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Some of the Most Commonly Confused Words in English

Take a gander through this list of commonly confused homophones in English. Do you know the difference between 'advice' and 'advise', or 'allusion' and 'illusion'?

Commonly Confused Words in English

The English language is known for its homophones, which are words that sound the same but mean different things. There are many reasons that help explain why English is riddled with homophones, but the upshot is that confusion abounds when it comes to knowing which is the appropriate word given the context. It’s no wonder why people often use the incorrect word, or think that a word means one thing when it in fact means the opposite.

English is a perplexing language, with a complex past of words hailing from many different languages and geographical regions. So …  yeah, it’s no wonder that there’s some confusion to navigate. Here’s a dissection of some of these commonly conflated homophones, for your enjoyment and perusal.

1. Infer vs Imply

While infer and imply sound similar, are both two syllables and transitive verbs, they mean almost the opposite of each other. To imply is to say something without directly or explicitly stating it, whereas to infer means to arrive at a conclusion based on information presented or gathered.

2. Elude vs Allude

To elude and allude, both verbs that derive from Latin (ludere, “to play”), though they should not be confused with each other. To elude is to evade or escape from something in a skillful or cunning manner, whereas allude is the verb form of allusion and describes an indirect reference to something.

3. Affect vs Effect

Probably the most commonly misused pair of words in the English language: affect and effect heavily contribute to English’s reputation for being one of the most befuddling languages. Affect is a verb describing something as having an impact, whereas effect is noun that refers to an outcome of some sort.

4. Invoke vs Evoke

To invoke or evoke, what’s the difference, or is there even a difference to be mentioned? Both come from Latin, though they mean different things.

5. To vs Too

To vs too, also known as adverbs vs. prepositions. To is a preposition, and too is an adverb meaning “also, as well, or in addition”.

6. Imminent, Eminent & Immanent

Imminent, eminent and immanent are all adjectives that were brought down from French, but are originally Latin.

7. Weather, Whether and Wether

Weather, whether and wether: whether you know the difference between the temperature outside, and a male sheep.

8. There, Their and They’re

There, their, they’re: also known as the confusion between contractions vs. adverbs vs. possessive pronouns.

9. Lose vs Loose

Did you lose weight or loose weight? Loose is an adverb used to say something is slack, or doesn’t fit well. Lose is a verb that describes something as missing, or failing at something. E.g., the team lost the championship game.

10. Accept vs Except

Do you accept a job or except it? Accept is a transitive verb that means “to receive (something offered) willingly:  I’ll accept her gift; an idea that is widely accepted“. Except, on the other hand, is a preposition meaning “with the exclusion of”. For example, ‘we are open every day except Sundays‘.

11. A lot vs Allot

Do you want to allocate resources amongst a group? If not, the correct choice is probably a lot (with a space between).

12. Illusion vs Allusion

Are you describing an indirect reference to something, or an optical illusion? Illusions have to do with deceptions of the mind, whereas allusions are references often made in literature and poetry.

13. Ensure, Assure, Insure

These are same, same, but different. To assure is similar to reassure, and has to do with giving someone confidence or assurance about something. Ensure is to make certain of something, and insure has more to do with insurance (as in, ‘is this house insured?’)  

This is a bit of a tricky one, to be sure. To understand the distinction better, we recommend reading the post on the difference between assure, insure and ensure.

14. Advise vs Advice

Are you giving counsel or advising someone on something? Did they take your advice? To advise someone of something is a verb that describes the act of giving counsel or guidance. The actual recommendation or guidance given is the advice, which is a noun. Make sense? Great!

15. Principle vs Principal

Are you talking about a fundamental tenet, or a school headmaster? In other words, the difference between principal and principle is that a principle is the former (a fundamental rule or tenet), and principal is the latter (the school headmaster).

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