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

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Collection of Commonly Confused, Misused & Misspelled Words and Phrases

*This is an updated version of my old post. I will continue to add more words/phrases to this collection, so please check back from time to time.*

This post is a compilation of the commonly confused and misused English terms. Much too often, I see writers making very basic mistakes without realizing it. Either they didn't know the definition, or they made a simple typo. These days, writers rely on spellcheckers on Word or grammar software to fix all the errors. But do you know what? The spellchecker will only highlight the misspelled words, not fix the incorrect usage of the words. Yes, this job is for the humans. Writers and editors. I hope this helps~

Accept/Except   accept: to take or receive     except: but, excluding

Adapt/Adopt   adapt: adjust     adopt: choose, take

Adverse/Averse   adverse: unfavorable, harmful    averse: reluctant, opposition to something

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.)

Aggravate/Annoy   aggravate: make worse    annoy: pester or irritate  E.g.: Peter was annoyed when his boss aggravated the situation by telling the other co-workers.

Aid/Aide   aid: help, assistance (verb, adjective, noun)     aide: assistant (the person who is giving the aid/help)

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

Allusion/Illusion    allusion: reference     illusion: false impression   e.g.: Not understanding the allusion, he was under the illusion that his turn would be next.

A lot/Alot   a lot: right     alot: wrong

All right/Alright   all right: right     alright: wrong

Altar/Alter   altar: the table in a Christian church used to worship    alter: change (The length of the dress was altered to match her height.

Among/Between   among: more than two (Among all contestants, only seven were good enough to qualify.)    between: only two, in the space separating two points (It’s just between you and me.)

Anybody/Any body   anybody: any one person and interchangeable with anyone (Anybody can do the job.)     any body: a noun phrase referring to an arbitrary body (They were looking for not just any body but a body that was more than a hundred pounds.)

Anyway/Anyways   anyway: used to end or change conversation, transitional word     anyways: not a real word

*Alumnus: one male graduate Alumni:plural of alumnus or alumna, several male or female graduates Alumna: one female graduate Alumnae: plural of an alumna, several female graduates (Informally, people use the slang "alum" or "alums.")

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

Beside/Besides   beside: by the side of (I want the table beside the bed.)    besides: in addition to (Besides, I wanted to sit beside my dad.)

Biannual/Semiannual/Biennial   biannual: twice a year   semiannual: every half year   biennial: every other year

Brake/Break   brake: a device to stop a moving vehicle     break: separate into pieces or interrupt 

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

Capital/Capitol    capital (n): city serving as a government center   Capitol: a U.S. state or federal legislature building

Canceled/Cancelled (canceling /cancelling)   It angers me whenever I see some TV news (by journalists and editors) and airports misusing it so much! In America, use American English. Canceled is American English, and cancelled isn't (use in Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) Same goes for travel. It's traveling/traveled, not travelling/travelled. 

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

Concurrent/Consecutive   concurrent (adj.): simultaneous or happening at the same time as something else (The concurrent C's in this quarter lowered the GPA for the entire semester.)      consecutive (adj.): successive or following one after the other (He made the honor rolls 3 consecutive time this year.)

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

Continuous/Continual   continuous: constant with no interruption   continual: occurring repeatedly or recurring but could pause/have interruption

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

Complement/Compliment   complement: supplement, makes complete    compliment: praise

Connote/Denote   connote (v): imply or suggest  (Her designer bags connote her high sense of style and her wealth.)     denote (v): indicate or refer to specifically  (The date is marked red to denote a particular holiday.)

Convince/Persuade convince (v): cause (someone) to believe firmly in the truth of something    persuade (v): cause (someone) to do something through reasoning or argument

Course/Coarse   course: a route,  a class, or part of the idiomatic phrase "of course."    coarse: rough (Her hair was coarse, so it was hard to comb it.)

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

Discreet/Discrete discreet: showing prudence, careful (For her privacy, be discreet.)       discrete: consisting of or characterized by distinct or individual parts

Disinterested/Uninterested   disinterested: impartial, having no personal interest    uninterested: not interested

Dual/Duel    dual: two (He meets both dual requirements.)    duel: a fight or a contest (He challenged me to a duel.) 

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

Emigrate/Immigrate    emigrate:  leave one's country to live in another   immigrate: come into a country to live permanently  (Migrate is to move like birds in the winter.)

Envy/Jealous   envy: wanting someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck    jealous: feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages

Envelope/Envelop   envelope: the paper container you put your letter in    envelop: wrap (I felt his arms envelop my body in a warm hug.)

Everyday/Every day   everyday: routine or daily (This is my everyday exercise plan.)    every day: every single day (We need to check it every day without skipping a day.)

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

Few/Less   few (adj.): countable - small in numbers (This class has few students.)       less (adj.): uncountable - small in amount or degree (less in love)

Forego/Forgo   forego: to precede, to go before (Pianist will forego the violinist since the violin part doesn't start until the middle of the song.)    forgo: to go without (I'm forgoing my birthday party this year.)

Forward/forwards   forward: right      forwards: British English    Same goes for toward, backward, etc.

Good/Well   good (adj.): high-quality manner or correctly   well (adv.): in a good or satisfactory way (You did well on the test because the score was good.)

I/Me   I: subject of a verb (Sam and I are 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: indicates possessive like his or theirs

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

Imply/Infer   imply: suggest, state indirectly, hint     infer: deduce, make an educated guess, conclude (Give & Take: One person gives an implication, and the other takes it and then infers it.)

Impact (n): a powerful or major influence or effect NOT to be used as a verb. And "impactful" is not a real word. It's a nonstandard English.

In/Into   in: within, expressing the situation of being enclosed or surrounded by something   into: from the outside to the inside (e.g. Go into the house, and stay in my room.)

Incite/Insight   incite: to stir up, to stimulate (Your bad attitude will only incite more negative feedback.)     insight: deep understanding, awareness (It offers insight to the minds of the writers.)

Insure/Ensure   insure: insurance, secure (We'll insure ourselves for further damage.)    ensure: to guarantee, make sure (She must ensure that she doesn't miss this appointment.)

Intend/Intent   intend: verb, to plan or want to do     intent: noun, the thing that you plan to do

Interrupt/Interject   interrupt: break the continuity     interject: say, insert something abruptly 

IRREGARDLESS is not a standard English word!! Actually, it used to be a couple of hundred years ago, but people figured out it was redundant to have 2 negatives that cancel each other out. Prefix "ir" means not, and suffix less also means not. So, you have regard left, which IS a real word. And for the love of everything cuddly and fluffy like a new born puppy, use regard. And if you mean the opposite, use disregard or regardless.

Jive/Jibe   jive: to tease or to dance   jibe: to agree or be in accord

Lay/Lie   lay: to put down, not to be used for humans as humans lie down, not lay down    lie: to recline as in lie down or tell untruth

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

Like/As    like: followed by a noun (cute like a puppy, sings like her father)    as: followed by a verb (cute as a puppy I bought, sings as her father would like to sing) 

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

Loath/Loathe   loath: reluctant, unwilling     loathe: intense hate, disgust  (I'm loath to join a gym, but that doesn't mean that I loathe exercising.) 

Moral/Morale   moral: lesson (noun-the moral of the story is...) or righteous (adjective-he has the moral of a saint)     morale: enthusiasm, confidence (Flowers sent by strangers increased the morale of the patient.

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/Pique   peak: pointed top of anything     peek: a quick look    pique: intrigue or stimulate

Poor/Pore/Pour    poor: low quality, unfortunate, impoverished  pore: tiny opening in a surface or think intently, scrutinize  pour: transfer liquid

Principle/Principal   principle: doctrine, truth      principal: first, main (school principal)

Purposely/Purposefully   purposely: intentionally    purposefully: demeanor or manner of someone determined or resolute (To show them you mean it, you might purposefully widen your eyes.)

Recur/Reoccur   recur: to occur over and over (like a recurring nightmare)   reoccur: happen again

Riffle/Rifle   riffle: rapidly flip or shuffle through     rifle: flip/shuffle though or ransack with intent to steal

Role/Roll    role: function or position, characteristic of a person, portrayal of an actor, etc.     roll: to move forward on a surface, to travel (Elvis played a big role in the history of rock and roll.)

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

Stationary/Stationery   stationary: not moving      stationery: writing paper

Tenant/Tenet   tenant: pays rent to reside on a property     tenet: a principle held as true, especially by a group

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 U.K.)

To/Too/Two   to: in a direction toward     too: also     two: 2

Troupe/Troop   troop: group of people    troupe: group of actors 

Try to/Try and   try to is grammatically correct and is used in American English   try and is less formal and often used in British English. (e.g. The lady said she would try to get the dress in my size; I hoped she would try and keep looking.) "Try and" results in two verbs/two actions, which changes the meaning. Conclusion? Just use "try to."

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

Vain/Vane/Vein   vain: conceited     vane: a thin, rigid, flat, or sometimes curved surfaces radially mounted along an axis     vein: blood vessel

Waist/Waste   waist: middle of a body around the tummy     waste: to use, consume, spend, or trash

Was/Were   was(singular): could be true E.g.: If he was here, he'd be controlling the TV as usual.     were(plural): hypothetical or fantasy

E.g.: If I were God, I'd get rid of snow.

Weather/Wether/Whether   weather: climate, temperature, etc.     wether: a castrated ram     whether: used to introduce alternative possibilities (We don't care whether you eat or not.)

Who/Whom   who: subject     whom: object
E.g.: The easiest way is by looking at the answer. Is the answer a subject or an object? Who is that? I did. (The answer is I, subject) To whom are you speaking? 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

Which/That   which: non-restrictive and a comma comes before it. The phrase can be taken out without changing the meaning of the sentence.  (I had breakfast, which was in the morning.)  
that: restrictive and NO comma. If the phrase that follows is taken out, the meaning changes. (I saw a man that the police was looking for.)

Your/You're   I can't believe I have to explain this, but I've seen it so many times just on Twitter alone. I detest it. your: possessive form of you, belonging to, etc.     you're: contraction of you are   ("You're not your mother!")


Bated Breath/baited breath    Bated breath is correct. Bated means in great suspense; very anxiously or excitedly. e.g. He waited for his SAT score with bated breath.

Beckon call/Beck and call     beck and call is correct, meaning you’re available at someone’s command. (I'm not your beck and call! I won't be on standby just waiting for you in case you might want me. I'm done!)

Buck Naked is correct, not butt naked.

Can I/May
I   can: it denotes ability     may: used in asking for permission 
(E.g.: "Can I drink coke?" "You can since you have the physical ability to drink it, but you may not drink it since you didn't ask properly." "Fine. May I drink coke?" "Yes, you may.")

Couldn’t care less   shows indifference. Basically, you don't give a crap. Wrong way: "could care less," which means you could or would care. So, this is saying if you could, you would.

Deep seeded/Deep Seated    seated is correct as it means something is established firmly below the surface

Did a 360 is wrong because that means you did a full circle and returned to the same spot. The intended meaning of this term is to say you did/are a complete opposite. So, did a 180 (which would have you turn around/complete opposite point) is correct.

First-come, first-served   indicates the participants will be served in the order in which they arrive. The wrong way: first-serve, which is the wrong tense.

For all intents and purposes   officially or effectively Wrong way: for all intensive purposes

Free reign/rein     Some might say "reign" makes more sense since it's ruling as a monarch. However, you're allowing a horse to determine its own path with its reins loosened, so metaphorically speaking, you have more power/freedom as a person. 

In this day and age   means now, at the present time. Wrong way: "day in age," which means day inside an age? It's plainly dumb. 

It's a dog-eat-dog/dog eat dog world, not doggy dog world, which looks and sounds stupid.

Mano a mano: hand to hand 

Nip it in the bud (not butt) the literal meaning: to stop a flower or plant from growing, but it's used say to stop something before it gets out of hand.

One and the same   Same thing or same person. Wrong way: "one in the same."

E.g.: When Mia was homeschooled, her teacher and her mother were one and the same.  

Pawned off/Palmed off    When you want to dump something/someone you don't want to someone else, it's actually "palming" off because it means trickery. 
Peaked/Piqued my interest   pique is correct because it means to stimulate.

Pour over/Pore over    If you’re carefully inspecting something, intently studying, or reflect upon something, you're poring over it. (Pore over)    pour: spill, flow of liquid

Scot-free/Scott-free    Scot is correct. It means getting away with no punishment, unharmed

Should have (should've) & Could have (could've) are correct. Should of & could of are wrong. 

Shoe-in/Shoo-in    It's a shoo-in,” meaning something easily ushered in, guaranteed win.

Slight of hand/Sleight of hand    sleight: describes a form of trickery, as in “sleight of hand magic so sleight is correct.

Statue/Statute of limitations   Statue is a stone sculpture, so it's wrong. A statute of limitations is a law that describes the limited time frame in which legal measures can be taken. 

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

Supposedly (correct) Supposably: NOT a real word, nonstandard English

Unfazed is correct, not unphased as you're trying to say one is not fazed (disturbed, troubled)

Wet your appetite/Whet your appetite (correct) whet: a thing that stimulates appetite or desire

Worst-case scenario is correct, not worse-case because worst is at the top of the level.

There are more, and it's very difficult to remember all of them. Do yourself a favor and hire an editor.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Happy writing~



  1. Excellent compilation of words that give me trouble. I'll certainly refer to this list and your other post. Thank you, Su.

  2. Wow. This is an amazing list and very useful. Thanks for positing it.

  3. Wow. This is an amazing list and very useful. Thanks for positing it.

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