There are so many words in the English language that many of them are often confused. In this article, you'll learn about the most common confusing words and how to tell them apart so you never again misuse them.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
The first category of common confusing words is homophones. That's when words are pronounced the same but spelled differently and have different meanings. We'll take a look at a list of some of the most common ones, but this list is by no means exhaustive—there are many more.
'Aloud' and 'allowed' sound exactly the same but have different spellings and meanings. This makes them homophones.
I'm not allowed to eat chocolate before dinner.
Mom read my school report aloud.
Here are some sentence examples using each one:
We spent our last vacation in a large Victorian manor that used to belong to my grandfather.
Why are you looking at me in that manner?
This is a three-word homophone:
They all sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. One is a verb, while two are nouns.
Please could you pour me a glass of water?
I didn't realize she was raised poor.
We have millions of pores all over our body.
What the words' duel' and 'dual' have in common is that they represent the number two: that and the fact they are both nouns.
He was tragically killed in a duel.
My new campervan serves a dual purpose: it gets me from point A to point B and I can sleep in it!
The words' complement' and 'compliment' can both serve as nouns and verbs (in that way, they're dual-purpose!) but have totally different meanings.
In each case, the noun has a similar meaning to the verb.
Here's an example of each:
That scarf really complements your outfit.
That scarf is a great complement to your outfit.
He complimented me as soon as I arrived at the restaurant.
He paid me a beautiful compliment.
'Site,' 'cite,' and 'sight' are three words that sound exactly the same. 'Site' is a noun, 'cite' is a verb, and 'sight' can be a noun or a verb.
The shopping mall has been knocked down and it now a building site.
Don't forget to cite credible sources to back up your arguments in your essay.
She could hear chatter but no one was in sight.
We sighted a few falcons on our hike.
Another three-word homophone is 'are' vs 'our' vs' hour.' Each one of these words is a different part of speech.
These shoes are incredibly expenseive.
What do you think of our new house?
They've been waiting for us for over an hour.
Technically 'ad' isn't a full word; it's an abbreviation of the word 'advertisement.' Still, it's a version of the word used often enough that it could be confused with 'add,' its homonym.
We're currently designing an ad campaign for the new supplement.
Could we add one more person to the dinner reservation?
'Know' and 'no' may sound exactly the same, but they mean something completely different.
I've known Sally since high school.
I'm in no way interested in hearing your excuses.
'Sale' and 'sail' are both nouns, although 'sail' can also be a verb.
The sale of my house took a lot longer than I was expecting.
She was the first person to sail around the world solo.
The sail has come loose.
'Knew' and 'new' have different meanings and are even different parts of speech.
I knew him in college but we didn't keep in touch.
Her car's broken but she can't afford a new one.
Let's look at 'waste' and 'waist' used in a sentence.
She burned all the food. What a waste!
Those jeans'll never fit around my waist.
Wondering whether to use 'hear' or 'here?' Look no further; stay right here. (See what I did there?).
Hellooo! Can anybody hear me?
Pedro, come here!
Sometimes the English language takes two separate words and mashes them together to become a single word. These new words are called compound words and take on a whole new meaning. How confusing is that? Very! This is why I'm featuring them as a category in this article on confusing words.
So buckle up, and let's dive in!
We've written a whole article on 'altogether' vs 'all together' because we know it's a tricky one. You can read it here. To boil it down:
I haven't altogether come to terms with being fired from that job.
Let's sing all together.
'Anyway' and 'any way' may look alike, but that space between the two words in 'any way' makes all the difference.
Just like with our previous example, 'any way' as two words can be understood by interpreting each word individually, which can be interpreted as 'by any means possible.'
My parents grounded me but I'm going to go out anyway.
Is there any way you could drop me off at the station before work?
'Everyday' as a single word is used as a modifier right before a noun. It doesn't necessarily refer to something that happens each day without fail, as you might think, but rather something that happens most of the time and is common or usual.
However, the two words 'every day' mean something that happens each day.
On casual Fridays you can wear your everyday clothes.
I work out every day.
If these two definitions sound a little similar, it's because they are. The main thing to remember is that 'everyday' should modify a noun. If you're unsure which spelling to use, try inserting 'single' between 'every' and 'day.' If it makes sense, the correct spelling is with two words; if it doesn't, spell it with one word.
Let's try it with our two above examples:
On casual Fridays you can wear your every single day clothes. ❌
I work out every single day. ✅
At first glance, the only difference between 'anymore' and 'any more' is the space that separates the two words in the latter. But when you look at their meaning, you'll notice they are actually used to express different things.
We're not going out anymore.
Have you got any more of that delicious beef stroganoff you made yesterday?
I already told him the news.
Are we all ready to leave?
Should you use 'maybe' or 'may be?' The answer is it depends on what you're trying to say. Both terms express possibility, but they are different parts of speech.' Maybe' in one word is an adverb, and 'may be' in two words is a verb.
Maybe he didn't take the job because he didn't want to recolcate.
You may be the best friend I've ever had.
So when you're faced with choosing to use 'sometime' or 'some time,' just remember that it'll depend on what you're trying to say.
We should hang out sometime.
We spent quite some time on his assignment.
As far as compound words go, these two couldn't be more different. They don't mean the same thing at all, and the difference is in that hyphen in the second term. They are both verbs.
I'm resigning from my job to take a year off.
They've re-signed the soccer player for another season.
Mullet hairstyles have made a comeback.
Come back here right now, I'm still talking to you.
These two terms both mean the same thing but are different parts of speech, just like we saw earlier with 'maybe' and 'may be.' They both refer to the time after midday. 'Afternoon' is an adverb or adjective, and 'after noon' uses an adverb with a noun.
It's time for my afternoon tea.
Come by my office after noon.
Top Tip! It's actually a lot more common to say 'after midday' these days. 'After noon' is a bit archaic.
There are a bunch of words in the English language that look similar, yet they are not homophones, but they are still confusing words that get used interchangeably. You'll want to make sure you don't do that in your writing if you want to be taken seriously since these words are very different and don't mean the same thing at all.
Let's dive in.
These two pronouns are often used interchangeably, or, even more commonly, 'who' is used across the board, even when it should be 'whom. If this is something you tend to do, don't worry; this one's easy to clear up, so you'll never have to confuse 'who' and 'whom' again.
Who is coming to lunch?
Whom are you talking to?
Though these two words are commonly confused, they don't mean the same thing at all. In fact, they aren't even the same parts of speech. So how do you know whether to use 'then' or 'than?'
Let's meet at 12pm. Great, I'll see you then.
My brother is taller than me.
These two can be a little tricky because they both refer to something previously mentioned when introducing another clause. Still, they aren't interchangeable.
The dress that I'm wearing belonged to my mother.
This book, which I bought yesterday, is one of the best books I've ever read.
These two verbs, 'emigrate' and 'immigrate,' have similar meanings—they both refer to the fact of leaving one's own country to settle in another. But the choice of which one you use depends on the action described.
The main difference is in the action.
Arnold Schwarzenegger emigrated from Austria in his early twenties.
We immigrated to Canada last year.
The 'e' at the end of 'morale' changes the word's pronunciation. It means you stress the second syllable. With 'moral,' you stress the first syllable.
Team morale has been pretty low lately.
You have a moral obligation to be there for that kid.
This is a personal matter so I'd appreciate if you didn't ask any more questions.
You are leaving against the health care personnel's recommendations.
Although both nouns, 'pole' and 'poll,' mean different things.
The storm was so wild last night it knocked over one of the electricity poles.
I'm sending out a poll to all the participants to find out what age group they fall into.
Try to use more prepositions in your essays.
Submit your proposition to me by the end of the week and I'll consider it.
Here are examples of 'quiet' and 'quite' used in sentences:
The kids are really quiet; it's suspicious.
I'm quite upset that you think I could do something like that.
We're going to be late; the train has been stationary for forty minutes.
As the office administrator, it's your job to order new stationery for the office.
Not only do 'accept' and 'except' sound similar, but they also look similar. They aren't homophones, though, because their pronunciation is slightly different.
He still hasn't accepted the boss's decision.
I want eveeryone to come with me except the bartenders; you hold the fort.
Though only one letter separates these two words, 'climactic' and 'climatic.' have different meanings.
Climatic conditions in this region have gotten worse over the last few years.
The final scene of the movie was anti-climactic.
'Allusion' and 'illusion' are sometimes categorized as homophones, but it's a tricky one, really, because, with a good ear, you can tell they are pronounced slightly differently.
On several occasions he made allusion to employee tardiness.
I'm not under any illusion that I'm going to get the job.
When words come from the same root, they can often look very similar even though they mean different things. In this category, we'll take a look at some word pairs that either represent the same thing but are different parts of speech or that come from the same root but have evolved to have somewhat different meanings.
'Advice' is the verb form of the noun' advice,' so that makes 'advice' vs 'advise' not all too complicated to master.
Please advise on what you'd like us to do.
That's the best piece of advice I've ever received!
'Breath' is the noun, and 'breathe' is the verb. They both refer to the unconscious and universal act of inhaling and exhaling air in order to stay alive.
Take a deep breath in through the nose, and a breath out through the nose.
I need you to breathe deeply and calm down.
I can't find an envelope big enough for this giant birthday card.
He enveloped me in his warm arms and we spooned.
Hammer those nails in; we don't want them to come loose.
Here's another set of keys. Try not to lose this one!
Here are some examples of 'sell' vs 'sale' used in sentences:
I finally managed to sell my car but it went for a fraction of the price I was hoping to get for it.
Let's have a bake sale to raise money for the school trip.
'Maybe' is an adverb, while 'may be' is a verb, and they both express possibility. So when deciding whether to use 'maybe' or 'may be,' ask yourself which part of speech is required.
Will you go to prom with me? Maybe.
He may be the best looking kid I've ever seen.
Not the least of a writer's troubles are American vs British English spellings. There are tons of English words that have different spellings based on where you're located.
I won't spend too much time on those today since we already have a whole article on these and a repertoire of these words on our Confusing Words blog, but I thought they deserve mention here.
Most of these have their own dedicated article, so feel free to read them if you want to learn more.
In the fight between 'defense' and 'defence,' the Americans win 'defense' while the Brits get 'defence.'
Should you use 'analyze' or 'analyse'? Simple: 'analyze' if you're American and 'analyse' if you're British.
Wondering how to spell 'modeling' vs 'modelling?' Americans spell it with one 'l,' Brits use two.
Have you just 'realized' you're a Grammar genius, or did you 'realise' it? Well, if you're in the USA, you probably 'realized,' whereas if you're in the U.K., you most likely 'realised.' Click here to learn more.
"You'd better be on your best behavior!" an American mom might tell her child. A British 'mum' would be likelier to write, "Be on your best behaviour." That settles the 'behavior' vs 'behaviour' debate.
Is an event 'canceled' or 'cancelled'? Americans would write 'canceled' whereas Brits would write 'cancelled.'
In the debate between 'catalog' vs' catalogue,' usually, the Americans would favor the shorter spelling and the Brits the longer one.
'Aeroplane' and 'airplane' are both correct ways to spell the aircraft vehicle. 'Aeroplane' is the British spelling, while 'airplane' is the spelling preferred by Americans.
Whether you use a 'check' or a 'cheque,' the beneficiary will receive your payment. Only if you're in the U.S., you'd better make the payment with a 'check,' and if you're in the U.K., make it with a 'cheque.'
That concludes this article on commonly confused words in the English language. It goes without saying that this list is non-exhaustive, but it would be possible to list them all. If you want to learn about more confusing words, head to our blog.
If you found this article helpful, check out our Grammar Book. It's a free online database full of grammar articles like this one. I'm sure you'll love it!