Commonly Confused Words

Misusing similar sounding or similarly spelled words is one of the most common writing mistakes made, and not understanding the differences can significantly impact your grades or credibility in written communication. The following is a list of the most common word choice errors that are often confused in writing and tips for how to use these troublesome words correctly.

Homophones

Homophones are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. These are examples of commonly misused homophones:

Two, Too, To

  • “Two” is a number. “I have two books.” Use “two” if you are talking about numbers of items.
  • “Too” means “also” or “as well as.” “I want to go to the store, too.” It can also be used to show an excessive amount of something, like “too much soda.”
  • “To” is a preposition, like in “I want to go to the store.” It can also be used as in the infinitive form of a verb, such as in, “I like to read.”

Your, You’re

  • “Your” is the possessive form of the word. “That is your dress.” You can easily remember to use this form, since it contains the word “our.” If you can replace “your” with “our,” use this form. For example, you could say, “This is our dress,” and the sentence would be correct, so you know to use “your.”
  • “You’re” is a contraction, or the short for of “you are.” “You’re going to the store.” If you can write “you are” instead of “you’re,” then you know you need to use this form.

There, Their, They’re

  • “There” is used to indicate a place. “I want to go there.” You can remember this by noting that the form of “there” that refers to a place contains the word, “here.” If you can substitute “there” for “here” in a sentence, you need the form of “there” that contains the word “here.”
  • “Their” is used to show possession. “That is their book.”
  • “They’re” is a contraction, or the shorthand way of saying “they are.” “They’re going to the movies.” If you can write “they’re” out as “they are” correctly, then you know you need to use this form.

Its, It’s, Its’

  • “It’s” is a contraction, or short form of “it has” or “it is.” “It’s time to go.” If you can write this form out as “It is,” you know you need to use “It’s.”
  • “Its” is possessive. “The dog found its bone.” If you mean to indicate that an object owns something, you use “Its.”
  • “Its’” with a final apostrophe is sometimes confused with possessive “Its,” because writers are taught that apostrophes make words possessive. This is never correct. Do not use this form.

Whose, Who’s

  • “Whose” is possessive. “Whose book is that?”
  • “Who’s” is a contraction for “who is” or “who has.” “Who’s going to the store?”

Other Homophone Errors

Here is a quick reference for some other homophones you might encounter often.

Know, No

  • “Know” is a reference to knowledge “I know Spanish.”
  • “No” is a negative response, such as to a “yes or no question.” “I have no pencil.”

Ad, Add

  • An “ad” is an advertisement.
  • “Add” is what you do in math class.

Principal, Principle

  • “Principal” is the leader of a school. “I talked to the school principal.”
  • A “principle” is an idea or a description meaning most important. “Equality is an important principle.” “That was the principle subject of discussion.”

Accept, Except

  • “Accept” means that something is taken or agreed upon. “I will accept his apology.”
  • “Except” means that something is not included. “We accept all credit cards except Visa.”

Ensure, Insure

  • “Ensure” is to verify something. “He wanted to ensure that his homework was correct.”
  • “Insure” is something an insurance company does. “She insured her home against water damage.”

Hole, Whole

  • A “hole” is and empty space. “There was a hole in the ground.”
  • “Whole” indicates the entirety of something. “I ate a whole pizza.”

Aisle, Isle

  • You find an “aisle” in the grocery store.
  • An “isle” is a geographical feature, like a “British Isle.”

Sight, Site, Cite

  • “Sight” refers to vision. “His sight was impaired.”
  • A “site” is a place. “He saw the site of the accident.”
  • “Cite” is a verb meaning to reference, as in “I cited his book in my research paper.”

Affect, Effect

  • “Affect” is a verb meaning to impact. “This law will affect foreign policies.”
  • “Effect” is a noun demonstrating the impact of something. “This medicine had a negative effect on him.”

Desert, Dessert

  • “Desert” is a dry place.
  • “Dessert” is a type of food. “While wandering through the desert, he wondered if he would ever taste his favorite dessert again.”

Wonder, Wander

  • “Wonder” refers to thought or an emotional state. “He stared at the spaceship in wonder.”
  • “Wander” is a type of movement. “He wandered through the forest.”

Here, hear

  • “Here” refers to a place. “Her car is here.”
  • “Hear” refers to sound. “I can hear the violins.”

Board, Bored

  • A “board” is an object. “He carried a board.”
  • “Bored” is a mental state. “This audience was bored.”
  • “Bored” can also be an action, like “The drill bored a hole.”

Brake, Break

  • “Brake” refers to the stopping mechanism on a car or other vehicle. “The brakes on his bicycle wouldn’t work.”
  • “Break” refers to a pause or split. “I took a break at work.” “The break in his leg occurred during the accident.”

Write, Right

  • “Write” refers to the action of putting words together to form thoughts, or the action of using a utensil to make marks on a page. “I want to write a play.”
  • “Right” signifies correctness, or may be a noun talking about liberties. “She was right about the cat.” “It is his right to file a complaint.”

Weather, Whether

  • “Weather” refers to atmospheric conditions. “We have had bad weather this winter.”
  • “Whether” indicates different options. “I don’t know whether or not he knew.”

By, Buy, Bye

  • “By” is a preposition meaning beside or near. It can also refer to a method, such as “He traveled by bus.”
  • “Buy” means to purchase. “She is going to buy a car.”
  • “Bye” means farewell. “Bye! I hope you have a great trip.”

Other Commonly Confused Words

Here are other commonly confused words that aren’t homophones, but are often mixed up because of similar spellings.

Where, Were, We’re

  • “Where” indicates place. “Where are you going?”
  • “Were” is the past plural form of “to be.” “We were going to the mall.”
  • “We’re” is a contraction for “we are.” “We’re good friends.”

Lose, Loose

  • “Lose” means the opposite of win, or that something has been misplaced. “I often lose my glasses.”
  • “Loose” means that something is not tight. “The skirt fit me loosely.”

Chose, Choose

  • “Chose” is past tense. “I chose the movie yesterday.”
  • “Choose” is present or future tense. “I will choose what we will eat for dinner tomorrow.”

Quiet, Quite

  • “Quiet” refers to sound. “The camp was quiet at night.”
  • “Quite” indicates degree of something. “She was quite smart.”

Than, Then

  • “Than” indicates difference, order, or degree. “I would rather go to the opera than a rock concert.” “He is taller than she is.”
  • “Then” indicates time or order. “We went to the show, and then we went to dinner.”

Breath, Breathe

  • “Breath” is a noun, as in, “I could not catch my breath.”
  • “Breathe” is a verb, as in “I could not breathe well after exercising.”