Words often confused

The English language has many pairs of words with similar spellings but different meanings. Using the wrong word in the pair may be seen as evidence of carelessness, lack of attention to detail and poor proofreading.

The list below should help you to avoid this type of error.

adapt

To adjust to a new use or situation

adopt

To take as your own

advice

In British English, this is a noun; eg: I will follow his advice.

advise

In British English, this is a verb; eg: He advised me to wait.

affect

This is a verb meaning to have a consequence or bring about change; eg: The bad weather affected the crops. Excessive drinking affected his health.

effect

A noun meaning result, consequence; eg: The government underestimated the effect of the new policy.

Although less common, it can also be used as a verb meaning cause to occur; eg: The government effected some radical changes.

allude

To refer to

elude

To avoid, to escape from

allusion

Indirect mention, reference

illusion

Erroneous perception or belief

beside

Next to

besides

In addition

complement

To add, to supplement. Can also be used as a noun.

compliment

To praise or congratulate. Can also be used as a noun: He paid me a compliment.

council

Administrative or advisory body

counsel

Advice or guidance; also lawyer

criteria

Standards, rules; plural of criterion

criterion

Standard, rule; 'criterion' is a singular noun.

discreet

Reserved, respectful

discrete

Individual, distinct, separate

eminent

Distinguished, prominent

imminent

About to occur, impending

its

Possessive, belonging to it

it’s

Contracted form of ‘it is’

lead

As a verb: to guide; when used as a noun, pronounced [led], it is a heavy metal

led

Past tense form of the verb ‘to lead’

loose

Free, not fastened

lose

To be unable to find, mislay

palate

The roof of the mouth

palette

The board artists use to mix colours

practice

In British English, this is a noun; e.g.: I need more practice.

practise

In British English, this is a verb; e.g.: He practises the piano for two hours every day.

principal

Main, chief

principle

A rule or standard

quiet

Silent

quite

Somewhat, rather: It’s quite good. It can also mean entirely, totally: You’re quite right.

stationary

Not moving, standing still

stationery

Writing paper

their

Possessive, meaning belonging to them. Do not confuse with the contracted form of ‘they are’, which is they’re.

there

Opposite of ‘here’

your

Possessive, meaning belonging to you

you’re

Contracted form of ‘you are’