to grow. Continuous means "without stopping": The continuous drumming of the rain on the windows put Herman to sleep.
 
convince / persuade  
Convinceis to cause another to feel sure or believe something to be true: Well, Argyle Greenpasture has convinced me that aliens do exist. Persuade is to talk someone into doing something: Percy persuaded me to help him wash his car.
 
co-operation / corporation   
Co-operationmeans "working together": I would like to thank you for your cooperation with us on the project. A corporation is a large company: Presidents of large corporations receive tens of millions of dollars in salary.
 
corps / core / corpse  
A corps (pronounced 'core') is an organization of people dedicated to a single goal: Lucinda joined the Peace Corps after college. A core is the center of a fruit containing seeds: Bartholomew eats apples, core and all. A corpse is a dead body: The corpse of Danny's dog was lovingly laid to rest in the back yard.
 
correspondence / correspondents   
Correspondenceis written communication such as letters or news articles: Phil and Rachel continued their correspondence for years. Correspondents are those who write this communication: Rhoda Lott has lived among the corps of foreign correspondent for several years.
 
could not care less    
This expression is often confusing for English language learners. It is always used with a negative and means that you really don't care at all: Since she was sick, Mona could not care less about doing her homework, or Mona could not care less which color sweater she wore. Do not leave out not!
 
council / counsel / consul
A council is a group of people called together to meet on an issue: The school board council meets every Thursday evening. Counsel is advice: I always go to Clyde for counsel on the tough decision in my life. A consul is a diplomat appointed to protect the citizens and commercial interests of one country in another: If you need help starting a business in France, talk to the US consul in Paris.
 
creak / creek 
Creakcan be the noun or verb for a squeak or groan: The creak of the floorboards alerted Nell that Bernard was sneaking up on her. A creek is a small stream: The kids loved to play in the creek on a hot summer day.
 
credible / creditable  
Crediblemeans "believable or reliable": There is no credible evidence that it was I who broke the lamp. Creditable means "worthy of praise or respect": Although Rhoda Book's new novel is not an outstanding piece of literature, it is a creditable one.
 
credulous / incredulous
A credulous person is one who will believe anything however silly. Someone is incredulous if they see or hear something they are unwilling or unable to believe.He was incredulous when I told him how much I had won on the lottery.
 
crevice / crevasse
A crevice is a small to medium crack in rock; a crevasse is a large crack in an ice-sheet or glacier which people could fall in to.
 
criteria / criterion     
Criterionis singular: There is only one criterion for this job. Criteria is plural: Several criteria need to be met in order for us to move forward.
 
custom / costume      
A custom is a cultural tradition: It is a custom in Japan to remove your shoes when entering a home. A costume is the outfit worn to represent a particular time, event, or culture: What is your costume for Halloween going to be?
 
currant / current
We eat currants (dry grapes). Currents are flows especially of liquids, gases and electricity. The thermal currents carried the hot-air balloon far from home. The strong currents carried the swimmer out to sea. The ampere is a measure of electrical current.
 
D
dairy / diary  
A dairy is a farm where milk and milk products are produced: Madeleine grew up on a dairy and knows how to churn butter. A diary is a daily journal: Rhoda Book writes in her diary for two hours every night.
 
deduction / induction           
Deduction is the explanation of particular facts from a general principle. Since all robins have red breasts and that bird has a red breast, it must be a robin. Induction is drawing a general principle from a particular set of facts: I've seen several robins and they all have red breasts, so robins must have red breasts.
 
definite / definitive
A definite answer is one that is one taken when a decision has been made and that decision will not be changed. A definitive answer is one that is (as far as we can tell) absolutely and unchallengeably correct. The judge gave a definitive judgement in the case.
 
defuse / diffuse
Bombs are defused (made safe). Diffuse light is light that is spread so that it produces a soft glow not a hard, bright light.
 
dependent / dependant
Children are dependent on their parents; a child is therefore adependant. In other words, the former is an adjective and the latter a noun.
 
denote / connote        
See connote, denote.

 derisive / derisory
If someone laughs or shouts in a derisive way this is intended to hurt and to humiliate. If something is derisory, then people may shout in this way.
 
descendant / devise   
A descendant is a noun referring to a person who descends from a particular ancestor, as a descendant of Robert E. Lee. Descendent is an adjective meaning "descended" or "descending", as a species descendent from the ancestors of chimpanzees.
 
describe / ascribe      
See ascribe, describe.

desert / dessert          
Desertmeans "to abandon" (and can also be a noun, meaning "a wasteland"): Cooley deserted his family when they all got tattoos and lip piercings. Dessert is the sweet course of a meal: The whole family wanted to have cake for dessert (but see just deserts).
  
device / devise
A device (noun) is an object for doing something; I have a device for saving files more quickly. Devise (verb) relates to producing or investing something with a special purpose; I have devised a new way to win in the casino.
 
diary / dairy  
See dairy, diary.

different from / different than        
Different fromis the standard usage when comparing two things: Suzie's sweater is different from Mary's. Don't say, "Different than something else."
 
disassemble / dissemble        
Disassemblemeans to take apart. Dissemble means "to mislead or deceive", as to dissemble about disassembling the bicycle.
 
disc / disk
We have discs between the bones of the spine, we also have music discs. However, we generally talk about a disk when referring to computers.
 
discreet / discrete      
Discreetmeans "modest and prudent": Please be discreet about the surprise party, we don't want her to find out. Discrete means "separate and distinct": Even though they were married, they kept their money in two discrete accounts.
 
disinterested / uninterested  
Disinterestedis an adjective that means "unbiased or impartial": Since she had nothing at stake, she was a disinterested party in the matter. Uninterested means "not interested": Anita Job was just uninterested in the offer.
 
dispersion / aspersion
See aspersion, dispersion.

divers / diverse          
Diversmeans "several": You can take that statement in divers ways. Diverse means "different or varied": There are many diverse cultures in the world.
 
doughty / dowdy       
Doughtymeans "plucky, brave, toughish": Spearman is a doughty player who never gives up. Dowdy means "a bit shabby, old-fashioned": Maude Lynn Dresser loves that dowdy old
dress her mother gave her.
 
draft / draught
The first refers to a bank transfer or bank draft; the second relates to cold wind blowing under a door or between windows.
 
dual / duel
We talk about a road with four lanes (two in each direction) as a dual carriageway. A duel is word to describe a fight with guns or swords in the past. Sometimes it is used to describe what the protagonists in a debate are doing with the sharp cut and thrust of verbal debate.
 
dying / dyeing
The first refers to the end of life and the second to colouring hair or cloth. We also use the first if we want something badly; I'm dying to go to the toilet!
 
E
e. g. / i. e.        
e. g.is a Latin abbreviation meaning "for example": Lucille doesn't like fruit, e.g. pears, apples, grapes, and bananas. i. e. is a Latin abbreviation meaning "that is (to say)": Myrtle had to leave the room, i.e. she had to go to the bathroom.
 
each other / one another      
Use each other when only two objects are involved: The twins love each other. Use one another in referring to more than two objects: The triplets all love one another.
 
each / every   
These are singular distributive pronouns; use them with a singular verb. Each refers to a single individual in a group: Each of us voted differently. Every refers to all the members of a group inclusively: Every one of us voted the same.
 
eatable / edible
If something is OK to eat it is eatable; Is that apple eatable? We use edible to refer to something that it is possible to eat without ill-effects. Are those berries edible?
 
effect / affect  See affect, effect.

elder / older
We use elder to pick out an individual within a family as older in comparison with others. He's my elder brother. The word older is the comparative form of old; I'm ten years older than my sister.
 
elicit / illicit    
Elicitis a verb that means "to draw out": The teacher had trouble eliciting responses from the students. Illicit is an adjective meaning "illegal or illegitimate": Illicit drugs or illicit behavior may help you enter jail.
 
elude / allude  See allude, elude.

emigrant / immigrant           
An emigrant is a person who leaves his native country to settle in another: The emigrants left everything behind in search of something more. An immigrant refers is person who moves to a new country: Many immigrants settle in this country every year.
 
emigrate / immigrate
Emigratefrom means "to leave one's country": Frances emigrated to the US. Immigrate to means "to settle in another country": Her family immigrated to the US four generations ago.
 
eminent / emanant / imminent         
Eminent means "of high rank, outstanding, or prestigious": An eminent author came to read at the university. Emanant means "sending or issuing forth": Emanant thoughts like those should be kept to yourself. Imminent means "close to happening or near": Everyone waited anxiously for an imminent storm predicted to arrive shortly.
 
emolument / emollient          
An emolument is a salary or other compensation for a job: The emolument for his new position far exceeded that of Henry's last post. An emollient is a softener: The oils secreted by the skin are emollients that keeps the skin soft.
 
enervate / innervate  
Innervatemeans "to supply with nerves or vitality": The therapist innervated the shoulders with massage. Enervate is to weaken or destroy the vitality of: The negative attitude enervated her enthusiasm.
 
enormity / enormousness     
Enormitymeans "heinous, outrageous evil or an act of outrageous evil": The enormity of the Nazi concentration camps cannot be exaggerated. Enormousness refers to hugeness: The enormousness of the Titanic did not save it from an even larger iceberg.
 
 enquiry / inquiry
In British English, an enquiry is something that that we make; Can I make an enquiry about the price of your cars? An inquiry is something that is held by a body or group; The Council is holding an inquiry into the sale of council houses. In American English, the usual term is inquiry rather than enquiry.
 
entomology / etymology       
Entomologyrefers to the study of insects: Donald couldn't be afraid of bugs if he wanted to get a degree in entomology. Etymology is the study of the history of words and where they come from: The etymology of mortify goes back to Latin mortuus "dead".
 
ensure / insure          
See assure /ensure /insure.

etc.
Etc.is Latin for et cetera and means "and so on": You need to bring plates, knives, forks, spoons, etc. to the table. It is a good idea, however, to just finish the list, not letting it end with etc. But if you must, use a phrase like "and so on", "and so forth".
 
ethereal / ephemeral 
Etherealdescribes something that is light, airy, and intangible: Ethereal clouds hovered above; Everything in the ballroom looked ethereal. Ephemeral refers to anything lasting for a short period: Truth can be an ephemeral thing; A creek can be ephemeral if it disappears in the middle of summer.
 
everyone / every one 
Everyone means "each person": Everyone in the room must leave immediately. Every one refers to each thing or person individually: Felice put every one of the eggs in the basket.
 
exceed / accede          
See accede, exceed.

except / accept                       
See accept, except.

explicit / implicit        
Explicitmeans "clear and direct": Please give me explicit directions. Implicit means "indirectly, with some parts understood": They implicitly agreed to never talk on the subject again.
 
F
fair / fare       
A fair is an exhibition of farm produce usually with a collection of rides and attractions: Every year our family goes to the state fair. A fare is the fee you pay to ride public transportation: The fare to ride the bus is affordable in our town.
 
farther / further       
Fartherhas to do with distance: How much farther is it to Poughkeepsie? Further means "additional" or "more": Please give me further information about the best route to Poughkeepsie.
 
faze / phase   
Fazeis to distress or disturb: The scrutiny of the media didn't faze Sharon. A phase is a period of development or a period of time in a cycle of events: Stuart went through a phase when all he did was eat hot dogs.
 
fewer / less     
Fewershould be used when talking about things that can be counted: Lureen has fewer ideas than you; also a few keys, few clouds, few values, few diseases. Less is used when talking about things that can't be counted: Lureen shows less perseverance than we expected; also less distance, less pollution, less rain.
 
fictional / fictitious
The word fictional is used to describe, for example, imaginary characters. It's a fictional story about two people who fly to the Moon. The word fictitious has to do with truth. He came up with a fictitious story to explain his absence.
 
figuratively / literally
Figurativelyrefers to metaphoric speech, not realistic or exact: To say, "Horace died laughing," is to speak figuratively. Literally refers to realistic or exact speech: If Horace literally died laughing, he must be buried (but it was not such a bad way to go).
 
fiscal / physical          
Fiscalrefers to budgetary finances, income and expenditures, and is used in such phrases as fiscal responsibility and the fiscal year. Physical refers either to bodily exercise or to concrete things in the world, as in physical exercise or the physical world.
 
flammable / inflammable     
These two words both mean "easily set on fire": a highly flammable /inflammable substance. However,flammable is now used as a warning to avoid misinterpreting the prefix in- as negation.
 
flare / flair     
Flareis to increase greatly, burn brightly, or something that provides a bright flame: The fire in the grill flared up when Eva tossed gasoline on it. Flair refers to a sense of style or a talent: Dutch Masters has a flair for lighting a cigar.
 
flaunt / flout  
To flaunt means "to show off": Maud Lynn Dresser likes to flaunt her jewels at parties.  To flout means "to show scorn or contempt for": Larry flouts the speed limit in every state when it suits his schedule.
forbear / forebear    
Forbearmeans "to refrain from": The children simply could not forbear laughing in the library. A forebear is an ancestor or forefather: Our forebears who founded this country centuries ago.
 
for ever / forever
These words have various meanings, typically 'for all time' or 'permanently' (eg. Food does not last forever. or (informally) taking 'a long time' (as in: I have been waiting for the bus forever.; I want to stay here for ever. 'forever' sometimes has a different meaning such as 'always','typically' or 'extremely frequently'. (e.g. He is forever making jokes means that makes jokes very often, perhaps too often!
 
foreword / forward  
A foreword is a short introduction at the beginning of a book usually written by someone other than the author: The foreword of the book explains how its thesis fits in with current thinking. Forward is an adverb indicating movement ahead or toward the front: Priscilla moves forward slowly in the line at the grocery store.
 
forth / fourth
Forth means "forward, from this point": Barry moved forth without looking back. Fourth indicates an object that comes between No. 3 and No. 5: Dustin Moppet just finished cleaning the fourth floor.
 
foul / fowl      
Foul can means "offensive, rotten, or unfavorable": Foul language, foul meat, and foul weather are unacceptable at a picnic. Fowl refers to birds, especially domestic ones: Chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys are considered fowl.
  
formally / formerly
The word formally means officially or in an official way. The building was formally opened by the Mayor. The word formerly has to do with things that happened in the past. He was formerly a ship's captain before he retired.
 
found / founded        
Foundis the past tense of find: I found my glasses only after I had stepped on them! Founded is past tense of the verb found, meaning "to set up or establish": My ancestors were the ones who founded this country.
 
founder / flounder    
Foundermeans "to run aground": The boat foundered on a shoal in the storm. Flounder means "to move clumsily, with difficulty" or "to blunder": Gladys Friday is floundering in college.
 
fulfil / fulfill
These are two spellings of the same word, and both are accepted. The past tense for both is fulfilled.
 
G
gibe / gybe / jibe        
Gibemeans "to taunt, jeer, make fun of": His classmates gibed Billy Earl for wearing his underwear over his clothes. Gybe means "to swing a fore-and-aft sail from one side of a sailboat to the other to change course": When the wind shifted, Felix gybed when he should have tacked. Jibe refers to being in agreement: Our views on everything from baseball to Socrates seem to jibe.
 
gaol / jail
These are two spellings of the same word, and both are accepted in the UK. The former is not used in the USA.
 
gorilla / guerrilla       
A gorilla is a large ape: Gorillas live in the African tropical forest. A guerrilla is a member of irregular military that uses surprise attacks on its enemy: Guerrilla warfare uses tactics such as espionage, sabotage, and ambush.
 
H
hail / hale       
Hailmeans "to greet or to come from": She hails from California. Hail also means "balls of ice": Hail damaged the crops. Hale means "sound or healthy": Minnie Miles is hale and hearty enough to run five miles daily.
 
hanged / hung           
Hangedis past tense of hang in the sense of executing someone by using a rope around the neck: Outlaws in the Old West were hanged when they could be caught. Hung is the past tense of hang, but is used for things: Lyda Cain's son never hung up his clothes. Just remember hanged is used for people (Yuck!), and hung is used for other things.
 
hangar / hanger
Planes are kept on a large building called a hangar. A hanger is used to put clothes on, for example, in a cupboard.
 
hardly
This is a word used in a negative sense meaning "barely": Lyle could hardly keep his eyes open at the lecture by Rhoda Book.
 
herd / heard  
A herd is a group of animals: Nonnie saw a herd of cows in the pasture. Heard is the past tense of hear: Zelda heard the bells ringing for the glorious leader who had recently died.
 
here / hear     
Hererefers to the place where you are: You should come here more often. Hear is to listen with the ears: Am I speaking loud enough for you to hear me?
 
heroin / heroine        
Heroinis an illicit drug: Heroin is a very addicting substance. A heroine is a female hero in real life or in a story: Marge was treated like a heroine when she delivered the baby in a cab.
 
historic / historical    
Historicrefers to something in history that was important: The summit was a historic meeting between the countries. Historical refers to anything in general history: The whole class had to dress in historical costumes for the play.
 
hoard / horde
Hoardmeans "to collect and keep for oneself": Squirrels hoard acorns during the winter. A horde is a large group: Hordes of people go Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving.
 
hole / whole   
A hole is a gap or space: A moth made a hole in my sweater. Whole means "complete": Stu Beef ate the whole pizza himself!
 
home / hone   
Homein is the correct phrase here is when referring to getting closer to a goal or target: The missile homed in electronically on the target. Hone means "to sharpen": Denise made a resolution to hone her piano playing skills.
 
hoofs / hooves
These are two spellings of the same word, and both are accepted in the UK.
 
horde / hoard
A horde relates to groups of people. He was surrounded by a horde of autograph hunters. The Mongol horde swept down on the town. The word hoard relates to a collection of hidden coins, gold or food.
 
I
 
 i. e. / e. g.       
See e. g. , i. e.

idle / idol
If you are idle, you are lazy and inactive. An idol is something that is loved or worshipped. She was my idol. I worshipped her.
 
illicit / elicit    
See elicit, illicit.

illusion / allusion       
See allusion, illusion.

 illusion / delusion
Illusionsare ideas which are wrong; He has the illusion that he's good looking. The word delusion is used for ideas which are illogical and against all evidence, and is often linked to mental illness.
 
imply / infer
I imply and you infer. In other words, I hint at something and you pick up on my meaning. He implied that I was fat!I inferred from what he said that she was not to be trusted.
 
 
immemorial / immortal / immoral   
Immemorialrefers to that which is beyond time, ancient: These artifacts have been here since time immemorial. Immortal describes things that live forever: The way Randolph drives, he must think that he is immortal. Immoral means "not nice, unethical, bad": Stealing is immoral.
 
immoral / amoral      
See amoral, immoral.

immigrant / emigrant                       
See emigrant, immigrant.

immigrate / emigrate           
See emigrate, immigrate.

imminent / eminent / emanant         
See eminent.

implicate / imply       
Implicatemeans "to closely link or connect": The blood on his hands implicated him in the murder. Imply means "to point to, or suggest indirectly": The victim's friend implied he thought he knew who the murderer was.
 
implicit / explicit        
See explicit, implicit.

imply / infer
Imply means "to suggest indirectly": Her hesitation implied that her answer was no. Infer means "to draw a conclusion from known facts": He inferred that the answer was no from her hesitation.
 
in regard to / as regards       
Both of these mean "referring to", but use one or the other: In regard to your proposal I have an idea, or: As regards your proposal, I have an idea. NOT in regards to!
 
inchoate / incoherent
Inchoatedescribes something in an early stage of development, and that is incomplete: Lucy's plan remained inchoate and was developed no further. Incoherent describes something that is lacking connection or order: Some even thought that Lucy's plan was just a few incoherent thoughts that didn't hang together.
 
incredible / incredulous        
Incrediblemeans "astonishing or difficult to grasp": The incredible power of a tornado attracts storm chasers. Incredulous means "skeptical and disbelieving": She was incredulous about Fred's interpretation of the event.
 
induction / deduction           
See deduction, induction.

ingenious / ingenuous
The former means clever or inventive; He invented an ingenious way to open bottles. The latter means lacking in any false thoughts or dishonest motives.
 
insure / ensure          
See assure /ensure /insure.

innervate / enervate  
See enervate, innervate.

insure / ensure /assure          
See assure, ensure, insure.

intolerable / intolerant          
Intolerablerefers to something unbearable: The heat during the summer of 2005 was intolerable. Intolerant refers to a person who is unable to accept differences in opinion, habit, or belief: Maybelle is intolerant of anyone who chews with their mouth open.
 
irregardless / regardless       
Regardlessis the correct word to use, meaning "without regard": The young man left regardless of the warnings. Irregardless is a double negative that should be avoided.
 
its / it's
Itsis the possessive form of it, like hers, his, and theirs: The dog licked its foot after stepping in maple syrup. It's is short for 'it is', a contraction of those two words: "Well, I guess it's [it is] time to wash the dog again."
 
J
 
jibe / gibe / gybe        
See gibe, gybe, jibe.

jibe / jive        
Jibe means "to make sense, to fit, match": The figures you gave me don't jibe; you need to add them up again. Jive is a slang word that refers to a glib, deceptive, nonsensical way of speaking or cool jazz: May, stop talking that jive and put on some jive so we can dance.
 
jury-rig / jerry-build
Jury-rigmeans "to improvise a temporary repair or substitute": Malcolm jury-rigged a tentpole out of a broom. Avoid saying jerry-rig. Jerry-build is a slang word meaning "to build poorly": Malcolm jerry-built a shelf that fell before we filled it with books.
 
just deserts / just desserts     
Just desertsare what you deserve (desert = "that which is deserved"). Just desserts are a fair reward for eating all your dinner as well as a common misspelling of just deserts.
 
K
 
kind of / sort of         
Avoid these expressions in the sense of "somewhat", "rather" or "a little" (especially avoid reducing them to kinda and sorta): The pace of the baseball game was rather [not kind of] slow.
 
knew / new    
Knewis the past tense of know: She knew what she wanted to say but couldn't say it. New means "never used": I ordered a new custom car from the factory today.
 
L
latent / patent
Latentmeans "present but not visible or active": Just because I'm not in bed doesn't mean that I don't have a latent virus. Patent means "visible, active, or obvious": The claim that I pinched Marilyn's tush is a patent lie!
 
later / latter   
Latermeans "afterward": Come later than seven o'clock. Latter means "the last of two things mentioned": If I have to choose between brains or beauty, I'll take the latter.
 
lay / lie           
Layis a transitive verb, which means it takes an object. It means "to set or put down flat": Gwendolyn laid child in the crib, or Lay a book on the table, please. Its forms are lay, lays, laid, has laid, and is laying. Lie is an intransitive verb, so it does not take an object. It means "to rest supine or remain in a certain place": I have to lie down because I'm not feeling well, or I like to lie in the grass for hours. Its forms are lie, lies, lay, has lain, and is lying.
 
lead / led        
Lead can be a verb meaning "to guide, be in charge of": Greg will lead a group this afternoon. It can also be a noun meaning "a type of metallic element": Use a lead pencil to fill in your answer sheet. Led is the past tense of lead: Greg led the group this afternoon.
 
lend / loan / borrow
Lendis a verb that mean "to temporarily give something to someone": Lucy will lend or loan Chuck her books any day. A loan is a noun meaning something borrowed: Most people get a bank loan to buy a house. Loan is also used in American English as a verb meaning "to lend". Borrow is to receive something from someone temporarily: Can I borrow the book if I promise to return it tomorrow?
 
less / few        
See few, less.

lessen / lesson
Lessenmeans "to decrease or make less": She lessened the headache pain with aspirin. A lesson is something you learn: A teacher might say, "Today's lesson is about ancient Egypt."
 
leeward / windward
The leeward side of a boat is the sheltered side; the windward side is exposed to the wind.
 
licence / license
With the noun, the former is the UK spelling and the latter is the US spelling. In the UK , the latter is the verb; The boat is licensed to carry 10 passengers.
 
liable / libel    
Liablemeans "legally responsible for or subject to": Tom is liable to pay for the damage if he doesn't prove his innocence. Libel is a noun that means "a slanderous statement that damages another person's reputation": Bertrand was sued for libel for what he printed about Phil Anders.
 
lightening / lightning
Lighteningis a verb that means "to reduce the weight of": My course load needs lightening if I am to complete this course successfully. Lightning refers to the electrical discharge in the sky: Fred captured the image of a bolt of lightning on film.
 
like / as                       
See as, like.

literally / figuratively
See figuratively, literally.

lithe / blithe   
See blithe, lithe.

loathe / loath 
Loatheis a verb meaning "to detest or dislike greatly": Janice loathes animal cruelty. Loath is an adjective meaning "reluctant, unwilling": Lance was loath to ask for an extension on his term paper that semester.
 
loose / lose      
Looseis not tight: A loose-fitting jacket was more suitable than a shawl. Lose is to misplace and not be able to find: I often lose my bearings when entering a new city. Thank goodness I don't lose my keys though!
 
 
M
may be / maybe
Both mean perhaps but the word maybe can be replaced by perhaps.Are you coming tonight? Well, maybe, but we'll decide later. However, may be cannot be directly replaced by perhaps.We may be late tonight so don't wait up for us.
 
meter / metre
A meter is a device for measuring something such as a parking meter or a speedometer. Metre, millimetre and kilometre are units of measurement of length.
 
moral / morale
Children's stories often have a moral to them. The moral of Red Riding Hood may be that young girls should not go wandering in woods by themselves. If we say something is immoral we mean it is evil or wicked. Morale has to do with attitudes especially feelings of confidence, or lack of it. The army's morale is low after several major defeats.
 
motive / motif
A motive is a reason for doing something, either good or bad. I suspected his motives when he offered to give her a lift. A motif is a particular decorative pattern, often one that is repeated on printed cloth or carved wood.
 
N
 
no / know      
Nomeans "the opposite of yes": They all said no in response to the latest referendum. To know is to understand are realize: I don't want to know how you got up the tree.
 
noisome / noisy          
Noisomemeans "disgusting, offensive, and potentially harmful": A noisome smell arose from the garbage can. Noisy means "making a lot of sound or racket": With so many children, it became a noisy day care center.
 
nonplussed    
Nonplussedis often misused in the sense of "calm and unbothered". The actual meaning is "confused or bewildered": She was nonplussed by her husband's unusual behavior.
 
notable / noticeable
If something or someone is notable it is worthy of respect and viewed as important. It was a notable victory and the first of many. If something (usually a thing) is noticeable it is a thing that is easy to see and likely to be seen. It was noticeable that his hair had turned white in the year he'd been away.
 
naval / navel
The word naval relates to the ships and the navy. There were many naval battles in the First World War. The word navel relates to someone's tummy, specifically the 'belly button'.
 
nowhere / nowheres 
See anyway, anywhere, nowhere; anyways, anywheres, nowheres.
 
nutritional / nutritious
Both are adjectives (describing words) but nutritional has to do with broader issues of food processing and absorption. The nutritional impact of eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is unchallengeable. The word nutritious deals with whether or not foods contain the minerals and vitamins that can keep us healthy. Oranges are far more nutritious than a hamburger.
 
• O •
 
obeisance / obsequious         
Obeisanceis respect and homage paid someone: Farina greeted the queen with sincere obeisance. Obsequiousness is submissiveness and an eagerness to obey: The obsequiousness of the waiter made them roll their eyes.
 
obtuse / abstruse       
Obtusemeans "lacking quickness of wit or sensitivity, dull, dense": Brandon is so obtuse he doesn't even know when he is being insulted. Abstruse means "too difficult to understand for the average mind": The professor presented an abstruse metaphysical concept that went over our heads.
 
one another / each other      
See each other, one another.

overdo / overdue       
Overdois to exaggerate something: Marcy overdoes her makeup every morning and she ends up looking like a clown. Overdue indicates something that has missed its deadline: You must return these overdue books to the library immediately, or A visit to our grandparents is long overdue.
 
P
 
paean / peon  
A paean is a poem or other artistic expression of praise and exultation: Ferdie's best poem was a paean to laziness, a subject he is intimately acquainted with. A peon is a peasant, menial laborer, or drudge: Hugh Jeego stays in the president's office because he doesn't like mingling with the peons on the work floor.
 
pamper / pander       
To pamper is to coddle, or treat with indulgence: The only time my mom pampers me is when I'm sick. To pander is to cater to the base needs of others, to sell out: Senator Throckmorton got elected by pandering to special interest groups.
 
passed / past  
Passedis the past tense of pass, to go by or move ahead of: The boys passed through town quickly. Past is a place in time that was before now: You would be wise to reflect on the past and learn from it.
 
pasture / pastor         
A pasture is a place where farm animals graze: Al Falfa puts his cows out into the pasture every morning. A pastor is a member of the clergy, a minister of a church: Noah Sarque is the pastor of the local Baptist Church.
 
patent / latent           
See latent, patent.

 
patience / patients     
Patienceis the ability to remain calm even when dealing with someone or something difficult: The teacher showed infinite patience for the students struggling with the reading material. (See also assistance and assistants.) Patients are people who are sick in a hospital: The nurse had several new patients to get to know that week.
 
peace / piece  
Peaceis a sense of calm and absence of war or hostility: We all hope for peace throughout the world. A piece is a part or segment of something: Helen Highwater lost a piece of her jewelry in church last Sunday.
 
peek / pique / peak   
To peek is to look quickly without someone knowing: The child peeked inside the gift.
To pique is to arouse or provoke: Muriel's comment piqued Abner's curiosity. Pique can also be used as a noun meaning "resentment": Sedgewick felt a bit of pique at the association of his name with their real estate scheme. A peak is the highest point of something: Chastity decided not to drive to the top of Pike's Peak during the peak summer vacation season.
 
peer / pier      
To peer is to squint and gaze strongly at: Melvin had to peer through fog to keep the car on the highway. a peer is an equal: Farnsworth didn't consider anyone his peer when it came to the game of tiddledy winks. A pier is a walkway that juts into a body of water for docking: to he docked his boat at the end of the pier.
 
penultimate / ultimate          
Penultimatemeans "the next to the last (the ultimate)": Little did Al Pacca know that the penultimate shrimp he ate was the one that gave him food poisoning. Ultimate is the last or best: I found the ultimate gift for Gary this year.
 
peon / paean  
See paean, peon.

 perfunctory / peremptory
The first word has the meaning of an action being done without any real feeling, in a casual way. He gave her a perfunctory kiss. The word peremptory has to do with an action taken in a dictatorial, rather unfriendly, unsympathetic manner. He dismissed my request with a peremptory gesture towards the door.
 
perspective / prospective      
A perspective is a view from a certain place or position or a mental outlook: The perspective from this building is spectacular, or Lydia Potts has a wonderful perspective on life considering the fact that she has 12 kids. Prospective is an adjective that means "possible, likely to happen": We have several prospective opportunities before us.
 
perspicacious / perspicuous 
Perspicaciousmeans "mentally astute, acutely perceptive": I'm too perspicacious to be taken in by such a ruse. A perspicuous Means "clearly and lucidly presented, easily grasped", as a perspicuous article on toads. Also be careful not to confuse this word with conspicuous "standing out, easily perceived".
 
persuade / convince  
See convince, persuade.

phase / faze   
See faze, phase.

physical / fiscal          
See fiscal, physical.

piquant / pique         
Piquantmeans "pleasantly tart or spicy": This restaurant serves a piquant salsa that is absolutely delicious. To pique is to arouse or provoke: Grunella piqued Vern's curiosity with her question. (See also peek.)

plain / plane  
Plainmeans "simple not showy" or "a large level region": It was plain to see that Vanessa loved Conway, or Bowser's farm was on a great plain where wheat grew well. A plane is a flat and level surface, a new level, or an airplane: To understand the equation of a plane surface in mathematics you have to to reach a new plane of consciousness. Franklin landed the plane successfully.
 
portent / potent         
A portent is a noun meaning "an omen or prophetic sign of the future": Ivan Oder took falling out of bed that morning as a portent of a greater disaster in the future. Potent is an adjective meaning "strong and powerful": Arnold was a potent man, even at seventy, but could not handle the potent martinis Bella Donna made.
 
pour / pore / pore     
To pour is to dispense liquid from one container into another: She poured some milk into the glass.  A pore is to study or read intensely: Hilda pored over the materials nightly. Pore also means "a small opening in skin through which moisture or air moves": Pores are all over our bodies.
 
practice / practise
The former is the noun; He wanted some practice every day. The latter is the verb; He wants to practise every day.
 
 
practical / practicable           
Practicalrefers to being easily used and put into practice: A Swiss Army knife has many practical uses. Practicable means "feasible or possible": It is not always practicable for a busy person to use this tool.
 
pray / prey
We pray in a church, mosque, temple or other holy place. The word prey relates to the food that animals like to eat. The lions watched their prey but the antelope were unaware.
 
 
precede / proceed     
The verb precede means "to come or go before, in front of": The flower girl preceded the bride in the procession down the aisle. Proceed means "to move forward": Both the flower girl and the bride proceeded down the aisle at the same time.
 
premise / premises    
A premise usually means "assumption": Since the basic premise was wrong, all the conclusions based on it were wrong, too. Premises are a house or building and the grounds around it: Smoking is not allowed on the premises.
 
presence / presents   
Presencemeans "the state of being near": April's presence was comforting in Rod's time of sorrow. Presents are gifts: The greatest gift is to let someone give you a present.
 
principal / principle  
A principal is the head of a professional business or school: The principal of the middle school is a woman of principles. A principle is a belief: I avoid school principals as a matter of principle.
 
profit / prophet         
Profitis the money earned above the expense it took to complete the project: Ghislaine and Pierre made a $100,000 profit when they remodeled and sold their house. A prophet is a person who can foretell the future and through which a divine presence speaks: Atheism is a non-prophet religion.
 
profligate / prolific   
Profligateis to be wasteful and extravagant: Esmeralda is so profligate that she spent the entire million dollars she won in the lottery in one year. Prolific means "abundant, fruitful, producing much": John Grisham is a prolific writer.
 
 
Q
 
quiet / quite   
Quietmeans "without sound or mention of": You are supposed to be quiet in hospitals and libraries. Quite can mean either "completely or somewhat, rather", depending on what you mean: I was quite alone that Saturday afternoon (completely) but the hours passed quite quickly (rather).
 
quote / quotation      
Quoteis a verb meaning "to state the exact words someone else said": The pastor quoted scripture from the Bible or Carmen quoted a famous psychologist in complaining to the boss.
A quotation is the actual statement being quoted: Gretchen read a quotation every day.
 
R
 
rain / reign / rein       
Rainis the water that falls from the sky: Dingwell didn't have sense enough to come in out of the rain. Reign is the rule of a king of queen: King Wilhelm reigned with an iron fist to keep peace in the land. A rein (usually plural, reins) are the straps of leather used to control and guide a horse: No matter how hard Reginald pulled on the reins, the horse would not slow down.
 
raise / raze     
Raisemeans "to build or grow": The farmer raises corn. The Amish will raise the walls of a building by noon. Raze is to destroy: The school was razed and a new one built in its place.
 
real / really    
Realis a variant of really used in dialectal areas (like the Southern US) where adverbs are not distinguished from adjectives: She sings real good, in standard English is: She sings really well. Really is an intensifying adverb: Gwendolyn was really tired after playing outside all day.
 
reality / realty
Realitymeans "the perceived world as it is, the true situation": She could not tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Realty is land or real estate: Realty in large cities is markedly expensive.
 
rebate / refund          
A rebate is a discount from the manufacturer to the customer after a purchase has been made: The $600 computer cost only $69.43 after all the rebates. A refund is a full repayment to a dissatisfied customer: Mildred returned her girdle and demanded a full refund.
 
recipe / receipt
A recipe is something that we use as a guide when we are cooking. A receipt is something that we collect when we purchase something in a shop.
 
recount / re-count
When we recount a story we re-tell it. He recounted his exploits in Morocco . When we re-count something, we count it again. This happened when Bush was elected.
 
recover / re-cover
When we recover, we get better after an accident or illness. It took him a month to recover after the illness. When we re-cover something we cover it again. I wanted to re-cover my chairs and so I went to buy some material.
regal / royal
The word regal really means royal in appearance and so could be used to refer to someone in a royal family as well as someone who had nothing to do with royalty. She looked very regal whenever she dressed up for the theatre. The word royal is generally to do with a family with historical connections which enable them to be described as royal. There have been a number of scandals in the British royal family.
 
regimen / regiment   
Regimenis a systematic plan: Sylvia is undergoing a regimen for a healthier lifestyle. Regiment is a troop of soldiers: The army is made up of several regiments.
 
residence / residents 
A residence is where people live, the house or building: The mayor's residence is located in the center of the city. The residents are the people who live there: The residents of the community thinks the mayor's residence is to luxurious.
 
respectable / respectful / respective 
Respectablemeans "deserving respect or on good behavior": Mother always told us to be respectable in public. Respectful refers to showing respect: Be respectful of the people around you, especially if they have sticks. Respective means "individual and appropriate": The summer camp kids were shown to their respective cabins.
 
respectfully / respectively     
Respectfullymeans "politely and with respect": Mel Pew always dealt respectfully with each and every customer. Respectively refers to the order in which things are given: I gave Wallace and Linda blue and green socks, respectively, means that I gave Wallace blue socks and Linda green ones.
 
restive / restful          
Restivemeans "impatient and nervous, restless": Cory became restive once he knew the boss was going to call him into his office. Restful means "full of rest, calm, quiet, and restorative": A restful vacation in Indonesia was just what the doctored ordered.
 
retch / wretch
To retch is to try and vomit: Furman retched several times after swallowing a bite of Lurleen's liver pudding. A wretch is a miserable or wicked person: I didn't believe she could be such a wretch.
 
rifle / riffle     
Riflemeans to search with the intention of stealing or taking: The mugger rifled Clarissa's purse looking for cash. To riffle means "to shuffle or flip quickly through papers": Bill riffled the card deck before dealing.
 
right / rite / write      
Rightmeans "correct": She always knew the right thing to say. A rite is a ceremony: Final rites for the deceased were held in the church. To write is to express oneself in writing: Rhoda Book writes everyone about her publishing career.
 
rise / raise      
Riseis intransitive and does not have an object: The sun rises in the east. Raise always has an object: You can raise a crop on a farm or raise your hand in class.
 
road / rode    
Roadis a long path or street to travel on: Lucille tries to stay on a main road wherever she travels. Rode is past tense of ride: Matilda rode her bicycle over a cliff by accident.
 
role / roll        
A role is a part in a play or movie: Marjorie's favorite role of her entire movie career was that of the quirky neighbor in Keep your Doors Locked. It can also mean "a function of": Marjorie's role in removing the insignia from the police car door was minor. Roll is a verb meaning "to turn over and over": Diane rolled the flat tire into the garage.
  
S
 
sale / sail / sell
A sale is a noun meaning "the selling of something": Every car sale means a commission for the salesman. A sail is the material used to catch wind on a boat: The sail billowed in the wind as Jacob's boat slid across the water. To sell, the verb, is to offer goods for consumption at a cost: Seth sells his pottery at art fairs.
 
sanguine / saturnine 
Sanguinemeans "red, ruddy or optimistic": I am not sanguine about your getting this job.
Saturninemeans "being moody, sullen, or melancholy": Ima Aiken falls into a saturnine mood every time her husband Hadley goes away on business.
 
sarcastic / sardonic
A sarcastic comment is designed to hurt someone. The words used are often contemptuous or mocking. Words are sometimes used in precisely the opposite of what they normally mean. Oh, yes! She looked so 'elegant' when she came in. It's a pity she fell over! It is sometimes described as the lowest form of wit. A sardonic comment is not so hurtful but it is also mocking and can sometimes be hurtful.
 
scene / seen    
Scene is a place or view: The scene of the crime was just outside his window. Seen is past tense of see: I have seen that movie three times already.
 
sceptic / septic
A sceptic is someone who does not believe most of the things that s /he is told. If you cut yourself you must try to ensure that the cut does not become infected and turn septic.
 
seam / seem   
A seam is where two pieces are joined: The seam of Leticia's dress ripped when she bent over. To seem is to appear or look as if: Leticia seemed unhappy when that happened.
 
semimonthly / bimonthly     
See bimonthly, semimonthly.

sensor / censor / censure      
See censor, sensor, censure.

sensual / sensuous     
Sensual refers to physical, especially sexual, pleasure: Derry Yare wears sensual dresses to attract men. Sensuous refers to anything artistic that appeals to the senses or appetites: Marguerita had prepared a sumptous, sensuous feast for her guests.
 
serf / surf       
A serf is a slave or servant: Neil Downe came from a family of serfs but rose to become a landlord. To surf is to ride the waves of water, or to search on the Internet: The surf is up down at the beach; you can surf the Internet some other time.
 
set / sit / seat  
Setis a transitive verb meaning "to put or place something solid somewhere": Marvin set his new lamp on the table. Sit means "to rest upright with the weight on the buttocks or to move into such a position"; the past tense is sat: Percy sat down beside Geneva on the park bench.
Seatcan be a verb meaning "to show someone their seat or where to sit": The waiter seated Murgatroyd at his usual table by the door.
 
sever / severe 
Sever means "to cut through completely": One blow from Jessie's hatchet severed the rope. Severe means "strict, hard, extreme": Severe winter weather came early this year. There was a severe tone in her voice when she berated him for putting the tack in her chair.
 
sew / sow
We sew with needle and cotton. We sow seeds in a field.
 
shear / sheer  
Shearmeans "to cut off": We shear sheep's wool in the spring and we shear the hedges in the summer. Sheer means "pure, unadulterated": Felicity found the amusement park a sheer pleasure. Sheer also means "transparent": Perry Winkle hung sheer curtains in the living room.
 
shore / sure    
A shore is a beach: to spend a vacation on the shore. It also means "to brace or support": They shored up the leaning wall with steel beams. Sure means "without doubt": Maria was sure about the decision to move to another country.
 
singly / singularly      
Singly means "one by one": The fire drill required everyone to leave the building quietly and singly. Singularly means "extraordinarily, in an outstanding manner": He singularly fought the rebels off one by one.
 
site / sight / cite          
See cite, site, sight.

sleight-of-hand / slight-of-hand       
Sleight of handrefers to dexterity and trickery with the hands: The magician's sleight of hand fooled the audience. This phrase is often confused with slight of hand, an adjective phrase meaning "having small slender hands".
 
sole / soul       
Solemeans "single": The sole remaining person in the room left, leaving it empty. It also means the bottom of a foot or shoe: Gigi needed new soles on her shoes. A soul refers to the spirit of a living creature: Do you believe animals have souls?
 
some time / sometime / sometimes   
Some time refers to a considerable period of time: I need some time to think about it. Sometime refers to an indistinct or unstated time in the future: I'll see you around sometime.
Sometimesis an adverb meaning continually, off and on, occasionally: Karen sometimes drinks coffee instead of tea.
 
stationary / stationery          
Stationary means "still and unmoving": The cat was stationary until it was time to pounce on its prey. Stationery refers to writing materials such as paper: Craig took out his best stationery to write to his beloved Charlotte Russe.
 
statue / statute / stature        
A statue is a carved or shaped imitation of an object: There is a statue of a large bird is in her garden. A statute is law: The government publishes new statutes each year. Stature means "status, standing": Chester Drors is a man of substantial stature in state politics.
 
storey / story 
Storey is the British spelling of story when this word refers to a floor of a building: The upper storeys of the building comprised apartments. The US spelling of this sense of the word is also story. A story is a tale related in speech or writing by someone. In the US, it is also the spelling used to refer to the floor of a building: My home is three stories high.
 
straight / strait          
Straightis an adjective that means having "no bends or curve"s: Pimsley's walking cane is as straight as an arrow. A strait is a narrow channel connecting two bodies of water: The Bering Strait lies between Alaska and Siberia.
 
supposedly / supposably      
Supposedlymeans "reputedly" or "likely to be true": Sam is supposedly the greatest waterboy in the football team's history. Supposably means "can be supposed": The best solution to the problem is supposably to ignore it. (However, this word is seldom used.)
 
swap / swop
Two spellings of the same word!
 If you swap something with someone, you give it to them and receive a different thing in exchange.
 
swat / swot
We swat a fly when we kill it with a newspaper or something similar. When we swot we work hard for an examination.
 
T
 
taut / taught  
Taut is a literary word that means "tight": Hold the string taut while I mark the line. Taught is the past tense of teach: Kenneth taught etiquette and good manners for several years.
 
tenant / tenet 
A tenant is someone who rents property: A new tenant moved into the vacant apartment last week. A tenet is a principle: The major tenets of all religions are similar.
 
than / then     
Thanis used to compare: Philippa Byrd thinks she is smarter than any of us. Then is a word to describe a time that is not now: I prefer Friday; it would be better to meet then because then I will be ready.
 
their / there / they're 
Theiris possessive of they: The twins left their books at home. There refers to a place that is not here: We will be there in two hours. They're is a contraction for they are: They're going to a concert tonight.
 
theirself / theirselves / themselves / themselves       
Only themselves is correct as a reflexive or emphatic pronoun: They gave themselves all the credit for the rescue.
 
threw / through        
Although these two words are pronounced the same, threw is the past tense of the verb throw, meaning "tossed, hurled in the air": Morty threw the keys to the car to McKinley.
Throughis a preposition meaning "entering the inside of something and coming out the other side": Chuck accidentaly threw a rock through Miss Conception's living room window.
 
throes / throws          
Throesare severe pains or difficult times: Wade Rivers found it difficult to listen to his iPod in the throes of battle. Throws is the plural or present tense of throw: Several throws later, Bud Light managed to put a wad of paper in the trash can from his desk.
 
til / till 
Tilis a contraction of the preposition until: I won't see you til tomorrow. Only one L. Till is a verb meaning "to cultivate": My Uncle Emmet tills about half the land on his farm and herds cattle on the rest.
 
to / too / two  
Tois a preposition meaning "toward": We go to the lake every summer. It also serves as the infinitive particle for verbs: I want to stop confusing words. Too means "also": I'd love to go with you, too. Two is the number between one and three: We have two options: hire a divorce lawyer or a mortician.
 
torpid / turgid           
Torpidmeans "unresponsive, lacking alertness": Prunella tried to elicit answers from the torpid students in front of her. Turgid means "very ornate and decorative": The author's turgid writing style lost my interest quickly. It can also mean "swollen and bulging": Turgid veins covered her legs.
 
tortuous / torturous  
Tortuousmeans "winding, crooked, with many twists and turns": Wiley Driver was very adept at driving the tortuous mountain roads of western North Carolina. Torturous means "very painful, like torture": Mick Stupp found doing math homework torturous.
 
tocsin / toxin  
A tocsin is an alarm, or a bell or siren used as an alarm: Our town has a hurricane tocsin that is tested every day at noon. A toxin is a poison, requiring an antitoxin for survival: The toxin of mushroom made Rita Book cross-eyed and left-handed.
 
V
 
vane / vain / vein       
A vane is blade that rotates: I don't know how hard the wind blew; it blew the weather vane off the roof. Vain means "fruitless, hopeless, or without result": Bertie harbors a vain hope of becoming a world-class ice skater. Vein refers to the tubes that carry blood back to the heart: The veins are usually smaller than the arteries.
 
venal / venial 
Venalmeans "corruptible, money-grubbing, likely to accept bribes": Chris Cross is a man so venal he charged his mother for taking her to the hospital. Venial means "easily forgiven": The judge dismissed the venial crimes and focused on the theft of the chocolates.
 
veracity / voracity     
Veracityis truthfulness: Can we trust the veracity of someone who works at Cook, Books, and Hyde Accounting? Voracity is greediness or extreme hunger but it can sound very much like veracity if the O in the first syllable is not clearly pronounced: Mildred's voracity for romance novels is as great as her love of chocolates.
 
verses / versus
Versesis plural of verse, a line of poetry: Several of Emerson's verses were recited that evening. Versus means "in comparison or opposition to": The benefits of having a cell phone versus not having one depend on the individual.
 
vicious / viscous         
Viciousmeans "cruel and mean": A vicious dog attacked the young boy. Viscous means "thick and sticky": Honey and tar are viscous substances.
 
W
 
waist / waste
Waist refers the (often) narrow area of a human body between the hips and ribs: We often wear a belt around our waist. Waste is garbage, or waste can be a verb meaning "to use carelessly": You shouldn't waste food and you should recycle waste paper.
 
wary / weary 
Warymeans "leery and cautious": The customer became wary when the salesperson said he would personally guarantee the TV set for 100 years. Weary means "tired and worn": After a day of harvesting corn, the farmer was very weary.
 
wave / waive  
To wave is to move back and forth; a wave is a swelling in a body of water due to movement: Helen Highwater waved her hand to the boat rocking in the waves. Waive means "to give up, not require or ask for": Never waive your right to a lawyer.
 
weak / week  
Weakis not strong: Finley gave a weak performance; maybe because he has a weak mind. Week refers to the names of the seven days, from Sunday to Saturday: I go to the ice skating rink once a week.
 
wear / ware / were / we're    
Wear is a verb (wear, wore, worn) meaning to have clothing on: Maud Lynn Dresser always wears gaudy evening gowns on formal occasions. Ware is an article of merchandise, a product (usually used in the plural): The potter displayed her wares on a beautiful stand made by her husband. Were is past tense of are: Maud and her fiance were at the ball last weekend. We're is a contraction for we are: We're going to the ball this weekend so maybe we'll see them.
 
weather / whether    
Weatherhas to do with climate: I hope we have beautiful weather for my daughter's wedding. Whether means "if" and is used only inside sentences: I don't know whether to bring an umbrella or not.
 
wet / whet      
Wet is full of moisture: We had to dry out the wet sleeping bag on our camping trip after a sudden storm. Whet is to stimulate or arouse: Smelling the stew whetted her appetite.
 
which / witch 
Whichmeans "what particular choice": Which witch put the spell on you? A witch is a person who believes in or practices magic: Not all witches have warts on their noses (some have them on their chins).
 
who's / whose
Who'sis a contraction for who is: Who's going to vote today? Whose is the possessive of who meaning "of whom": Whose tickets are these?
 
wreak / wreck           
Wreak"to cause (damage)" is used almost exclusively in the phrase wreak havoc: The hurricane wreaked havoc with their plans for a vacation at the beach. It is only possible to wreak damage, destruction, etc. Wreck is a regular verb meaning "to damage severely, destroy": The hurricane wrecked half the beach-front cottages.
 
wont / won't  
Wontmeans "used to": Maggie was wont to getting everything her way and cried when she didn't. Won't is a contraction for will not: Maggie won't be getting every toy she wants this Christmas.
 
Y
your / you're 
Youris possessive for you: Your idea is fantastic! You're is a contraction for you are: You're the most treasured person in my life.