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Commonly Confused Words

Last updated on 22/06/2023

These are some commonly confused words. You might like to keep this in your files for future reference.

accede [to] (agree [to])/exceed (surpass)

adjacent [to] (lying near [to])/contiguous [to] (touching, sharing a boundary with)

adverse (adj.: contrary or hostile [e.g. of weather])/averse [to] (adj.: strongly disinclined to)

allude (mention indirectly)/elude (escape)

allusion (indirect mention)/illusion (false impression)

ambivalent (in two minds, holding two conflicting views at once)/ambiguous (vague, capable of different interpretations)

among [more than two]/between [two]

amount (quantity of undifferentiated material)/number (count of individual items or people)

appraise (assess)/apprise (inform)

ascent (rise)/assent (agreement)

ascetic (self-denying, abstemious)/aesthetic (relating to concepts of beauty)

beg the question (dodge or evade the question; or, more strictly, make an unwarranted assumption that a question has been resolved)/raise the question (bring a question to notice)

biannual (happening twice a year)/biennial (happening every two years)

blatantly (flagrantly, unashamedly)/patently (obviously, evidently)

blond (male)/blonde (female): one term where the gender distinction has stuck!

breath (noun)/breathe (verb)

canvas (noun: heavy cloth)/canvass (verb: solicit support, esp. of voters)

careen (nautical: to put a ship ashore)/career (move rapidly and erratically)

censor (ban or cut a publication)/censure (criticise severely, condemn)

cite; see site

climax (high point)/crescendo (the process of getting there)

common sense (noun)/commonsense (adjective)

compare to (emphasise likeness between similar entities)/compare with (distinguish

between similar entities)/contrast with (emphasise opposing characteristics of different


complaisant (deferential, willing to please)/complacent (self-satisfied)

complement (verb: to complete)/compliment (verb: to praise)

consist [of] (be made up of)/be composed [of] (be made up of)/comprise [NO ‘of’] (be made up of) (e.g. ‘The symphony consists of three movements’; ‘The symphony is composed of three movements’; ‘The symphony comprises three movements’)

contiguous; see adjacent

continual (repeated)/continuous (constant, uninterrupted)

councillor (member of council)/counsellor (adviser)

credibility (trustworthiness, believability)/credulity (gullibility)

credible (believable)/creditable (praiseworthy)/credulous (gullible)

criteria (plural of ‘criterion’; colloquially used as singular)

curb (verb: restrain)/kerb (noun: edge of street)

data (plural of ‘datum’; colloquially used as singular)

decimate (reduce in number; literally, by one in ten)/annihilate, eliminate, exterminate (kill off entirely)

definite (clear, unequivocal)/definitive (unsurpassed, setting an exemplary standard)

dependent (adj.: reliant)/dependant (noun: person who is supported by another)

depreciate (decline in value)/deprecate (express disapproval of)

desert (arid place)/dessert (sweet)

desperate (violent and lawless)/disparate (unrelated)

diminish (become smaller, inake smaller)/minimise (reduce to as little as possible)

discrete (distinct, separate)/discreet (tactful, circumspect)

disinterested (impartial)/uninterested (apathetic)

dual (adj.: double)/duel (noun: armed contest between two people)

economical (not costly)/economic (to do with the economy)

effect (noun: result, consequence; e.g., ‘His complaints had no effect on the election’)/affect (verb: influence, have an effect on; e.g., ‘His complaints did not affect the election result’) BUT effect (verb: accomplish, achieve; e.g., ‘His complaints effected no change in the election result’); and affect (noun (in psychology): emotion)

elicit (draw out)/illicit (illegal)

empirical (based on experience rather than theory)/imperial (relating to empire)

enquiry (question, request for information (preferred Aust. spelling))/inquiry (investigation, esp. by agency of government)

envelop (verb: to cover completely)/envelope {noun: cover, wrapping)

epigram (short, witty saying)/epigraph (quotation used to introduce a passage of text)/epitaph (words written or spoken to mark a death, e.g. on a gravestone)/epithet (originally a nickname, not necessarily uncomplimentary, but now almost invariably implies a deliberate insult)

exceed; see accede

exotic (lit. coming from outside; by extension: unfamiliar, sometimes in a glamorous way)/esoteric (hidden away, obscure, only for the initiated)

factitious (purporting to be genuine, but actually contrived)/fictitious (invented, made up)

farther (distance)/further (time or quantity)

fewer (of numbers, individuals)/less (of quantities)

fiancé (male)/fiancée (female)

flare (burst of flame)/flair (stylishness)

flout (openly defy, disobey, e.g. flout the law)/flaunt (display conspicuously)

formally (in accordance with convention)/formerly (previously)

fortuitous (by chance)/fortunate (lucky)

gamut [of] (whole range [of])/gambit (tactical move)/[run the] gauntlet (endure harsh criticism)

hoard (store, cache)/horde (throng, mob)

holy (sacred)/holey (with holes in)

home in on (be guided to [a target], zero in on)/hone (sharpen)

imminent (about to happen)/eminent (distinguished)

imply (suggest without stating explicitly)/infer (deduce)

insure [against] (make agreement for compensation)/ensure (make certain)

it’s (short for ‘it is’)/its (of or belonging to it)

lay [past: laid] (to place)/lie [past: lay, lain] (what you do on a bed)

led (past tense of ‘to lead’)/.lead (heavy metal)

less; see fewer

liable [to] (susceptible, prone [to])/likely [to] (tending or inclined [to])

licence (noun: a permit)/license (verb: allow, make legal)

loan (noun: something borrowed)/lend (verb: allow temporary use of)

loath [to] (adj.: reluctant [to])/loathe (verb: detest)

lose (verb: part with, mislay, fail to keep)/loose (verb: untie; adj. and adv.: free of restraint)

mantel (frame around fireplace)/mantle (cloak, covering)

media (plural of ‘medium’; used as such in scholarly texts, but colloquially treated as


militate [against] (have force [against])/mitigate (moderate)

naught (nothing)/nought (the figure zero)

noisome (smelly, ‘on the nose’)/noisy (loud)

ordinance (official regulation)/ordnance (military supplies)

panacea (universal cure)/remedy (specific cure)

parameter (abstract: limiting factor)/perimeter (physical boundary)

partly (in part, e.g. of physical objects)/partially (to a limited degree, e.g. of conditions: ‘She was partially deaf)

passed (verb: gone by)/past (noun or adjective: [of an] earlier time)

patently; see blatantly

peddle (sell; noun: pedlar [US: peddler])/pedal (propel by use of foot-pedals)

percentage point (1 per cent)/per cent (proportion, expressed as ratio of 100), e.g. ‘Unemployment increased by four percentage points, from 8 per cent to 12 per cent of the workforce’ is the same as ‘Unemployment increased by 50 per cent, from’8 per cent to 12 per cent of the workforce’

phased (done gradually, in stages)/fazed (worried, disconcerted)

phenomena (plural of ‘phenomenon’; colloquially used as singular)

pour (verb: tip out, decant)/pore [over] (verb: study, read carefully)

practice (noun: custom, rehearsal)/practise (verb: perform repeatedly)

prescribe (specify, lay down a rule)/proscribe (prohibit)

presumptive (presumed to be true)/presumptuous (arrogant)

principle (abstract noun: fundamental truth, rule or law)/principal (adj.: main, most

important; concrete noun, referring to people: the leading or most important person; e.g., [school] principal; principal [actor, dancer]; principals [of a company])

procrastinate (delay)/prevaricate (skirt around an issue, fudge)

prophecy (noun)/prophesy (verb)

protest (noun: display of public opposition)/protest [at or against] (publicly oppose,

demonstrate against, e.g. ‘They protested against the logging of the forest’; recently, this has tended to become ‘They protested the logging of the forest’, but this construction is not yet accepted as standard usage.)

refute (conclusively demolish [an argument]/deny, oppose (argue against)

sight (vision)/site (place)/cite (verb: quote)

sporadic (intermittent)/spasmodic (occurring in sudden, brief spells)

state (express fully)/say (remark)

stationary (not moving)/stationery (writing materials)

story (tale, narrative; pi. stories)/storey (floor of a building; pi. storeys; US: story)

strata (pi. of stratum, meaning ‘layer’; often used as singular)

subsequent (later)/consequent (resultant)

their (possessive of ‘they’)/there (adverb: at that place)/they’re (contraction for ‘they are’)

tortuous (winding)/torturous (excruciatingly painful)

uncharted (unmapped)/unchartered (lacking a charter)

venal (corrupt)/venial (pardonable)

whisky (Scotch) whiskey (Irish, US)

who’s (contraction of ‘who is’)/whose (possessive of ‘who’)

your (possessive of ‘you’)/you’re (contraction of ‘you are’)

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Published inEditingWritingWriting tips


  1. Marie Marie

    Nice! Thanks for sharing. I’m terrible at grammar. I recently got called out for using peaked with interest, instead of “piqued with interest”.

  2. Marie Marie

    Nice! Thanks for sharing. I’m terrible at grammar. I recently got called out for using peaked with interest, instead of “piqued with interest”.

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