Commonly Confused Words

There are many misused words in the English language. In fact, some have been misused words for so long that they begin to sound right. But they are NOT. They may sound alike and might be spelled similarly, but they mean very different things. Since your admissions officer is likely well aware of them, you should be too.

Here are some of the most commonly misused phrases and confused terms together with an example of how to use them properly.

accede—> to agree
—> to surpass
By acceding to my request he truly exceeded my expectations.

accept—> to receive
—> excluding
I can accept any excuse except the one you just gave me.

adapt—> to receive
adopt—> to take as one’s own, or formally accept
To adapt to a changing business environment, the company will adopt new measures.

adverse —> unfavorable
—> to be opposed
I’m averse to sleeping outdoors, especially in such adverse weather conditions.


affect —> to influence
—> (v)to bring about, / (n)result
Her leg injury affected her times, but it’s uncertain what effect it’ll have on her overall performance.


aid —> to help
—> staff member
The President’s aides came to our aid.


all ready —> prepared
already —> previously
I am already dressed, and now I am all ready for breakfast.


allusion —> to reference
—> false image
—> false belief
The coach alluded to Joe’s lack of effort. At first, he had illusions about Joe’s level of talent and commitment, but now he’s under no delusion that Joe can make any meaningful contribution to the team.


ascent —> to rise
—> to consent
Now that she’s on her ascent to stardom, she would never give her assent to perform in a low budget film.


appraise —> to set monetary value
—> to inform
I apprised her of how important it is that she have her home appraised correctly.


between —> used when two people/things are involved
—> used when more than two people/things are involved
There are no bad feelings between you and me, but there is a lot of resentment among the rest of the group.


EXCEPTION: You may use between if each element is considered individually in relation to all the others. There was an agreement reached between John, Sue, and Mary.


bi —> means every two
semi —> means half
It’s better to get paid semimonthly, in other words, twice a month, rather than bimonthly, which is every two months.


complement —> to complete
—> to praise
Mary, the moonlight shining on your hair complements the whisper-soft touch of your lips beautifully. Thank you Tom. That was the nicest compliment you ever gave me.


continual —> repeated
—> uninterrupted
John, who continually goes to the library for his research, is the kind of eager student who is continuously searching for the truth.


council —> a group counsel —> (v)to advise, (n)advice (also used for a lawyer taking part in a court case)
The council was counseled on the potential dangers of any more budget cuts.


convince —> win over by argument
—> win over by appeal to reason or feeling
It took a lot of persuasion to convince the school board of the advantages of building a new gym.


literally —> means truly
figuratively —> not the actual meaning, but a more imaginative meaning
The party last night was a “massacre” (massacre used in a figurative sense).
The American Indians were often massacred during the white man’s expansion to the west (massacre used here literally).


disinterested —> impartial
—> not interested in / apathetic
I may be a disinterested observer, but I’m certainly not uninterested in the school’s affairs.


e.g. —> means: for example
i.e. —> means: that is, and is used to clarify something that preceded it
I love bright colors, e.g., canary yellow or fire truck red; my sister, on the other hand, prefers softer tones, i.e. pastel colors.


elicit —> to draw out
illicit —> illegal
The mayor was able to elicit the support of the public in his fight against illicit drugs.


eminent —> prominent / respected / famous
imminent —> in the immediate future
Many eminent environmentalists feel that global warming is an imminent disaster that looms over us.


farther —> refers to physical distance
—> refers to degree or intent
As we kept walking farther away from the camp, we discussed in further detail our plans for that evening.


fewer —> refers to numbers
less —> refers to amount
I eat fewer donuts and less ice cream than I used to.


flaunt —> to show off
flout —> to defy
He flaunted his new sports car, while he flout the law by exceeding the speed limit.


imply —> to suggest
infer —> to deduce from available evidence or information
I infer from the expression in your face that you are implying (that) my cooking is horrible.


its —> possessive
it’s —> contraction for it is
It’s the largest house on its block.


ingenious —> clever
ingenuous —> naive
Sam is so ingenious he can build a tent from a few pieces of wood, and yet he can be so ingenuous he would ask a complete stranger to look after his tools.


lay —> to put something down (carefully or for a purpose) in a flat position: lay (laying), laid, laid.
—> to get into a horizontal position / or something that is in a particular place or position: Lie (lying), lay, laid.
I enjoy lying in bed and reading in the afternoons. I usually prepare a cup of tea first and lay it on the nightstand beside me. Yesterday, I laid in bed and read for 3 hours. When I was done reading, I laid my book next to my cup of tea.


loose —> unattached
—> to no longer possess something / misplace: (lose, lost, lost)
I lost my car keys. I had them in my pocket, but somehow they got loose. Oh well, at least I didn’t lose my spare one.


precede—> to go before something or someone
proceed —> to begin or continue
It may help if you were to precede the report with an introduction, and then you can proceed with your presentation.


principal —> leader or top person
—> a rule
The school principal kept his word; after all, he’s a man of principle.


sight —> something seen
site —> a place sigh —> breathe out slowly and noisily, expressing some emotion
“All those flowers in the annual flower show must have been a beautiful sight to see,” she sighed. “I wonder what site they’ll use for next year’s show.”


stationary —> fixed
—> supplies needed for writing
I was on my way to buy some stationery, when suddenly the traffic came to a halt and became stationary. 


their —> possessive
—> adverb that shows location
—>contraction for “they are”
going to paint every room in their house if there is enough paint.


whose —> possessive
who’s —> contraction of “who is”
the designated driver? I hope it’s not the same person whose car just broke.


your —> possessive
—> contraction of “you are”
much better looking in person than in your driver’s license picture.

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