25 Common Confusions of the English Language

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25 common confusions, grammar, word choice, confusingg words, commonly misspelled words, grammar guardian, writing, homophones, homographs, homonyms

English is full of word confusions

You’ve got to love the English language. Like America itself the English language is a multifaceted conglomeration of words from many different languages. This historical tapestry makes it so rich and nuanced that no matter how adept you are at using it, there is always something new to discover. However, it is just that richness and complexity that make English one of the more difficult languages to learn. Our language is rife with common confusions.

The English language is full of homophones and homographs. It has words that are closely related, or not even closely related, that are often confused and misused. Here is my list of 25 of my favorite common confusions of the English language.


Common Confusions

 25 common confusions, grammar, word choice, confusingg words, commonly misspelled words, grammar guardian, writing, homophones, homographs, homonyms

1. Homophone, homograph

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spellings and different meanings.

They’re, there, and their are homophones.

Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings and often sound different.

Bass (the musical tone) and bass (the fish) are homographs


2. Peek, peak, pique

A Peek is a brief look at something.

Let’s take a quick peek under the tree.

A peak is the highest or greatest point of something.

The hikers finally reached the mountain peak.

A pique is a feeling of irritation or resentment. It can also be a verb meaning to stimulate..

Learning new words often pique my interest.


3. Allusion, Illusion

An allusion is a passing reference to something.

The prosecutor made an allusion to the defendant’s criminal history in his statement.

An illusion is something that is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses.

The magician gave the illusion that the rabbit had really come out of his hat.

4. i.e vs e.g

I.e. means “in other words”. It clarifies something that you have already said.

It is now your bedtime. i.e. Go to bed now.

E.g means “for example”.

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


5. Bad, Badly

Bad is an adjective. It modifies nouns or pronouns.

I’m having a bad day today.

Badly is an adverb. It modifies a verb.

The children will not stop behaving badly.


6. Except and accept

Except means to exclude or leave out.

Everyone except Billy failed the exam.

Accept means to receive or take in.

It is a good idea to accept the plea deal.


7. Affect and effect

Affect is a verb. It means to make a difference to or to have an effect on.

Humidity affects my hair in a negative way.

Effect is a noun. It is the change that your action brought about.

Steam is the effect of heat acting on water.


8. 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.


9. Assure, ensure, insure

Assure means to express confidence or make a promise.

I assure you that I am telling the truth.

Ensure means to take action to make certain of something.

You should ensure that you have enough money for that.

To insure is to provide protection that an insurance company does or that you pay an insurance company to do.

If you buy that car make sure that you insure it.

10. 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. (Yes, this means that the signs should say 10 items or fewer)

I ate fewer slices of pizza than my daughter last night.

If you cannot count the items, use less.

I am trying to eat less this year.


11. Compliment, complement

A compliment is an expression of praise.

If you tell me that I look good in red you are giving me a compliment.

A complement enhances or completes something else. Complements are often referred to when discussing colors or math.

Green is a complement of red.


12. Elicit, Illicit

To elicit is to evoke or draw out something, usually a response or reaction.

Sad movies usually elicit tears from the crowd.

Something is illicit if laws or customs forbid it.

I don’t allow any illicit drugs in my house.


13. Farther, further

While both of these words prefer to distances, farther refers to a physical distance.

When my daughter moves away to college she will be farther away from me.

Further actually denotes something nonphysical or figurative.

However if she didn’t go she would be further away from her future.


14. Precede, Proceed

Precede means to go before.

Breakfast will usually precede lunch and dinner.

To proceed means to continue on.

If you proceed down the path you will get to the lion exhibit.


15. Between, among

Between refers to two or more things that have clear division or separation.

You can choose between the chicken and the beef.

Among refers to a group of items that have no clear division because they are part of a whole.

You can choose among all of the side dishes.


16. Their, They’re, There

Their is a plural possessive when talking about a group of people.

They cannot find their bag.

They’re is a contraction for they are.

They’re going to look for it.

There is a place.

The bag was over there.


17. Too, Two, To

Too is another word for also.

Are you going too?

Two is the number after one.

I need two new books.

To suggests going somewhere.

I’m going to the store.


18. Its, It’s

Its is a possessive for an unnamed, or previously named object.

Its keys were broken.

It’s is a contraction for it is.

It’s a shame he couldn’t come.


19. Who, Whom

Who is defined as of a person or what person.

Who does she think she is?

Whom is used as an interrogative or an object following a preposition.

Can you tell me for whom the bell tolls?


20. Breath, Breathe

Breath is the air inhaled and exhaled during respiration.

When it’s cold I can see my breath.

Breathe is the act of inhaling and exhaling air.

If you’re in pain, it helps to breathe steadily.


21. Capitol, Capital

Capitol usually refers to one specific building or a group of specific buildings.

Capitol Hill is beautiful. The design of the Kansas Capitol building is amazing.

All other uses of capital are spelled with an “al”.

Denver is the capital of Colorado.


22. Disinterested, Uninterested

Disinterested is no longer being mentally or emotionally engaged or free from selfish intent.

An egotist is disinterested in any conversation that doesn’t revolve around him/her.

Uninterested means to not want to learn or be involved in something.

The English class was full of uninterested teens.


23. Imply, Infer

Imply means to express or suggest something in an nonverbal and indirect way.

Her statement implied that the cop’s disappearance was foul play.

Infer means to draw a conclusion from facts or premises

It’s hard to infer what he will do next.


24. Emigrate, Immigrate

To emigrate is to move from one place to another.

Because the country was so poor, many of its citizens are looking to emigrate.

To immigrate is to move to a place

The new laws will make it more difficult to immigrate to America.


25. Accent, Ascent, Assent

Accent is the way in which you speak.

She spoke in a British accent.

Ascent is the act of rising upward.

She made her ascent up the stairs easily.

Assent is to agree or approve something.

The plan was proposed and the president assented.



These are just a sampling of the common confusions found in the English language.  What about you?  What other word confusions can you think of?  Comment and let me know your favorites.

What other word confusions can you think of? Comment and let me know your favorites. Click To Tweet

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