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 are two words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and often have very different meanings. These are examples of commonly misused homophones.
Apart vs A part
- Apart is just one word. When you use apart, you are referring to a specified distance. For example, you might say “they live three miles apart.”
- When you use a part, you are referring to a fraction of a whole. For example, you might say “I am a part of a larger group.” or “I am a part of a book club”.
Two vs Too vs To
Should I say to bad or too bad? Or is it two bad?
- “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 vs You’re
Should it be your welcome or you’re welcome?
- “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 vs Their vs 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 vs It’s vs Its’
- “It’s” is a contraction, or short form of the two word phrase “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.
Burned vs Burnt
If you are trying to choose between burned or burnt…which is correct? The truth is both of these words can be used in the right context.
- Burned – More common in American English
- Burnt – More common in British English
Whose vs Who’s
It can be tricky to know the difference between who vs whom & who vs whose.
- “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 vs 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 vs Add
- An “ad” is an advertisement.
- “Add” is what you do in math class.
Principal vs 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 vs 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 vs 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 vs 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 vs Isle
- You find an “aisle” in the grocery store.
- An “isle” is a geographical feature, like a “British Isle.”
Sight vs Site vs 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 vs 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 vs 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 vs 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.”
Kind Of vs Kinds Of
Should you say “What Kind Of” or “What Kinds Of”?
- “What kinds of” – A plural phrase, which means it is referring to more than one thing or looking for more than one answer.
- “What kind of” – A singular phrase, which means it is referring to one thing or looking for one answer.
Here vs hear
- “Here” refers to a place. “Her car is here.”
- “Hear” refers to sound. “I can hear the violins.”
Me Either vs Me Neither
Ever been confused about whether to use me either vs. me neither in your writing?
- Me Neither – Used in response to a negative statement.
- Me Either – Used in response to a positive statement.
Board vs 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.”
Dieing vs Dying
Should you say dieing or dying?
- “Dying” – The present participle form of the verb “to die,” which means death.
- “Dieing” – The word dieing refers to a manufacturing process. It is forming sheet metal by cutting or stamping it.
Grateful vs Greatful
Should you be saying grateful or grateful in your daily conversations?
- Grateful: Grateful is actually the correct spelling in every situation.
- Greatful: NOT a word!
Brake vs 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 vs 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 vs 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.”
Anyway vs Anyways
Is there a difference between anyway vs anyways? The answer is…Yes!
- Anyway is the formal option that should be used in your writing.
- Anyways is informal and should only be used in casual conversation.
By vs Buy vs 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.” Bye is the correct version when saying goodbye to someone.
Valentines vs Valentine’s Day
We have all heard of this romantic holiday, but is it spelled Valentines or Valentine’s?
- Valentines – Valentine can refer to the patron saint or your lover on Valentine’s day.
- Valentine’s – Spelling of the holiday named after Saint Valentine.
Blonde vs Blond
The words blonde vs blond change depending on the gender of the subject.
- “Blonde” is the feminine form of the word indicating light hair color.
- “Blond” is the masculine form of the word indicating light hair color.
Caramel or Carmel
Caramel & carmel are two different words.
- “Caramel” is a noun and a form of sweet brown candy.
- “Carmel” is a proper noun and the name of a town in California & mountain in Israel.
Goodnight vs Good Night
Goodnight & good night are very similar words but have different meanings.
- “Goodnight” is a farewell said at night time, usually before going to sleep.
Other Commonly Confused Words
Here are other commonly confused words that aren’t homophones, but are often mixed up because of similar spellings.
Where vs Were vs We’re
- “Where” indicates place. “Where are you going?” It makes sense to use “where” when referring to location.
- “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 vs 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 vs Choose
- “Chose” is past tense. “I chose the movie yesterday.” Chose is the correct word when talking about events that already occurred.
- “Choose” is present or future tense. “I will choose what we will eat for dinner tomorrow.”
Quiet vs Quite
- “Quiet” refers to sound. “The camp was quiet at night.”
- “Quite” indicates the degree of something. “She was quite smart.”
Than vs 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.”
What Is A Noun Phrase?
A noun phrase is a group of words that function together as a noun. In other words, it’s a way of making a noun more specific. For example, “the big dog” is a noun phrase.
The Bottom Line
English is a tricky language and it’s easy to mix up words that sound alike but have different meanings. Even professional writers can mix up these words. But now you won’t make that mistake again, will you? Use our proofreading checklist & avoid these simple mistakes and you’ll be a better writer for it.