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Writing Centre: Commonly Mixed Up Words

Selecting the right word when you write helps you communicate more clearly. Many words in the English language thatpeople use can be mixed-up with another word that sounds like it or looks similar, such as right and write, or affect and effect.

I have listed some of the most commonly mixed up of these words, what they mean, and how to use them correctly in a sentence.

For a list of over 800 of these words check out the Dictionary of Same Sounding Words.

  • Accept is a verb meaning to receive (I will accept your offer.)
  • Except is generally used as a preposition meaning excluding (I want all except that orange one.)
  • Advice is a noun. (I need some advice.)
  • Advise is a verb. (We advise you to follow these rules.)
  • Affect is a verb meaning to influence. (The weather did not affect our decision to go on vacation.)
  • Effect is a noun meaning result. (The weather has an effect on our moods.)
  • All ready means completely prepared. (Sarah was all ready for her trip.)
  • Already mean previously. (The dinner was already prepared.)
  • All right is always written as two words.  Alright is not standard.
  • A lot is always two words.
  • Among is used with three or more entities. (There was consensus among the class.)
  • Between is used with two entities, (You can choose between Thai or Mexican.)
  • Assure means to tell someone something is true or will happen, often to make them less worried. (Please assure Mark that the car will be ready for Friday.)
  • Ensure means to make sure something happens. (Her reputation ensures her acceptance.)
  • Insure refers to a financial transaction where you pay money to a company so that property is lost, stolen or damages, that the company will replace that property.
  • Complement is a verb meaning "to complete", or a noun meaning 'something that completes. (The new teacher complements our faculty.)
  • Compliment is a verb meaning 'to flatter,' or a noun meaning 'a flattering remark'. (Our website receives many compliments.)
  • Continual means 'repeated regularly and frequently.'  (She grew weary of the continual phone calls.)
  • Continuous mean 'extended or prolonged without interruption. (The crying baby made a continuous wail.)
  • Criteria is the plural of criterion.
  • Different than is non-standard. Write different from instead.
  • Explicit means expressed directly, or clearly defined.  (Susan gave explicit instructions to the class.)
  • Implicit means implied or unstated. (No comment indicates his implicit approval.)
  • Good is an adjective. (Mark did a good job.)
  • Well is an adverb. (Sarah writes well.)
  • Its is the possessive for it. (The dog ate its supper.)
  • It's is the contraction for it is. (It's another cold day.)
  • Myself is use as reflective pronoun, or as an intensifier. (I wash myself, I will drive you there myself.)
  • Principal is a noun meaning the head of a school or organization, or an adjective most important. (Our school has a new principal.)
  • Principle means a law or truth. (We believe in the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty.)
  • Shall is a legal term used to suggest duty or obligation. (The application shall file this form by year-end.)
  • Than is used in comparisons.  (She is shorter than you are.)
  • Then is an adverb that denotes time. (First put the key in the ignition, then turn it.)
  • That is used for restrictive clauses.  (The factory that makes the wonderful sausages is situated out of town.)
  • Which is used for non-restrictive clauses.  It is generally preceded by a comma. (The Lakeshore Meat factory, which makes these wonderful sausages, is situated out of town.
  • Try and is non-standard for try to. (Try to please your mother.)
  • Your is possessive pronoun. (Remember your umbraella.)
  • You're is the contraction meaning for 'you are'. (You're getting fat.)

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