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Basic Grammar and Punctuation

An AARC writing resource

How To Recognize Commonly Confused Words

Many writers are confused about words that sound and look alike. They may rely heavily on spell checker. However, the computer can only guess. You must be sure the word is the one with the meaning you intended, so you won't confuse your reader.

Anytime you're not sure what a word means, look it up in a dictionary for both meaning and to see how it is used.  

A - B - C - D, F - H - I, K, L - P - Q, R - S, T - W, Y -

a/an/and -

A is used before a word beginning with a consonant or consonant sound.

I would love a new car.

An is used before a word beginning with a vowel or vowel sound.

I took an apple for a snack.

And joins words or clauses.

I love apples and bananas.

accept/except -

Accept means to receive.

I accept your gift.

Except means to exclude.

I'll give you all my baseball cards except for the Micky Mantle.

addition/edition -

An addition is something that is added.

We built an addition onto the house.

An edition is one in a series of printed material.

Did you see the latest edition of the paper?

advice/advise -

Advice is an opinion offered as a guide.

My advice is to study before tests.

Advise is the action of offering an opinion as a guide.

I advise you to study before tests.

affect/effect -

Affect means to influence something.

He affects me strangely whenever he winks at me.

Effect means a result or to cause something to happen.

Your wink has the strangest effect on me.

allowed/aloud -

Allowed means permitted to happen.

The child is allowed to stay up late on weekends.

Aloud means out loud.

Read your papers aloud to hear your mistakes.

all ready/already -

All ready means everyone is ready.

We're all ready for summer vacation.

Already means before.

David had already completed that class.

are/our -

Are is a verb, the plural of is.

We are going to the store.

Our is a possessive pronoun, meaning belongs to us.

That is our house.

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- B -

beside/besides -

Beside means next to.

He sat beside me.

Besides means in addition.

I love ice cream besides chocolate.

breath/breathe -

Breath is air that you take in.

I was out of breath after running.

Breathe is the action of taking in air.

I breathe heavily after running.

buy/by -

Buy means to purchase something.

I need to buy shampoo.

By means near.

He sat his briefcase by the vending machines.

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- C -

choose/chose -

Choose means to select.

I choose that puppy in the window.

Chose is the past tense of choose.

I chose my puppy last week.

close/clothes/cloths -

Close means near or intimate.

We were always close friends, even as children.

Clothes means garments.

I love new clothes!

Cloths are pieces of fabric.

I used old cloths to clean the car.

coarse/course -

Coarse means rough.

We sat on the pine log even though it was coarse.

Course means a direction or path.

The storm blew along the predicted course.

complement/compliment -

Complement means to complete or make better.

That shirt complements your eyes.

Compliment is praise.

She accepted the compliment about her shirt graciously.

conscience/conscious -

Conscience is your inner, moral guide.

My conscience told me not to steal that candy bar, but I was hungry and took it anyway.

Conscious means aware or awake.

I was conscious of a guilty feeling over taking the candy bar.

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- D, F -

defiant/definite -

Defiant is refusing to obey.

The protesters were defiant about the government.

Definite is to be sure of something.

He was definite about hating cabbage.

desert/dessert -

Desert is dry land.

The desert is a hot and dry place.

Dessert is a sweet eaten after a meal.

I'd love a piece of chocolate for dessert!

do/due -

Do means to perform.

I do my best whatever I am doing.

Due means owing or because of.

The rent is due the first of every month.

does/dose -

Does is a form of do.

It does no good to complain.

Dose is quantity of medicine.

Take a dose of aspirin for your headache. 

feel/fill -

Feel means to perceive, give,or produce through touch.

The pillows feel soft.

Fill means to make or become full.

The library quickly fills up with students preparing for finals.

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- H -

have/of -

Have means to posses or own.

I have plenty of homework to do.

Of is a preposition that means from or owing to. Sometimes confused with the contracted form of the verb have.

I've plenty of homework.

hear/here -

Hear means to register sound through the ears.

I love to hear beautiful music.

Here is a place.

It is lovely here in the sunshine.

heard/herd -

Heard is the past tense of hear.

I heard that song before.

Herd is a group of animals.

The herd of buffalo thundered past.

hole/whole -

A hole is an empty place or opening.

I have a hole in my pocker.

Whole means complete or entire.

I ate the whole pie.

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- I, K, L - 

its/it's -

Its means belonging to it.

The cat chased its tail.

It's means it is.

It's very hot in Texas in August!

knew/new -

Knew is the past tense of know.

I knew I left my keys somewhere in the living room!

New means fresh, recent, or not old.

I need a new car.

lead/led -

Lead means to guide, conduct, escort, or direct.

I lead my class in number of grammar exercises completed.

Led is the past tense of lead.

He led the class in test scores.

loose/lose -

Loose means not fastened or unbound.

His shoelaces were loose.

Lose is to be unable to find or to not win.

I lose every time I play cards.

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- P - 

passed/past -

Passed is the past tense of to proceed without pause.

I passed the old school on the way to my grandmother's house.

Past means no longer current or over.

Dinosaurs roamed the earth in the past.

piece/peace -

Piece means a part of something.

May I have a piece of pie, please?

Peace is a state of agreement and well-being with the world.

The two nations settled their differences when they agreed to a peace treaty.

principle/principal -

A principle is a basic truth, law, or assumption.

I don't cheat; it is against my principles.

A principal is the first or foremost.

The principal law in the United States is the Constitution.

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- Q, R - 

quiet/quite -

Quiet means an absence of noise.

Nighttime isn't completely quiet; you can still hear the breeze and occasional animals.

Quite means entirely or completely.

That is not quite the right thing to do.

right/write -

Right means in accordance with justice, law, or morality.

Attending class even when you don't really want to is the right thing to do.

Write is the act of forming letters, words, and symbols on a durable surface.

I write in my journal daily.

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- S, T - 

two/too/to -

Two refers to the number two.

It is two o'clock in the morning.

Too means also or additional.

You can not spend too much time studying.

To is a preposition indicating direction.

We went to the beach.

their/there/they're -

Their means they own something.

That new truck is their dream car.

There means at or in that place.

There was only one hotel in town.

They're is the contraction for they are.

They're very happy with the new truck they just bought.

through/threw -

Through means in one side and out the other.

The ball went through the window.

Threw is the past tense of the verb throw.

I threw the ball yesterday.

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- W, Y - 

who's/whose -

Who's is the contraction for who is?

Who's out there in the dark?

Whose is the possessive form of the pronoun who and which.

Whose bag is that?

woman/women -

Woman is the singular of a human female.

As a woman, I love Desperate Housewives.

Women is the plural of human females.

Those women are crazy!

your/you're -

Your indicates something belongs to you.

That's your handbag on the sofa.

You're is the contraction of you are.

You're sitting on the sofa.

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