10 Commonly Confused Words and How to Use Them

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English can be such a complex language.  There are many words or groups of words that sound similar, yet are used in completely different ways or have different meanings.  In honor of National Grammar Day here are 10 sets of commonly confused words that you may not know that you are using wrong.

Peek, peak, pique

These three words mean vastly different things, even if they are frequently confused with one another. A peek is a brief look at something. A peak is the highest or greatest point of something. A pique is a feeling of irritation or resentment. It can also be a verb meaning to stimulate.

Taking a peek at that mountain peak piqued my interest in hiking.

i.e. vs e.g.

This one can be tricky.  I.e. means “in other words”. It clarifies something that you have already said. E.g. means “for example”. This, well… it gives an example. Examples add depth to your story.

It is now your bedtime. I.e. go to bed now.

I have trouble getting my kids to bed. E.g. the youngest asks for 27 drinks of water.

Except and accept

The word “Except” means to exclude or leave out. Accept means to receive or take in.

It is a good idea to accept the plea deal offered except when you truly think you will win.

Affect and effect

Affect is a verb. It means to make a difference to or to have an effect on. Effect is a noun. It is the change that your action brought about.

Humidity affects my hair in a negative way. This poofy mess is the effect of the moisture on my hair.

Of vs have

This one is easy. Don’t use of, use have. The ‘ve in should’ve and could’ve stands for have.

I should have learned this rule better in 5th grade.

Assure, ensure, insure

When you assure you are expressing confidence or making a promise. If you take action to make certain of something your ensure it. If you are an insurance company or are paying an insurance company for protection you are insuring.

I assure you that my lawyer will ensure that you pay for my car if you are not fully insured.

Less, fewer

Deciding between less and fewer is easier than you might think. Just ask yourself one question. Can you count them? If you are comparing things that you can quantify (count) use fewer. If not, use less. (Yes, this means that the signs should say 10 items or fewer)

I ate fewer slices of pizza than my daughter last night. I am trying to eat less this year.

Compliment, complement

A compliment is an expression of praise. A complement enhances of completes something else. Complements are often referred to when discussing colors or math.

Green is a complement of red, but if you tell me that I look good in red you are giving me a compliment.

Farther, further

While both of these words prefer to distances, farther refers to a physical distance. Further actually denotes something nonphysical or figurative.

When my daughter moves away to college she will be farther away from me. However if she didn’t go she would be further away from her future.

Between, among

Between refers to two or more things that have clear division or separation. Among refers to a group of items that have no clear division because they are part of a whole.

You choose between the chicken and the beef, but you choose among all of the side dishes.

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