The author S.A. Joo's Writing & Editing Advice & Tips

A professional Editor and YA Writer, represented by Black Hawk Literary Agency.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Collection of Commonly Misused and Confused Words and Phrases

For the new, updated version of this post (with a longer and  more comprehensive list), click here.

This is a post that lists the commonly misused or confused English terms and the correct terms. Much too often, I see writers making very basic mistakes without realizing it. Either they don't know which words are correct, or they've made a simple typo. However, we can't rely on spellchecker to fix that for us. The spellchecker will only highlight the misspelled words, not point out the wrong usage. So, here’s a chance to refresh your memory and relearn the correct terms of these words and phrases. I hope that this will stop writers from tweeting me with phrases like “Your welcome.” Because that makes me very stabby. Anyway, here goes~
Accept/Except  accept: to take or receive     except: but, excluding

Adapt/Adopt  adapt: adjust     adopt: chose, take

Advise/Advice  advise: verb (I advised him.)    advice: noun (I gave him an advice.)

Affect/Effect  affect: produce an effect, verb (She affected him) effect: noun, (Headache is the effect of stress.)

All ready/already  all ready: completely prepared (Dinner is all ready.)      already:  by or before stated time (You’re done already?)

Altogether/All together  altogether: entirely     all together: everything in one place, gathered

A lot/Alot  a lot: right     alot: wrong

All right/Alright  all right: right      alright: wrong

Among/Between  among: surrounded by      between: in the space separating two points

Anyway/Anyways  anyway: right      anyways: wrong (never ‘s’ ending)

Bare/Bear  bare: without, unconcealed, undisguised     bear: to hold up, support 

Breath/Breathe  breath: noun- inhaled/exhaled air     breathe: verb-to inhale/exhale 

Cite/Site  cite: to quote, to summon     site: position or location of a town, building, etc.

Compliment/Complement  compliment: an expression of praise       complement: something that completes

Conscious/Conscience  conscious: awake     conscience: inner guide to right or wrong

Could care less/Couldn’t care less  The right way is “couldn’t.”

Council/Counsel  council: a group that advises     counsel: to advise 

Dessert/Desert  dessert: food served after the main meal     desert: arid, dry land

Discreet/Discrete discreet: showing prudence, circumspection       discrete: consisting of or characterized by distinct or individual parts

ELICIT/Illicit  elicit: to draw or bring out     illicit: illegal

Farther/Further  farther: physical distance (It’s father than xxxx.)       further: metaphorical distance (This requires further consideration.)

Few/Less  few: countable (fewer people)        less: uncountable (Less harmful)

Forward/forwards  forward:right      forwards: wrong (never ‘s’ ending)

I/Me  I: subject of a verb (It is I who is studying.)    me: object of a verb (It’s between you and me.)

It’s/Its  it’s: contraction for it is or it has         its: pronoun, belonging to it like his or theirs

i.e./e.g  i.e.: therefore, that is        e.g.: for example

And for the love of everything fluffy and cuddly like a new born puppy, IRREGARDLESS is not a word!!
Okay. Let’s continue...

Good/Well  good: adjective (Your singing is good.)     well: adverb (You sing well.)

Lightening/Lightning  lightening: illuminate, brightening       lightning: accompany thunder

Lose/Loose  lose: no longer have (lost)     loose: not tight, careless (My belt is loose.)

Nauseous/Nauseated Nauseous is what causes one to feel nauseated. Saying "I'm nauseous" is like saying "I'm gross." Correct way is "I feel nauseated because of that nauseous smell."   

Necessary/Necessity  necessary: adjective- being essential     necessity: noun- the fact of being necessary 

Passed/Past  passed: verb in past tense    past: can be adjective, adverb, preposition, noun, but never verb

Peak/Peek  peak: pointed top of anything        peek: a quick look

Principle/Principal  principle: doctrine, truth      principal: first, main

Site/Sight  site: position or location of a town, building, etc sight: vision, view

Staring/Starring  staring: looking     starring: have someone as a performer in a movie, play, etc.

Stationary/Stationery  stationary: not moving      stationery: writing paper

Suppose to be/Supposed to be It’s always supposed with a “d.” 

Than/Then  than: comparative (I’m bigger than you.)     then: refers to time (I’ll see you before then.)

There/Their  there: in or at that place (It’s right there.)        their: possessive of they (It’s their TV.)

Toward/Towards  toward: right      towards: wrong (never ‘s’ ending, maybe in UK)

Use to be/Used to be  It’s always used with a “d.”

Who/Whom  who: subject    whom: object
Example: The easy way by looking at the answer. Is the answer a subject or an object?Who is that? I did. (The answer is I, subject) Whom are you speaking to? I’m speaking to him. (The answer is him, object)

Who/Which/That  who: people    which: never for people    that: okay for a group of people

Can't remember all of them? Then hire yourself an editor!


  1. Great list. I see so many writers putting these mistakes in their books. I hate "alright" instead of "all right". Writers from Utah break this all the time. I hate it. For the record, I'm from Utah and use "all right".

  2. Most complete list I've seen on this to date. Thanks Su!

  3. I really like this blog. It covers a lot of mistakes writers tend to make when writing, especially the ones at the ends of which some people tend to add or take away a "d".

    I'm looking at the distinctions between "passed" and "past". "Past" can be an adjective, you said, so the definition for "passed" could be more along the lines of, "verb in *past* sense," since "past" is describing "tense". But you're more educated than I, so I may be completely wrong.

  4. Anon,

    Put it this way. "Past locates" something time, time before present, something completed, but never the regular or the past tense of the verb "pass." These two words are not even related. They just sound a like. Hope this helps.

    Thanks all for your comments~

  5. Fantastic list! Also - irregardless makes fluffy ducklings sad.

  6. Really helpful listing. You have a great informative blog, Roland

  7. Irregardless and alright are both words according to Miriam Webster.

    1. There is a difference between standard and nonstandard words. I wrote a post about that because I feel that strongly about those words.
      Also, a friend wrote an awesome post just on the standard and nonstandard English. Please read it. Thank you.

  8. I added this to my bookmarks for future reference. Thanks! :)

  9. You forgot vain and vein. Only phlebotomists are supposed to do things in vein, but you know others will. :)

  10. You forgot to mention two words too!

  11. Great.......! its really helpful list. Most complete list I've seen on this to date.
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  12. Alot - Town in the Ratlam district of Madhya Pradesh, India
    alot - misspelling
    allot - to divide or distribute by share or portion
    a lot - many