Commonly Misused Words—Part 2

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.  How many of these do you get mixed up?

gamut / gantlet / gauntlet—entire scale or range / track construction used in narrow places, in which two parallel tracks converge so that their inner rails cross, run parallel, and diverge again, thus allowing a train to remain on its own track at all times / medieval glove, as of mail or plate, worn by a knight in armor to protect the hand

gibe / jibe—utter mocking or scoffing words; jeer; taunt; deride / shift from one side to the other when running before the wind, as a fore-and-aft sail or its boom; alter course so that a fore-and-aft sail shifts in this manner

gorilla / guerrilla—largest of the anthropoid apes / member of a band of irregular soldiers that uses a type of warfare that involves harassing the enemy by surprise raids, sabotaging communication and supply lines, etc.

gourmand / gourmet—person who is fond of good eating, often without a goal or plan, and to excess / connoisseur of fine food and drink

hail / hale—cheer, salute, or greet; welcome; acclaim; approve enthusiastically; call out to in order to stop, attract attention, ask aid, etc. / free from disease or infirmity; robust; vigorous

hoard / horde—supply or accumulation hidden or carefully guarded for preservation, future use, etc. / large group, multitude, number, etc.; a mass or crowd

hurdle / hurtle—portable barrier over which contestants must leap in certain running races; difficult problem to be overcome; obstacle / rush violently; move with great speed; move or go noisily or resoundingly, as with violent or rapid motion

imply / infer—indicate or suggest without being explicitly stated; signify or mean / derive by reasoning; conclude or judge from premises or evidence; guess; speculate; surmise

incredible / incredulous—so extraordinary as to seem impossible; unbelievable / disinclined or indisposed to believe; skeptical; indicating or showing unbelief

ingenious / ingenuous—characterized by cleverness or originality of invention or construction; cleverly inventive or resourceful / free from reserve, restraint, or dissimulation; candid; sincere; artless; innocent; naive

it’s / its—contraction of it is / neuter possessive pronoun

later / latter—afterward, subsequently, or at a time in the future (sometimes followed by on) / being the second mentioned of two (as opposed to former); more advanced in time; near or comparatively near to the end

less / fewer—to a smaller extent, amount, or degree / of a smaller number

liable / libel—legally responsible / law: defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures

lie, lay, lain / lay, laid—be in a horizontal, recumbent, or prostrate position, as on a bed or the ground; recline / be in a horizontal, recumbent, or prostrate position, as on a bed or the ground; recline

liqueur / liquor—any of a class of alcoholic liquors, usually strong, sweet, and highly flavored, generally served after dinner; cordial / distilled beverage (e.g., whiskey), as distinguished from a fermented beverage (e.g., beer, wine)

loath /loathe—unwilling; reluctant; disinclined; averse / feel disgust or intense aversion for; abhor

loose / lose—not tight, free or released from fastening or attachment; free from anything that binds or restrains; unfettered / fail to inadvertently hold onto or retain

main / mane—chief in size, extent, or importance; principal; leading / long hair on the back of or around the neck

mantel / mantle—construction framing the opening of a fireplace and usually covering part of the chimney in a decorative manner

notable / notorious—prominent, important, or distinguished / widely and unfavorably known; publicly or generally known, as for a particular trait

palate / palette / pallet—roof of mouth / thin oval board with a thumb hole at one end, used by painters for holding and mixing colors / bed or mattress of straw; small or makeshift bed

passed / past—past tense of pass / time gone by

peak / peek / pique—pointed top of a mountain or ridge / look or glance quickly or furtively, especially through a small opening or from a concealed location / excite interest, curiosity, etc.; arouse an emotion or provoke to action

peal / peel—prolonged ringing of bells; any loud, sustained sound or series of sounds, as of cannon, thunder, applause, or laughter / to strip something of its skin, rind, bark, etc.

pedal / peddle—foot-operated lever used to control certain mechanisms or to play or modify the sounds of certain musical instruments; work or use the pedals / carry small articles, goods, wares, etc. from place to place for sale at retail; hawk

persecute / prosecute—pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment / law: institute legal proceedings against a person

personal / personnel—of, relating to, or coming as from a particular person; individual; private / body of people employed in an organization or place of work

plane / plain—short for airplane, carpentry; woodworking tool / clear or distinct to the eye, ear, or mind; obvious; without garnishment; conveying the meaning clearly and simply; easily understood; flat terrain

precede / proceed—go before, such as in place, order, rank, importance, or time / move or go forward or onward; carry on

prescribe / proscribe—lay down, in writing or otherwise, as a rule or a course of action to be followed; appoint, ordain, or enjoin; medical: designate or order the use of a medicine, remedy, treatment, etc. / denounce or condemn a thing as dangerous or harmful; prohibit / put outside the protection of the law; outlaw / banish or exile

principal / principle—first or highest in rank, importance, value, etc.; chief, main; foremost / accepted or professed rule of action or conduct; fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived; fundamental doctrine or tenet; a distinctive ruling opinion

prophecy / prophesy—foretelling or prediction of what is to come; something declared by a prophet, especially a divinely inspired prediction, instruction, or exhortation / foretell or predict; indicate beforehand; declare or foretell by or as if by divine inspiration

ravage / ravish—work havoc upon; damage or mar / fill with strong emotion, especially joy; seize and carry off by force; rape a woman

reaction / response—reverse movement or tendency; action in a reverse direction or manner; action in response to some influence, event, etc. / answer or reply, as in words or in some action

rebuff / rebuke / rebut—blunt or abrupt rejection, as of a person making advances; peremptory refusal of a request, offer, etc.; snub / express sharp, stern disapproval of; reprove; reprimand / refute by evidence or argument; to oppose by contrary proof

rein / reign—leather strap, fastened to each end of the bit of a bridle, by which the rider or driver controls a horse or other animal / period during which a sovereign occupies the throne

retch / wretch—make efforts to vomit; vomit / deplorably unfortunate or unhappy person; person of despicable or base character

rise / raise—get up from a lying, sitting, or kneeling posture; assume an upright position; get up after falling or being thrown down / move to a higher position; lift up; elevate

sight / site—power or faculty of seeing; vision; seen with the eyes, view, glimpse / area or exact plot of ground on which anything is, has been, or is to be located

sit / set—rest with the body supported by the buttocks or thighs / to put something or someone in a particular place, position, or posture

stanch / staunch—stop the flow of a liquid, especially blood / firm or steadfast in principle, adherence, loyalty, etc., such as to a person or principle

stationary / stationery—standing still; having a fixed position; not moving or movable / writing materials, such as paper, envelopes, pens, and pencils

than / then—comparative term: different or except from / at that time

that / which / who—pronoun used to indicate a thing, idea, state, event, time, remark, etc. (that does not refer to people; that does not take a comma) / pronoun used to relate to something specific that happened before (which usually does not refer to people, thought it sometimes may; which requires a comma on each side of the clause) / pronoun used to relate to someone specific or a personified thing mentioned before (who may or may not take a comma, depending on the clause)

their / there / they’re—belongs to them / in that place / contraction of they are

throe / throw—violent spasm or pang / propel or cast in any way, especially by use of the hand by a sudden forward motion or straightening of the arm and wrist

tortuous / torturous—full of twists, turns, or bends; twisting, winding, or crooked; intricate; circuitous; devious / pertaining to, involving, or causing torture or suffering

trustee / trusty—person or body of people appointed to administer the affairs of an individual, company, institution, etc. / able to be relied on; reliable

to / too / two—indicates motion in the direction of a person, place, or thing / in addition; also; furthermore; moreover / number or quantity

vain / vane / vein—excessively proud of or concerned about one’s own appearance, qualities, achievements, etc.; conceited / blade, plate, sail, etc., in the wheel of a windmill, to be moved by the air; any of a number of blades or plates attached radially to a rotating drum or cylinder, as in a turbine or pump, that move or are moved by a fluid, as steam, water, hot gases, or air / one of the system of branching vessels or tubes conveying blood from various parts of the body to the heart; any body or stratum of ore, coal, etc., clearly separated or defined

verses / versus—plural of verse: one or more lines of a poem / against; as compared to or as one of two choices; in contrast with

weather / whether—state of the atmosphere / word introducing the first of two or more alternatives

who’s / whose—contraction of who is / possessive form of who

your / you’re—belongs to you / contraction of you are


These are just a few of the stumbling blocks writers face. It’s especially important to carefully check your drafts before submitting them to an editor or publisher. These folks tend to worry when they see too many of these misused words, thinking how much more carefully they’ll have to look for other types of errors. It’s like spotting dust-bunnies in the corner of what looks like a clean house.

Copyright © 2017 by Affordable Editing Services

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