Confusing Words: 51 Commonly Confused Words in English (Examples)

By Carly Forsaith, updated on July 7, 2023

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.

  • Words are often confused because they are homophones, can be one or two words, look similar, or are verb and noun combinations.
  • Sometimes, they're actually the same word, but one is the American English spelling while the other is the British English spelling. 

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

Homophones: The Epitome of Confusing Words

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.

1. Aloud vs Allowed

'Aloud' and 'allowed' sound exactly the same but have different spellings and meanings. This makes them homophones.

  • 'Aloud' is an adverb that denotes something being said loud enough to be heard. It's the opposite of the word 'silent.'
  • 'Allowed' is the past indefinite or past participle of the verb 'allow.' To be allowed to do something means you have permission.

I'm not allowed to eat chocolate before dinner.

Mom read my school report aloud. 

2. Manor vs Manner

'Manor' and 'manner' may be pronounced the same, but they're completely unrelated. The only thing they have in common is that they're both nouns.

  • A 'manor' is a type of large house.
  • A 'manner' is the way somebody does something.

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?

3. Pour vs Poor vs Pore

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.

  • 'Pour' is a verb, and it means to transfer liquid from a container to a glass.
  • To be 'poor' is an adjective that means to have reduced financial means.
  • A 'pore' is a tiny opening in your skin.

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.

4. Duel vs Dual

What the words' duel' and 'dual' have in common is that they represent the number two: that and the fact they are both nouns.

  • A 'duel' is a fight or showdown between two people.
  • A 'dual' can be anything that has two parts.

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!

5. Complement vs Compliment

The words' complement' and 'compliment' can both serve as nouns and verbs (in that way, they're dual-purpose!) but have totally different meanings.

  • To complement something is to complete it or make it better.
  • To compliment someone is to tell them something nice about themselves.

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.

6. Site vs Cite vs Sight

'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.

  • a 'site' is a location
  • to 'cite' is to mention something someone else has said
  • a 'sight' is a thing you see

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.

7. Are vs Our vs Hour

Another three-word homophone is 'are' vs 'our' vs' hour.' Each one of these words is a different part of speech.

  • 'Are' is the third person plural form of the verb 'be.'
  • 'Our' is a possessive adjective used by more than one person to talk about something that belongs to them.
  • 'Hour' is a noun used to denote the concept of sixty minutes.

These shoes are incredibly expenseive.

What do you think of our new house?

They've been waiting for us for over an hour.

8. Ad vs Add

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.

'Ad' and 'add' are quite different in that the former is a noun, and the latter is a verb.

  • An 'ad' (or advertisement) is a piece of text or media designed to convince someone to buy or take part in something.
  • To 'add' is to put something with other things to increase the number.

We're currently designing an ad campaign for the new supplement.

Could we add one more person to the dinner reservation?

9. Know vs No

'Know' and 'no' may sound exactly the same, but they mean something completely different.

  • To 'know' is a verb that means you're aware of or familiar with something or someone.
  • 'No' is an adverb, adjective, or noun used as a way to express the fact you do not want something or to make a word or statement negative.

I've known Sally since high school.

I'm in no way interested in hearing your excuses.
No, thanks.

10. Sale vs Sail

'Sale' and 'sail' are both nouns, although 'sail' can also be a verb.

  • A 'sale' is the act of selling something: if someone buys from you, you've made a sale.
  • To 'sail' is to travel on a boat, but it's also the name for a piece of equipment on a boat.

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.

11. Knew vs New

'Knew' and 'new' have different meanings and are even different parts of speech.

  • 'Knew' is the past indefinite form of the verb 'know.'
  • 'New' is an adjective meaning the opposite of 'old.'

I knew him in college but we didn't keep in touch.

Her car's broken but she can't afford a new one.

12. Waste vs Waist

  • 'Waste' is a verb meaning to squander something that could have been used.
  • 'Waist' is the body part just below the torso.

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.

13. Hear vs Here

Wondering whether to use 'hear' or 'here?' Look no further; stay right here. (See what I did there?).

  • 'Hear' is a verb describing one of the five senses—the one you use your ears for.
  • 'Here' is an adverb that describes your location as being in this spot.

Hellooo! Can anybody hear me?

Pedro, come here!

Compound Confusing Words

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!

14. Altogether vs All Together

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:

  • 'Altogether' is an adverb synonymous with 'completely.'
  • 'All together' in two words, however, means exactly what it sounds like—everyone at the same time.

I haven't altogether come to terms with being fired from that job.

Let's sing all together. 

15. Anyway vs Any Way

'Anyway' and 'any way' may look alike, but that space between the two words in 'any way' makes all the difference.

  • 'Anyway' is an adverb that means 'nonetheless' or 'regardless.'

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?

16. Everyday vs Every Day

'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.

17. Anymore vs Any More

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.

  • 'Anymore' as a single word is an adverb that you can use to talk about something you no longer do.
  • 'Any more' refers to quantities; you can use it to ask somebody if they want more.

We're not going out anymore.

Have you got any more of that delicious beef stroganoff you made yesterday?

18. Already vs All Ready

  • 'Already' is an adverb used to talk about something that happened before now.
  • 'All ready' features a pronoun and an adjective to express the fact that everybody is prepared.

I already told him the news.

Are we all ready to leave?

19. Maybe vs May Be

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.

20. Sometime vs Some Time

  • 'Sometime' is an adverb that means 'at some unspecified point.'
  • 'Some time' is a term that refers to a particular amount of time.

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.

21. Resign vs Re-sign

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.

  • The former means to quit
  • The latter to sign again

I'm resigning from my job to take a year off.

They've re-signed the soccer player for another season.

22. Comeback vs Come Back

  • A 'comeback' is an idiomatic term used to denote "an attempt to become famous, powerful, or important again after a period of being [not so].
  • 'Come back' in an imperative sentence instructing someone to return.

Mullet hairstyles have made a comeback.

Come back here right now, I'm still talking to you.

23. Afternoon vs After Noon

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.

Confusing Words That Look Similar

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.

24. Who vs Whom

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.

  • Use 'who' to refer to the sentence's subject
  • 'Whom' to refer to the object of the verb or preposition.

Who is coming to lunch?

Whom are you talking to?

25. Then vs Than

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?'

  • 'Then' is an adverb meaning 'at that time.'
  • 'Than' is used to make comparisons.

Let's meet at 12pm. Great, I'll see you then.

My brother is taller than me.

26. That vs Which

These two can be a little tricky because they both refer to something previously mentioned when introducing another clause. Still, they aren't interchangeable.

  • You'll want to use 'that' in an essential clause (can't be removed)
  • In a non-essential clause (could be removed), use 'which.'

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. 

27. Emigrate vs Immigrate

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.

  • To 'emigrate' means to leave a place.
  • While to 'immigrate' means to settle in a place.

The main difference is in the action.

  • To 'emigrate' is to 'go.
  • Whereas to 'immigrate' is to 'come.'
  • Someone is an 'immigrant' to a new country
  • and an 'emigrant' from an old one.

Arnold Schwarzenegger emigrated from Austria in his early twenties.

We immigrated to Canada last year.

28. Morale vs Moral

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.

  • 'Morale' refers to a person or group's mental and emotional state.
  • 'Moral' relates to people's values and judgments of what is right or wrong.

Team morale has been pretty low lately.

You have a moral obligation to be there for that kid.

29. Personal vs Personnel

  • 'Personal' is an adjective meaning that something is private or specifically related to a person.
  • 'Personnel' is a noun synonymous with 'staff.'

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. 

30. Pole vs poll

Although both nouns, 'pole' and 'poll,' mean different things.

  • A 'pole' is a long stick of wood or metal.
  • A 'poll' is a method of asking people's opinions when conducting research.

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.

31. Preposition vs Proposition

  • 'Prepositions' are parts of speech that express time, place, and location and help connect objects to the rest of the sentence.
  • A 'proposition' is an offer or suggestion.

Try to use more prepositions in your essays.

Submit your proposition to me by the end of the week and I'll consider it.

32. Quiet vs Quite

  • 'Quiet' is an adjective meaning 'free of noise.'
  • 'Quite' is typically used as an adverb and means 'completely' or 'a lot.'

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.

33. Stationary vs Stationery

  • 'Stationary' is an adjective and means 'not moving.'
  • 'Stationery' is a noun to refer to items used for writing, such as paper, pens, etc.

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.

34. Accept vs Except

Not only do 'accept' and 'except' sound similar, but they also look similar. They aren't homophones, though, because their pronunciation is slightly different.

  • 'Accept' is a verb that means to allow or come to terms with something.
  • 'Except' is a preposition that means 'apart from.'

He still hasn't accepted the boss's decision.

I want eveeryone to come with me except the bartenders; you hold the fort.

35. Climactic vs Climatic

Though only one letter separates these two words, 'climactic' and 'climatic.' have different meanings.

  • 'Climatic' is the adjective form of the noun' climate.'
  • 'Climactic' is also an adjective, though it refers to an exciting feeling resulting from a culmination of events.

Climatic conditions in this region have gotten worse over the last few years.

The final scene of the movie was anti-climactic. 

36. Allusion vs Illusion

'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.

  • To 'make allusion to something' is to refer to it.
  • An 'illusion' is something that seems real but that isn't.

On several occasions he made allusion to employee tardiness.

I'm not under any illusion that I'm going to get the job.

Confusing Words With Similar Etymology

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.

37. Advice vs Advise

'Advice' is the verb form of the noun' advice,' so that makes 'advice' vs 'advise' not all too complicated to master.

  • 'Advice' is actionable guidance.

Please advise on what you'd like us to do.

That's the best piece of advice I've ever received!

38. Breath vs Breathe

'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.

39. Envelope vs Envelop

  • To 'envelop' something is to cover or enclose it completely.
  • An 'envelope' is an item that contains a letter or other item which you wish to send in the post.

I can't find an envelope big enough for this giant birthday card.

He enveloped me in his warm arms and we spooned.

40. Loose vs Lose

  • 'Loose' is an adjective meaning something isn't secured properly.
  • The verb 'lose' is used when you don't know where something is.

'Loose' and 'lose' both come from PIE root *leu- "to loosen, divide, cut apart."

Hammer those nails in; we don't want them to come loose. 

Here's another set of keys. Try not to lose this one! 

41. Sell vs Sale

  • To 'sell' (verb) something is to exchange an item or service for money.
  • A 'sale' (noun) is what happens when you sell something.

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.

42. Maybe vs May Be

'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.

Confusing Words With American vs British Spellings

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.

  • As you might notice, the American spelling tends to be the one that looks the most like the word sounds.

Most of these have their own dedicated article, so feel free to read them if you want to learn more.

43. Defense vs Defence

In the fight between 'defense' and 'defence,' the Americans win 'defense' while the Brits get 'defence.'

44. Analyze vs Analyse

Should you use 'analyze' or 'analyse'? Simple: 'analyze' if you're American and 'analyse' if you're British.

45. Modeling vs Modelling

Wondering how to spell 'modeling' vs 'modelling?' Americans spell it with one 'l,' Brits use two.

46. Realize vs Realise

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.

47. Behavior vs Behaviour

"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.

48. Canceled vs Cancelled

Is an event 'canceled' or 'cancelled'? Americans would write 'canceled' whereas Brits would write 'cancelled.'

49. Catalog vs Catalogue

In the debate between 'catalog' vs' catalogue,' usually, the Americans would favor the shorter spelling and the Brits the longer one.

50. Airplane vs Aeroplane

'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.

51. Check vs Cheque

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.'

Concluding Thoughts on Confusing Words

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.

  • There are many commonly confused words in English, some of which are listed here.
  • Homophones sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings.
  • Etymologically, some words might look like they mean the same thing, but it isn't always the case.
  • Some terms are separated into two words and then have different meanings.
  • Spellings can often differ between American and British speakers.

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!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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