Easily confused words

Often, words with similar meanings may be used interchangeably. Sometimes, however, words that appear similar actually have slightly different meanings. Strive for exactness in your use of words by observing these various shades of meaning in your writing.

affect: to influence (verb)
effect: to accomplish or execute (verb), result (noun)

already: previously
all ready: completely prepared

alternate: occurring by turns, one after the other, substitute
alternative: offering a choice between two or more possibilities

contrary to, in spite of the fact that, granting or supposing that
while: at the same time as, during the time that

altogether: wholly, completely
all together: in a group

among: (more than two persons or things)
between: (only two persons or things)

amount: quantity or mass
number: countable objects

and: in addition to
plus: preposition meaning “with the addition of,” not a conjunction equivalent to and

likely: probable

as: (used to introduce a subject and verb)
like: similar to (must have an object but no verb)
such as: for example

awhile: (adverb of time and place; means “for a while”)—We visited awhile.
a while: (when preceded by for or another preposition)—Wait for a while.

because: for that reason
since: generally refers to a passage of time

can: is able
may: is permitted

center on: (correct term)
center around: redundant (use center on or revolve around)

compare to: implies similarities between objects of a different order
compare with: points out differences between objects of the same order

to fill out or complete
compliment: to flatter or congratulate; to give free as a courtesy or favor (complimentary tickets)

comprise*: to embrace, include (the whole comprises the parts)
compose: to constitute (the parts compose the whole)
*never “comprised of” (see p. 454 W.I.T.)

continual: frequently repeated
continuous: without interruption

dab: to strike or touch lightly
daub: to cover with a soft adhesive matter

dimensions: express a relationship to size, measurements
proportions: express a relationship of one part to another, or of parts to the whole

disc: phonograph record, videodisc, compact disc, farm tool
disk: part of the body, floppy disk, most other references

discreet: something not likely to be seen or noticed; unpretentious, modest; prudent
separate, individually distinct; noncontinuous

distinctive: noticeably different and recognizable
distinguished: outstanding or eminent

each: (refers individually to more than one)
either: (refers to one of two)

eminent: prominent or famous
about to occur, often in a threatening sense

ensure: to make sure, safe
insure: to provide or obtain insurance on
assure: to remove doubt

(refers to distance)
further: (refers to degree or quantity)

fewer: (refers to numbers or units capable of being counted)
less: (refers to degree or quantity)

flack: a PR agent or someone who provides publicity
criticism, opposition; antiaircraft guns; the bursting shells fired from flak

inclination, talent, style
flare: glaring light

flounder: to struggle to move or get one’s footing; to proceed or act clumsily or ineffectually
to collapse, sink, or fall; to lose its foundation

grill: object used for outdoor cooking
grille: grating

handicap-accessible: better to use wheelchair-accessible or barrier-free, if necessary.
universal design: the most common term for wheelchair-accessible architecture.

healthful: giving health (food is healthful)
healthy: having health

historic: of special significance in history (buildings, sites, landmarks)
historical: occurring in or pertaining to the past

if: indicates a general possibility or doubt
whether: indicates a choice, when an alternative is implied

impact: effect or forceful contact (noun), to strike or press against, to congest (verb)
affect: to influence or produce an effect upon (noun)

imply: to hint or suggest
infer: to draw a conclusion

ingenious: clever
ingenuous: frank or naïve

last: that which comes after all others, the end
latest: most recent
latter: the second of two things

lay: put to rest (transitive; requires an object)
lie: be at or come to rest

literally: actually, in a strict sense, without exaggeration
figuratively: in a manner of speaking (the opposite of literally)

abundant, abounding, teeming
luxurious: given to indulgence of the senses; relating to or marked by luxury

mantel: shelf above a fireplace
mantle: cloak

mat: a pad or cushion or artboard or picture framing
matte: a dull finish

mixer bowl: one that goes with an electric mixer
mixing bowl: any bowl used for mixing

operable: used to describe a window that can be opened

pendant: noun; something suspended, as a light a fixture from the ceiling
pendent: adjective; suspended or supported from above

pore: to gaze intently; to read or study attentively; to reflect or meditate steadily
to cause to flow in a stream

principal: chief, main
principle: fundamental truth, basic law or doctrine

precede: to be, go, or come before; to be earlier than
proceed: to move along a course, go forward; to continue after a pause or interruption; to begin and carry on an action, process, or movement

real: actual, not a synonym for very

seasonable: appropriate to the season
seasonal: varying according to the season

sensual: indulging the senses
sensuous: appealing to the senses

sometime: at a point in time (adverb; answers the question “when?”)
some time: an indefinite time (adjective and noun; substitutes for “some time/point in the future”)
sometimes: at times (adverb)

stationary: not moving; fixed, immobile, or static
stationery: writing paper

terrine: the food
tureen: the bowl

than: (when you’re comparing things)
(when you’re talking about sequences and time)

that: (use only to introduce a restrictive clause—one that cannot be deleted because it defines or limits a subject)
which: (use only to introduce a nonrestrictive clause—one that can be omitted because it only describes a subject or is parenthetical)

tortuous: tricky, complicated, or circuitous, such an an overly elaborate plan
causing torture; very unpleasant, painful, difficult, or slow

unique: the only one of its kind (It’s an absolute that does NOT vary in degree; therefore, something cannot be “more unique.”)

whoever: anyone who
whomever: anyone whom


Problem rules and words
Easily confused words
Suffix -ed

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