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 catalogues.

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 flag up 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 British English spelling. Some of them do have alternative American spellings and you will find these at the main dictionary entry on this website.

Word 1MeaningWord 2Meaning
acceptto agree to receive or doexceptnot including
adverseunfavourable, harmfulaversestrongly disliking; opposed
advicerecommendations about what to doadviseto recommend something
affectto change or make a difference toeffecta result; to bring about a result
aislea passage between rows of seatsislean island
all togetherall in one place, all at oncealtogethercompletely; on the whole
alongmoving or extending horizontally ona longreferring to something of great length
aloudout loudallowedpermitted
altara sacred table in a churchalterto change
amoralnot concerned with right or wrongimmoralnot following accepted moral standards
appraiseto assessappriseto inform someone
assentagreement, approvalascentthe action of rising or climbing up
auralrelating to the ears or hearingoralrelating to the mouth; spoken
balmypleasantly warmbarmyfoolish, crazy
barenaked; to uncoverbearto carry; to put up with
batedin phrase 'with bated breath', i.e. in great suspensebaitedwith bait attached or inserted
bazaara Middle Eastern marketbizarrestrange
bertha bunk in a ship, train, etc.birththe emergence of a baby from the womb
bornhaving started lifebornecarried
bougha branch of a treebowto bend the head; the front of a ship
brakea device for stopping a vehicle; to stop a vehiclebreakto separate into pieces; a pause
breachto break through, or break a rule; a gapbreechthe back part of a gun barrel
broachto raise a subject for discussionbroocha piece of jewellery
canvasa type of strong clothcanvassto seek people’s votes
censureto criticize stronglycensorto ban parts of a book or film; a person who does this
cereala grass producing an edible grain; a breakfast food made from grainsserialhappening in a series
chorda group of musical notescorda length of string; a cord-like body part
climacticforming a climaxclimaticrelating to climate
coarseroughcoursea direction; a school subject; part of a meal
complacentsmug and self-satisfiedcomplaisantwilling to please
complementto add to so as to improve; an addition that improves somethingcomplimentto praise or express approval; an admiring remark
councila group of people who manage or advisecounseladvice; to advise
cuea signal for action; a wooden rodqueuea line of people or vehicles
curbto keep something in check; a control or limitkerb(in British English) the stone edge of a pavement
curranta dried grapecurrenthappening now; a flow of water, air, or electricity
defuseto make a situation less tensediffuseto spread over a wide area
deserta waterless, empty area; to abandon someonedessertthe sweet course of a meal
discreetcareful not to attract attentiondiscreteseparate and distinct
disinterestedimpartialuninterestednot interested
draughta current of airdrafta first version of a piece of writing
drawan even score at the end of a gamedrawera sliding storage compartment
dualhaving two partsduela fight or contest between two people
elicitto draw out a reply or reactionillicitnot allowed by law or rules
ensureto make certain that something will happeninsureto provide compensation if a person dies or property is damaged
envelopto cover or surroundenvelopea paper container for a letter
exercisephysical activity; to do physical activityexorciseto drive out an evil spirit
fawna young deer; light brownfauna mythical being, part man, part goat
flauntto display ostentatiouslyfloutto disregard a rule
flounderto move clumsily; to have difficulty doing somethingfounderto fail
forbearto refrainforebearan ancestor
forewordan introduction to a bookforwardonwards, ahead
freezeto turn to icefriezea decoration along a wall
grislygruesome, revoltinggrizzlya type of bear
hoarda storehordea large crowd of people
implyto suggest indirectlyinferto draw a conclusion
loathreluctant, unwillingloatheto hate
looseto unfasten; to set freeloseto be deprived of; to be unable to find
metera measuring devicemetrea metric unit; rhythm in verse
militateto be a powerful factor againstmitigateto make less severe
palatethe roof of the mouthpalettea board for mixing colours
pedala foot-operated leverpeddleto sell goods
polea long, slender piece of woodpollvoting in an election
pourto flow or cause to flowporea tiny opening; to study something closely
practicethe use of an idea or method; the work or business of a doctor, dentist, etc.practiseto do something repeatedly to gain skill; to do something regularly
prescribeto authorize use of medicine; to order authoritativelyproscribeto officially forbid something
principalmost important; the head of a schoolprinciplea fundamental rule or belief
sceptica person inclined to doubtsepticinfected with bacteria
sightthe ability to seesitea location
stationarynot movingstationerywriting materials
storeya level of a buildingstorya tale or account
titillateto arouse interesttitivateto make more attractive
tortuousfull of twists; complextorturousfull of pain or suffering
wreatha ring-shaped arrangement of flowers etc.wreatheto surround or encircle


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