Page 2 Word Usage Study Guide for the English Basics

Commonly Confused Words

Commonly confused words are similar to multiple-meaning words in that they sound alike or very similar, have similar spelling, and are often used interchangeably and therefore, incorrectly. Here is a list of some of the most commonly confused words, what each one actually means, and an example of how each one should be used:

Hint: If one word choice is a contraction, try substituting the two words it replaces in the sentence to see if that makes sense. Example: “Whose glasses are these?” would not make sense if who’s were used: “Who is glasses are these?” No.

Hint: To help keep “there” and “here” straight, both of these contain “ere” and are “location” words. Their “sound-alikes” do not and are not.

Hint: Think of the similarities in the words and definitions of lay and lie:

lay = to place
lie = to recline

Note: There is no such word as “expecially”—in speech or in writing and “especially” has no “k” sound when correctly pronounced.

Note: The word “affect” can be used as a noun in the realm of psychology and means *a mood or feeling. “Lisa displayed a brave affect when approached by her ex-boyfriend.” In addition, the word “effect” can be used as a verb when it means *to accomplish: “The group was hoping to effect change by protesting.”

Words don’t have to be spelled similarly or sound close to be confused in writing and speaking. There are other tricky usage issues that we’d like to clarify for you, as they are common mistakes that you can now work to avoid.

Note: These two are abbreviations, so they both need the periods, but do not need to be in italics. Usually, they are also each followed by a comma. *Hint: Remember them by associating their meanings with their beginning letters:
e.g. = example
i.e. = in other words

Confusion can also happen with phrases. Watch out for this common one: The phrase should be all of a sudden, not all of the sudden. Some people claim that you can thank Shakespeare for this one as scholars trace this use back to his Taming of the Shrew. However, this phrase is an idiom and the accepted way to say it is all of a sudden. All of the sudden is considered slang and improper grammar.

Also, be sure that you are not accidentally talking about rocks. When you use the word “granted” as in the phrase “take for granted”, it’s granted, not granite. Granite is a type of rock and does not denote that you are failing to appreciate something like it would if you took it for granted. This would be incorrect:

“We often take our comforts of life for granite, like a warm bed to sleep in or enough food to eat.”

It should be:

“We often take our comforts of life for granted, like a warm bed to sleep in or enough food to eat.”