Misused Words

There are some words that are frequently used wrongly in writing. Below is a list of those words, and their meanings.

Make sure you use the correct word, and say what you want to say!

accept – except

accept means ‘to receive’, for example: I accept your apology.

except means ‘not including’, for example: Everyone is going, except Edward.

advice – advise

advice is a noun and means ‘recommendation on what to do’, for example: We await your advice on how to proceed.

advise is a verb and means ‘to recommend something’, for example: Could you please advise how we should proceed?

all ready – already

all ready means ‘prepared’, for example: We are all ready to leave for the airport.

already means ‘by this time’, for example: We have already done the packing.

all together – altogether

all together is ‘all at once’ or ‘all in one place’, for example: The family is usually all together at mom’s house.

altogether is ‘completely’ or ‘entirely’, for example: Your brother is altogether insane.

allusion – illusion

allusion is an indirect reference

illusion is a false perception of reality

appraise – apprise

appraise means ‘an estimation of financial value,’ for example: We will have our home appraised today.

apprise means ‘to advise or inform’, for example: We need to apprise him of the situation.

ascent – assent

ascent means ‘to express approval or agreement’

assent refers to an upward movement

breath – breathe

breath is the air inhaled or exhaled. It also means ‘a short pause.

breathe is ‘to inhale or exhale’

can – may

can refers to a person’s ability to do something, for example: Can you cook?

may is used to ask permission, for example: May I come?

capital – capitol

capital is the city or town that is the seat of government. It can also refer to financial resources

the capitol is the building in which the legislative assembly meets

cite – sight – site

cite means ‘to quote or document’, ‘to recognize formally’ or ‘to summon before a court’

sight means ‘vision’

site means ‘location’

complement – compliment

complement is something that completes or makes up a whole

compliment is an expression of praise or admiration

conscious – conscience

conscious means ‘awake’ or ‘aware’

conscience is the sense of right and wrong

council – counsel

council is a meeting for discussion or advice; a body of advisors or managers, for example: I am a member of the Council of Special Projects.

counsel means ‘to give advice’, for example: She counseled the people to be patient.

duel – dual

duel is a fight or contest between two people, for example: The cowboys draw their pistols and get ready for a duel.

dual  means comprise of two parts, for example: The dual purpose of a guard is prevention and protection.

effect – affect

effect refers to a result or impact, for example: The outcome could have an effect on the stock market.

affect means ‘to influence’, for example: Your vote can affect the outcome of the election.

eminent – imminent – immanent

eminent means ‘of high rank’ or ‘respected’

imminent means ‘very near’ or ‘impending’

immanent means ‘inherent’ or ‘intrinsic’

envelop – envelope

envelop means ‘to surround or wrap’, for example: The fog began to envelop the campground.

envelope is a paper container used for mailing, for example: She licked the flap of the envelope and closed it.

fewer – less

fewer is used for things that can be counted, for example: I got fewer than ten books this year.

less is used for hypothetical quantities, things that cannot be counted, for example: I have less work to do today.

forward – foreword

forward means ‘ahead’ or ‘onward’

foreword is a book’s introduction

good – well

good is an adjective, so it’s used to describe nouns

well is mostly used as an adverb to describe verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. It’s also used as an adjective to mean ‘healthy’.

here – hear

here is an adverb which means ‘in this place’ or ‘in this spot’, for example: I am here and planning to stay.

hear is a verb which means ‘to be within earshot’ or ‘to perceive by ear’, for example: He doesn’t want to hear the noise anymore.

if – whether

if is used in sentences where there are no alternatives, for example: She didn’t know if anything would happen.

whether is used in sentences where there are two or more alternatives, for example: She couldn’t decide whether she wanted coffee or ice cream.

illicit – elicit

illicit means ‘unlawful’

elicit means ‘to draw out’

irregardless – regardless

irregardless is never going to be valid. It will never join the ranks of works  regardless of what we do.

its – it’s

its is a possessive pronoun, for example: The dog plays with its toy.

it’s is a contraction of ‘it is’, for example: It’s going to snow.

lead – led

lead means ‘to guide someone to something’

led is the past tense of ‘lead’

lie – lay

lie is ‘to rest on a surface’

lay is ‘to put something in place’

lose – loose

lose is a verb which means ‘to misplace’ or ‘not win’, ‘to suffer the loss of something’

loose is a way to describe things that are not tightly fitted, and also means ‘release’ or ‘not bound together’, ‘not strict’

may – might

may implies a possibility that something will happen, for example: I may go for a swim later.

might indicates a real uncertainty, for example: You might encounter a snake.

past – passed

past refers to time gone by, and it also means ‘beyond’

passed is the past tense and past principle of ‘pass’

peddle – pedal

peddle means ‘to sell something’, for example: My brother peddles books on the weekend for extra money.

pedal is a lever operated by the feet, like on a bicycle

precede – proceed

precede means ‘to come before’

proceed is to ‘move forward’

principal – principle

principal means ‘most important’, or ‘a person who has authority’

principle is a general or fundamental truth

quote – quotation

quote means ‘to cite’

quotation is the act of citing

reluctant – reticent

reluctant means ‘to hesitate’ or ‘to feel unwilling’

reticent means ‘to be reluctant to speak’ or ‘to be reserved in manner’

stationary – stationery

stationary  means ‘fixed’ or ‘unmoving’

stationery means writing materials

that – which

that is for restrictive relative clauses which introduce essential information, for example: The cats that are black are sleeping (meaning there are more cats, but only the black ones are sleeping).

which is for non-restrictive relative clauses, which introduce additional, non-essential information, for example: The cats, which are black, are sleeping (meaning all cats are black and they are all sleeping).

than – then

than is used with comparisons

then means ‘at that time’ or ‘next’

there – their – they’re

there is an adverb referring to ‘in’ or ‘at’ that place, for example: It is dangerous there.

their is a  possessive pronoun, for example: Their dog barks a lot.

they’re is a contraction of ‘they are’, for example: They’re beautiful people.

through – threw – thorough – though

through means ‘finished’, ‘by means of’, ‘into’ or ‘out of’

threw is the past tense of throw

thorough means ‘careful’ or ‘complete’

though means ‘however’ or ‘nevertheless’

to – too – two

to means ‘toward’

too means ‘also’ or ‘excessively’

two is a number

went – gone

went is the past tense of the verb ‘to go’

gone is the past participle

Example: I went to the store. I should have gone to the open market instead.

were – where – we’re

were is the past tense of ‘to be’, for example: We were happy.

where is an adverb for ‘in or at what place’, for example: Where were you last night?

we’re is a contraction of ‘we are’, for example: We’re going home.

who – whom

who is used as a subject or a subject complement; who represents ‘he’ or ‘she’, for example: Paul, who loves rain, went outside (the clause with  ‘who’ can be replaced by ‘he loves snow’).

whom is used as an object;  whom represents ‘him’ or ‘her’, for example: Paul found Peter, whom he had been looking for earlier (the clause with whom can be replaced by Paul looked for him).

whose – who’s

whose is the possessive form of who, for example: Do you know whose car we saw the other day?

who’s is a contraction for ‘who is’, for example: Who’s going to drive the car?

wreath – wreathe

wreath is a circular decoration (mostly used in the festive season)

wreathe is ‘to encircle’ or ‘envelop’

write – right

write is a verb to express in writing, for example: Write a letter to mom.

right is an adjective which means ‘correct’, ‘justified’, ‘suitable’ or ‘opposite to left’, for example: It is the right way to do things.

your – you’re

your is a possessive pronoun, for example: This is not my pen; it’s your pen.

you’re is the contraction of ‘you are’, for example: You’re going to be so good at it.

Source 1 / Source 2 / Source 3 / Source 4

One thought on “Misused Words

  1. Thank you, Marie, for all the effort you took to compile the list with examples. Having been a life-long reader I was familiar with most of them but it was helpful to review some.

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