Commonly Misused Words—Part 1

Your spell-checker may not identify these words as wrong, because they’re not misspelled. However, because these terms look alike and sound alike, they’re often confused with each other and get misused.  How many of these do you get mixed up?

accept / except—receive, agree / exclude

adapt / adept / adopt—adjust / skilled, proficient / take as one’s own

adverse / averse—unfavorable / opposed

advice / advise—recommendation / recommend

affect / effect—act on / result

all ready / already—completely prepared / by this or that time

all together / altogether—completely in one gathering / wholly, entirely, completely

allot / a lot—divide or distribute by share or portion / many

allusion / illusion—passing or casual reference / something that deceives

altar / alter—elevated place for religious rites / change, modify

alternate / alternative—interchange repeatedly and regularly / choice among possibilities

among / between—in the midst of a group of people or things / in the space separating two people, points, objects

anyone /any one—any person at all / any single item in a group

appraise / apprise—estimate the monetary value of something / give notice, inform

assure / ensure / insure

assure: declare earnestly, tell positively”

ensure: “guarantee, make secure or safe (usually does not involve money)”

insure: “guarantee against loss or harm, issue or procure an insurance policy (usually involves money)”

auger / augur—a boring or drilling tool / soothsayer, one who observes and interprets omens

awhile / a while—for a short time or period / a period or interval of time

bare / bear—uncover, open to view, reveal or divulge / hold up, support

beside / besides—at the side of, near / moreover; furthermore; also; in addition; otherwise; else

biannual / biennial—occurring twice a year / occurring every two years

bloc / block—group of people, businesses, etc., united for a particular purpose / solid mass of wood, stone, etc., with one or more flat faces

born / borne—brought forth by birth / held up, supported

brake / break—device for slowing or stopping a vehicle / smash into parts violently

can / may—be able to / expressing permission

canvas / canvass—closely woven, heavy cloth of cotton, hemp, or linen, used for tents, sails, etc. / solicit votes, subscriptions, opinions, etc.; survey

capital / capitol—city or town that’s the seat of government; a capital letter, as opposed to a lowercase letter; wealth or resources / the building in Washington, DC, in which Congress sits; similar buildings used by state legislatures.

carat / caret / karat—unit of weight in gemstones / mark made in written matter to show where something is to be inserted / unit for measuring fineness of gold

censer / censor / censure—container in which incense is burned / official who examines all types of media in order to suppress parts deemed objectionable on some set of grounds / strong or vehement expression of disapproval, official reprimand

cite / site—quote, mention, or refer to someone or some text as an example or authority in support, proof, or confirmation / position or location of a town, building, etc.

clamber / clamor—climb with effort or difficulty, using both feet and hands / loud uproar, as from a crowd of people

compare / contrast—examine two or more people, objects, ideas, etc. in order to note similarities and differences / the focus here is to show differences, such as opposite natures, purposes, etc.

complement / compliment—something that completes or makes perfect / expression of praise, commendation, or admiration

continuous / continual—uninterrupted in time; without cessation / regularly or frequently recurring

council / counsel / consul—assembly of persons summoned or convened for consultation, deliberation, or advice / advice; opinion, or instruction given in directing the judgment or conduct of another; law: legal adviser / official appointed by the government of one country to look after its commercial interests and the welfare of its citizens in another country

councilor / counselor—member of a council / adviser

credible / creditable—believable / bringing or deserving honor, reputation, or esteem

deduce / deduct—derive as a conclusion from something known or assumed; infer / take away, as from a sum or amount

defuse / diffuse—remove the fuse from a bomb, mine, etc.; make less dangerous, tense, or embarrassing / pour out and spread, as a fluid; spread or scatter widely or thinly; disseminate

demur / demure—make objection, especially on the grounds of scruples; take exception; object / characterized by shyness and modesty; reserved

deprecate / depreciate—express earnest disapproval of; protest against a scheme, purpose, etc.; belittle / reduce the purchasing value of money; lessen the value or price of

desert / dessert—dry terrain with sparse, if any, vegetation / final course of a meal

disassemble / dissemble—take apart / give a false or misleading appearance to; conceal the truth or real nature of

disburse / disperse—pay out money, especially for expenses / distribute or scatter

disinterested / uninterested—not influenced by personal or selfish motives or advantage / not personally concerned in something

disorganized / unorganized—functioning without adequate order, systemization, or planning; uncoordinated: careless or undisciplined; sloppy / without organic structure; not formed into a systematized whole

elicit / illicit—draw or bring out or forth; educe; evoke / not legally permitted or authorized; unlicensed; unlawful

emigrate / immigrate—leave one country or region to settle in another / come to a country of which one is not a native, usually for permanent residence

eminent / imminent / immanent—high in station, rank, or repute; prominent; distinguished / likely to occur at any moment; impending / remaining within; indwelling; inherent

energize / enervate—give energy to; rouse into activity / deprive of force or strength; destroy the vigor of; weaken; enfeeble, debilitate, sap, exhaust

ensure / insure—see “assure”

exacerbate / exasperate—increase the severity, bitterness, or violence of disease, ill feeling, etc.; aggravate: embitter the feelings of (a person); irritate / irritate or provoke to a high degree; annoy extremely

farther / further—at or to a greater distance, a more advanced point, or a greater degree or extent / all the above + in addition; moreover

Some usage guides suggest that only farther should be used for physical distance (e.g., We walked farther than we planned), farther and further have been used interchangeably throughout much of their histories.  However, only further is used as an adverb, meaning “moreover” (e.g., Further, you hurt my feelings), and as an adjective, meaning “more extended” (e.g., No further comment.) and “additional” (e.g., Further bulletins came in.).

ferment / foment—change brought about by a fermenting agent, such as yeast enzymes, molds, and certain bacteria, which convert grape sugar into ethyl alcohol / instigate or foster discord, rebellion, etc.; promote the growth or development of

flair / flare—natural talent, aptitude, or ability; bent; knack / burn with an unsteady, swaying flame, as a torch or candle in the wind; blaze with a sudden burst of flame (often followed by up

flaunt / flout—parade or display oneself conspicuously, defiantly, or boldly / treat with disdain, scorn, or contempt; scoff at; mock

flounder / founder—struggle with stumbling or plunging movements (usually followed by about, along, on, through, etc.); struggle clumsily or helplessly / fill with water and sink; become wrecked; fail utterly; stumble, break down

forbear / forebear—refrain or abstain from; desist from; keep back; withhold / usually forebears: ancestors; forefathers

foreword / forward—short introductory statement in a published work, such as a book, especially when written by someone other than the author / toward or at a place, point, or time in advance; onward; ahead; toward the front

formerly / formally—in time past; in an earlier period or age; previously / in a formal manner

(continued in Part 2)

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