Beverley Scherberger

The only Writer / Editor you'll ever need.

#9 Words that Confuse

 

Words that Confuse

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The English language contains many words that can easily confuse us. But as a writer, you should make the effort to learn how and when to use which words. If you can’t seem to commit them all to memory, a chart hanging near your desk would be useful. Or you could create a list on your computer that you can easily access when in doubt. Anything that is handy enough to refer to without effort will make your writing easier and more precise and will save time spent looking the questionable ones up. And will prevent you from making some embarrassing mistakes…

Our language contains words that sound the same and have the same spellings but different meanings; words that sound the same and have different meanings but also have different spellings; and words that are spelled the same and have different meanings, but are pronounced differently. It’s no wonder that people trying to learn English as a second language complain that it’s so difficult!

Some examples of words that sound the same and have the same spellings but different meanings:

  • fair (festival) or fair (light-complexion) or fair (impartial; just)
  • bank (slope down to a river) or bank (where you keep your money)
  • lie (untruth) or lie (prone)

Words that sound the same and have different meanings but also have different spellings:

  • knight, night
  • accept, except
  • weather, whether

Words that are spelled the same and have different meanings, but are pronounced differently:

  • tear (rip); tear (water from the eye)
  • wind (breeze); wind (to turn; to wind up, as a watch)

There are also some words that don’t fall into any of the aforementioned categories but still have the ability to trip you up. Some of these words have similar meanings while some are nearly opposites. Watch out for:

  • further (aid; assist, as in further his career); farther (more distant)
  • past (previous life or history); passed (to have gone by something)
  • less (to a smaller extent); fewer (smaller in number)
  • lie (to recline, present tense ~ “to lie down”); lay (to recline, past tense ~ “He lay down for a nap.”)
  • sit (to take a seat); set (to put in place ~ “She set it on the floor.”)
  • altar (raised area of a church ~ kneel at the altar); alter (change)
  • accept (agree to); except (not including)
  • effect (cause to happen); affect (to produce a change in)
  • advice (noun/recommendations on what to do); advise (verb/to recommend something)
  • complement (an addition that improves something); compliment (praise or express approval)
  • council (group of people who manage or advise); counsel (advice; to advise)
  • principal (head of a school); principle (fundamental rule or belief)
  • ensure (to make certain that something will happen); insure (to provide compensation if someone dies or property is damaged i.e. insurance)
  • loose (to unfasten or set free); lose (to be unable to find)
  • stationary (not moving); stationery (writing materials; paper)
  • desert (hot, waterless area; to abandon someone); dessert (something sweet following a meal)
  • personal (relating to private details or affairs); personnel (employees)

This isn’t a comprehensive list, by any means, but does contain some of the most commonly misused words. If you create a list of tricky words to keep near your computer, you might want to add anything that tends to trip you up. Be sure to include: their, there, they’re; to, too, two; ad, add; and its, it’s. (Tip: “it’s” is a contraction for “it is”. If you cannot substitute “it is” in your sentence, you want to use “its”.)

As time goes by and you write more and more articles, expand your list of tricky words. Eventually, your collection will include nearly all of the words that give you problems ~ and you won’t have any excuses for misused words!

Until next time…

“Read to escape reality . . . Write to embrace it.”   ―     Stephanie Connolly

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