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Commonly confused words

Take a look at these two sentences—one of them contains a mistake:

I poured over book after book.

We pored over the catalogs.

Are you uncertain which one is right? There are a lot of words in English that look or sound alike but have very different meanings, such as pore and pour or flaunt and flout. It’s easy to get them confused and most electronic spellcheckers won’t be much help in this type of situation: they can tell you if a word has been spelled wrongly but they can’t generally identify the misuse of a correctly spelled word.

Here’s a quick-reference list of pairs of words that regularly cause people problems. The words follow the accepted American English spelling. Some of them do have alternative British spellings and you will find these at the main dictionary entry: click on any item in the list to see the full dictionary entry.

Word 1

Meaning

Word 2

Meaning

accept

to agree to receive or do

except

not including

adverse

unfavourable, harmful

averse

strongly disliking; opposed

advice

recommendations about what to do

advise

to recommend something

affect

to change or make a difference to

effect

a result; to bring about a result

aisle

a passage between rows of seats

isle

an island

all together

all in one place, all at once

altogether

completely; on the whole

along

moving or extending horizontally on

a long

referring to something of great length

aloud

out loud

allowed

permitted

altar

a sacred table in a church

alter

to change

amoral

not concerned with right or wrong

immoral

not following accepted moral standards

appraise

to assess

apprise

to inform someone

assent

agreement, approval

ascent

the action of rising or climbing up

aural

relating to the ears or hearing

oral

relating to the mouth; spoken

bare

naked; to uncover

bear

to carry; to put up with

bated

in phrase 'with bated breath', i.e. in great suspense

baited

with bait attached or inserted

bazaar

a Middle Eastern market

bizarre

strange

berth

a bunk in a ship, train, etc.

birth

the emergence of a baby from the womb

born

having started life

borne

carried

bough

a branch of a tree

bow

to bend the head; the front of a ship

brake

a device for stopping a vehicle; to stop a vehicle

break

to separate into pieces; a pause

breach

to break through, or break a rule; a gap

breech

the back part of a gun barrel

broach

to raise a subject for discussion

brooch

a piece of jewellery

canvas

a type of strong cloth

canvass

to seek people’s votes

censure

to criticize strongly

censor

to ban parts of a book or film; a person who does this

cereal

a grass producing an edible grain; a breakfast food made from grains

serial

happening in a series

chord

a group of musical notes

cord

a length of string; a cord-like body part

climactic

forming a climax

climatic

relating to climate

coarse

rough

course

a direction; a school subject; part of a meal

complacent

smug and self-satisfied

complaisant

willing to please

complement

to add to so as to improve; an addition that improves something

compliment

to praise or express approval; an admiring remark

council

a group of people who manage or advise

counsel

advice; to advise

cue

a signal for action; a wooden rod

queue

a line of people or vehicles

currant

a dried grape

current

happening now; a flow of water, air, or electricity

defuse

to make a situation less tense

diffuse

to spread over a wide area

desert

a waterless, empty area; to abandon someone

dessert

the sweet course of a meal

discreet

careful not to attract attention

discrete

separate and distinct

disinterested

impartial

uninterested

not interested

draw

an even score at the end of a game

drawer

a sliding storage compartment

dual

having two parts

duel

a fight or contest between two people

elicit

to draw out a reply or reaction

illicit

not allowed by law or rules

ensure

to make certain that something will happen

insure

to provide compensation if a person dies or property is damaged

envelop

to cover or surround

envelope

a paper container for a letter

exercise

physical activity; to do physical activity

exorcise

to drive out an evil spirit

fawn

a young deer; light brown

faun

a mythical being, part man, part goat

flaunt

to display ostentatiously

flout

to disregard a rule

flounder

to move clumsily; to have difficulty doing something

founder

to fail

forbear

to refrain

forebear

an ancestor

foreword

an introduction to a book

forward

onwards, ahead

freeze

to turn to ice

frieze

a decoration along a wall

grisly

gruesome, revolting

grizzly

a type of bear

hoard

a store

horde

a large crowd of people

imply

to suggest indirectly

infer

to draw a conclusion

loath

reluctant, unwilling

loathe

to hate

loose

to unfasten; to set free

lose

to be deprived of; to be unable to find

meter

a measuring device

metre

a metric unit; rhythm in verse

militate

to be a powerful factor against

mitigate

to make less severe

palate

the roof of the mouth

palette

a board for mixing colours

pedal

a foot-operated lever

peddle

to sell goods

pole

a long, slender piece of wood

poll

voting in an election

pour

to flow or cause to flow

pore

a tiny opening; to study something closely

prescribe

to authorize use of medicine; to order authoritatively

proscribe

to officially forbid something

principal

most important; the head of a school

principle

a fundamental rule or belief

sight

the ability to see

site

a location

stationary

not moving

stationery

writing materials

titillate

to arouse interest

titivate

to make more attractive

tortuous

full of twists; complex

torturous

full of pain or suffering

wreath

a ring-shaped arrangement of flowers etc.

wreathe

to surround or encircle

yoke a wooden crosspiece for harnessing a pair of oxen yolk the yellow center of an egg

 

See also
Like
Themselves or themself?

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