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.

ConfusablesMeanings

accept

except

to agree to receive or do

not including

adverse

averse

unfavourable, harmful

strongly disliking; opposed

advice

advise

recommendations about what to do

to recommend something

affect

effect

to change or make a difference to

a result; to bring about a result

aisle

isle

a passage between rows of seats

an island

all together

altogether

all in one place, all at once

completely; on the whole

along

a long

moving or extending horizontally on

referring to something of great length

aloud

allowed

out loud

permitted

altar

alter

a sacred table in a church

to change

amoral

immoral

not concerned with right or wrong

not following accepted moral standards

appraise

apprise

to assess

to inform someone

assent

ascent

agreement, approval

the action of rising or climbing up

aural

oral

relating to the ears or hearing

relating to the mouth; spoken

balmy

barmy

pleasantly warm

foolish, crazy

bare

bear

naked; to uncover

to carry; to put up with

bated

baited

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

with bait attached or inserted

bazaar

bizarre

a Middle Eastern market

strange

berth

birth

a bunk in a ship, train, etc.

the emergence of a baby from the womb

born

borne

having started life

carried

bough

bow

a branch of a tree

to bend the head; the front of a ship

brake

break

a device for stopping a vehicle; to stop a vehicle

to separate into pieces; a pause

breach

breech

to break through, or break a rule; a gap

the back part of a gun barrel

broach

brooch

to raise a subject for discussion

a piece of jewellery

canvas

canvass

a type of strong cloth

to seek people’s votes

censure

censor

to criticize strongly

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

cereal

serial

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

happening in a series

chord

cord

a group of musical notes

a length of string; a cord-like body part

climactic

climatic

forming a climax

relating to climate

coarse

course

rough

a direction; a school subject; part of a meal

complacent

complaisant

smug and self-satisfied

willing to please

complement

compliment

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

to praise or express approval; an admiring remark

council

counsel

a group of people who manage or advise

advice; to advise

cue

queue

a signal for action; a wooden rod

a line of people or vehicles

curb

kerb

to keep something in check; a control or limit

(in British English) the stone edge of a pavement

currant

current

a dried grape

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

defuse

diffuse

to make a situation less tense

to spread over a wide area

desert

dessert

a waterless, empty area; to abandon someone

the sweet course of a meal

discreet

discrete

careful not to attract attention

separate and distinct

disinterested

uninterested

impartial

not interested

draught

draft

a current of air

a first version of a piece of writing

draw

drawer

an even score at the end of a game

a sliding storage compartment

dual

duel

having two parts

a fight or contest between two people

elicit

illicit

to draw out a reply or reaction

not allowed by law or rules

ensure

insure

to make certain that something will happen

to provide compensation if a person dies or property is damaged

envelop

envelope

to cover or surround

a paper container for a letter

exercise

exorcise

physical activity; to do physical activity

to drive out an evil spirit

fawn

faun

a young deer; light brown

a mythical being, part man, part goat

flaunt

flout

to display ostentatiously

to disregard a rule

flounder

founder

to move clumsily; to have difficulty doing something

to fail

forbear

forebear

to refrain

an ancestor

foreword

forward

an introduction to a book

onwards, ahead

freeze

frieze

to turn to ice

a decoration along a wall

grisly

grizzly

gruesome, revolting

a type of bear

hoard

horde

a store

a large crowd of people

imply

infer

to suggest indirectly

to draw a conclusion

loath

loathe

reluctant, unwilling

to hate

loose

lose

to unfasten; to set free

to be deprived of; to be unable to find

meter

metre

a measuring device

a metric unit; rhythm in verse

militate

mitigate

to be a powerful factor against

to make less severe

palate

palette

the roof of the mouth

a board for mixing colours

pedal

peddle

a foot-operated lever

to sell goods

pole

poll

a long, slender piece of wood

voting in an election

pour

pore

to flow or cause to flow

a tiny opening; to study something closely

practice

practise

the use of an idea or method; the work or business of a doctor, dentist, etc.

to do something repeatedly to gain skill; to do something regularly

prescribe

proscribe

to authorize use of medicine; to order authoritatively

to officially forbid something

principal

principle

most important; the head of a school

a fundamental rule or belief

sceptic

septic

a person inclined to doubt

infected with bacteria

sight

site

the ability to see

a location

stationary

stationery

not moving

writing materials

storey

story

a level of a building

a tale or account

titillate

titivate

to arouse interest

to make more attractive

tortuous

torturous

full of twists; complex

full of pain or suffering

wreath

wreathe

a ring-shaped arrangement of flowers etc.

to surround or encircle

yoke

yolk

a wooden crosspiece for harnessing a pair of oxen

the yellow center of an egg

 

Back to Usage.

You may also be interested in:

'Loose' or 'lose'?

'Pour' or 'pore'?

'Bare' or 'bear'?


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