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COMMONLY CONFUSED WORD PAIRS


WHATS THE PROBLEM? I was more effected by the special affects then by any other
aspect of the movie.
Did you notice the errors? Lets take a closer look.
The English vocabulary contains many terrible twosomes (and threesomes) words
that are commonly misused because of their similar sounds, appearances, and/or
meanings.
The sentence above contains three of these commonly misused words. Note how similar the
corrected version looks and sounds:
I was more affected by the special effects than by any other aspect of the movie.
HOW CAN WE AVOID THIS PROBLEM?
You are probably already aware of certain word pairs that are particularly tricky for you.
Understanding how the words function in a sentence and learning or creating mnemonic
devices can help you gain more confidence in deciding which word to choose.
When in doubt, look it up. This handout includes only a small number of easily confused
words; most writers handbooks and style manuals provide a more comprehensive list of tricky
words, along with examples of correct usage. The more you use this kind of reference, the
less youll need it. Choosing the proper word becomes second nature through careful
observation, revision, and practice.
THE TROUBLESOME TWOSOMES TOP FIVE:
1. accept is a verb similar to receive or take
Will you accept my apology?
except is most commonly used as a preposition that means excluding
The exc that appears at the beginning of except and excluding can be a useful
memory tool.
I like everything on the menu except the curried lamb.
2. affect is usually a verb meaning alter or influence
Notice that affect and alter both begin with an a.
I wish the rain didnt affect my mood so much; Ive felt sad for days.
effect is usually a noun meaning result
Effect and result both have an e in the first syllable.

One side effect of my new study habits is reduced stress.


3. good, when it is easily confused with well, is an adjective, which describes a nounsomeone,
something, or some place that is good
Jantzen is working hard to be a good student.
well, when it is easily confused with good, is an adverb, which comments on how an action is
performed
He did very well on his last exam.
4. imply is similar to suggest
When I offered my assistance, I didnt mean to imply that you are incapable of finishing
the project by yourself.
infer is similar to intuit or assume
Although she didnt say it outright, I inferred from her comments that she is upset with
me.
5. than is a conjunction that creates a comparison
A is the middle vowel in both than and comparison.
I ate more food at todays potluck than I normally do in a week.
then is a time-related adverb with a meaning similar to next
E is the middle vowel in both then and next.
Josie discovered the final clue, and then we were able to solve the puzzle.
THREE TRICKY VERB PAIRS:
Basically, one verb in each of these pairs means to move oneself (intransitive), and the other
means to move something else (transitive). If the verb put can be used in substitution, choose
the second verb of the pair.
1. lie means recline (past tenses = lay, lain)
My cats favorite place to lie in the morning is on my newspaper.
lay, like put, transfers action to something else (past tenses = laid, laid)
The judge laid the bouquet of flowers at the winning Border Collies paws.
2. rise means get up (past tenses = rose, risen)
When the doorbell rang, Irvella rose quickly from her chair.
raise is similar to lift or increase (past tenses = raised, raised)
Please raise the painting another inch, so it covers the stain on the wall.
3. sit is to get or stay in a sitting position (past tenses = sat, sat)
Id rather stand than sit; Ive been in the car all morning.
set means place (past tenses = set, set)
You can set those dirty dishes in the sink.
PRONOUN PROBLEMS:
Sometimes the shortest words are the trickiest. The four pronouns it, they, who, and you take
on similar-sounding forms when possessive and when used in a contraction with a to be verb.

Whereas nouns take an apostrophe to show possession, apostrophes used with pronouns
indicate that letters were omitted when two words joined.
1. its is the possessive form of it
The hawk circled overhead before claiming its prey.
it's = it is
I dont like this chili because its not spicy enough.
2. their is the possessive form of they
The students werent happy about their final grades.
they're = they are
Id offer you some cookies, but theyre not quite done yet.
there, which is not a pronoun, refers to place
Note that this word contains the word here
Chicago is a great place to visit, but I dont think Id want to live there.
3. whose is the possessive form of who
Thats the man whose schnauzer bit Rex.
who's = who is
Do you know whos running for student body president?
4. your is the possessive form of you
Your idea of a hike is my idea of torture.
you're = you are
Youre not going to believe how many elk we saw yesterday.
A LETTER APART:
advice is a noun similar to recommendation
I didnt ask for Samanthas advice, but she gave it to me anyway.
advise is a verb similar to recommend
The doctor advised me to drink more water when I exercise.
capital is a noun referring to a city or money as well as an adjective that means main or
precedes the word punishment
Our capital goal is to raise the capital needed to fund the new project.
capitol is a government building
Which architectural styles were popular when this capitol was built?
cite is a verb meaning mention
Be sure you cite at least five sources in your next research paper.
site is a noun referring to location (whether physical or on the Internet)
There are mixed opinions about the best site for the new residence hall.
complement is a noun or verb that refers to completeness
Note that comple begins both complement and complete.
Bethany always wears a scarf to complement her outfit.
compliment is a noun or verb similar to praise
Although his stage persona is extroverted, Boswell gets embarrassed every time
someone compliments his acting abilities.

desert is a noun referring to a dry place or climate and a verb meaning leave
I love water too much to live in a desert.
Although Mei Ling went to the party with Jon, she deserted him as soon as she found
her other friends.
dessert is a noun referring to a sweet food
The extra s in this word comes from the sweetness.
My favorite dessert is warm sticky rice with coconut ice cream.
farther is the preferred word when describing physical distance
If I lived farther from campus, perhaps I would get more exercise.
further generally refers to figurative distance
Housing is an important topic; lets discuss it further tomorrow.
principal is an adjective meaning main or most important and a noun identifying a sum of
money or the head of a school
Remember the saying, The principal of your school is your pal?
The principal reason we hired Larry is that he is extremely creative.
principle is a noun similar to rule or belief
Maxime adhered to three basic principles when she wrote her novels: revise, revise,
revise.
stationary is an adjective referring to something that isnt moving
Although the scenery was dull, Jules enjoyed exercising on the stationary bicycle in his
basement.
stationery is a noun referring to paper and other writing supplies
Notice the er in both stationery and paper.
Mikaila writes so many letters that she buys new stationery every month.
TRY IT!
1. If we drive a little farther/further, well see a great place to stop for desert/dessert.
2. Im not sure why Tak cant accept/except how good/well your/youre dress looks.
3. Please tell them to set/sit still and raise/rise their/theyre/there hands once they have identified
all the capital/capitol cities in Europe.
4. Its/Its important to complement/compliment our principal/principle, whose/whos innovative
educational principals/principles and good/well advice/advise helped students raise/rise
their/theyre/there test scores ten percent last year.
5. The city planners hope to rebuild the capital/capitol on the cite/site of the old fairgrounds,
where they could raise/rise a monument to the citys founders.
6. Ive never seen my hamster remain so stationary/stationery for such a long period of time;
its/its been laying/lying there all day.