A Quick List of Commonly Confused English Words

A Quick List of Commonly Confused English Words

You’re writing a paper and suddenly you’re not sure what's right: “affect” or “effect.” Though you may be spelling the word right, your spelling or grammar checker won't catch the fact that you’re using it incorrectly. It’s not just homophones that have a tendency to trip writers up—there are plenty of words whose meanings are similar but used in different scenarios, like lay and lie for example.

These words can be especially challenging for non-native speakers. They are a common stumbling block for ESL students working on writing assignments. It takes practice to distinguish between words. Start by reading more, writing compositions using word variations, and being mindful of when and how you’re using them.

The truth is that English is confusing for even native speakers. Here's a list of commonly confused words to help all students: 

Your/You’re:

Your is a possessive adjective so it comes before a noun. You’re is a contraction of “you are.”

  • Your party was wonderful.
  • You’re going to have a great time at the party.

To/Too/Two:

To is a preposition, meaning “in the direction of.” It can also be used to create an infinitive (e.g. “to create”). Too is an adverb, that means excessively, additionally, or extremely. Two is a number.

  • He went to the aquarium.
  • There were too many lines.
  • He saw two fish.

Its/It’s:

Its is possessive. It's is a contraction of “it is.”

  • It’s normal to daydream.
  • We just bought a new couch, its cushions are comfortable.

Than/Then:

Than is used with comparisons. Then indicates time.

  • He is taller than his sister.
  • We’ll go get ice cream, then we’ll go to the park.

There/Their/They’re:

There refers to a place. Their is a possessive adjective. They’re is a contraction of “they are.”

  • I see a cat in that window over there.
  • Their cat is in the window.
  • They’re thinking about getting another cat.

Whose/Who’s:

Whose is the possessive form of who. Who’s is a contraction of “who is.”

  • Whose pencil is this?
  • Who’s going to buy a new pencil?

Affect/Effect:

Affect is typically used as a verb (“to influence”), while effect is used as a noun (“the influence”).

  • The finale affected her.
  • The effect of the finale on the audience was palpable.

Lose/Loose:

Lose is a verb meaning to “suffer a loss,” or “misplace.” Loose is an adjective that means “not tight.”

  • Her collar was loose.
  • He was worried he would lose the dog.

Lay/Lie:

Lay requires a direct object. Lie means “to recline.”

  • I’ll lay the blanket down over there.
  • I think I’ll go lie down for a nap.

Accept/Except:

Accept is a verb that means “to take” or “to receive.” Except means “excluding.”

  • I can’t accept this gift.
  • I had asked for all of the gifts I was given, except for the sweater from my grandma.

Imply/Infer:

Imply and infer are opposite words having to do with information. Imply means “to hint at (information)” Infer means “to make an educated guess (about the information).”

  • He implied that she should leave.
  • She inferred from his body language that she should leave.

Learn more about word usage errors vistit WriteLab's Guide


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