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Frequently confused words

advice, advise
Advice is an “opinion about what should be done.” Example: She gives good advice.
Advise means “to recommend.” Example: Please advise me on which college to attend.
Note: “Please be advised” and “please advise” are considered old-fashioned, stilted and unnecessary. Passing on knowledge and asking for instruction are not the same as giving or requesting advice.


affect, effect
Most commonly, affect is used as a verb that means "to influence,” and effect as a noun that means “a result.”
Examples: Do not let the loss affect you. The loss did not have an effect on me.
Remember: If something affects you, it has an effect on you.

However, sometimes affect can be a noun to mean someone’s mood, and effect is used as verb meaning “to bring about.”
Examples: He has a flat affect. We want to effect change on campus.


assure, insure, ensure
To put someone’s mind at rest, you assure that person of something.
Right: “I assure you that we will handle this problem.”
Wrong: “We want to assure the best possible outcome.”
You insure something to be prepared in case something bad happens. You take steps to ensure that something will (or won’t) happen:
Examples: “I insure my house against water and fire damage, and I carry snacks in the car to ensure that I will have snacks if I get stuck in traffic.”
Remember: You insure to protect. You ensure to make sure.


aw, awe
Aw is what you say about something cute. Awe is reverential respect.
Example:Aw, that’s adorable. I’m in awe of how clever you are.”


ball, bawl
A ball is a round object. To bawl means to sob furiously.
Example: “I bawled my eyes out when the ball hit me in the knee.”


complement, compliment
Complement means "to make complete." Example: This hat will complement my new outfit.
A compliment is something said in praise. Example: Thanks for the compliment on my dress.
Remember: “I” like compliments. “Complement” comes from “complete.”

different from, different than (no such thing as different then)
Preferred style is different from. If you consider “is different” (be verb plus adjective) equals “differs” (verb), then from is natural – as in this differs from that, it is different from that.

eager, anxious

Eager means looking forward to something, whereas anxious (from anxiety) means dreading something. They are not synonyms.

Example: She was eager to open her birthday present until he mentioned how anxious he was about spending money on it.


fewer, less
Fewer and number refer to items you can count individually. Use less and amount to refer to a quality or quantity that is not counted individually. The only way something has “less calories” is if all the calories are operating at decreased capacity.
Example: She baked fewer pies than I did. The plate has less pie on it now that I ate a piece..
Example: The amount of salt in this soup is overwhelming, and the number of people who eat it is unbelievable. 


Often when we type, we spell things phonetically or use a homophone (sound-alike word) rather than the correct word. Be careful with words like “threw/through” and “know/no.

it's, its
It's is the short form of “it is.” Example: It's (it is) in the dog house.
Its is a pronoun that shows ownership or possession. Example: The dog has its (belonging to it) own house.
Remember: the apostrophe shows that a letter – “i” – has been omitted. It’s is always it is.


nauseated, nauseous
Nauseated means your stomach is upset. Something nauseous causes nausea in other people.
Example: I am nauseated from standing next to a nauseous odor.


principal, principle
A principal is the head of a school. A principle is an important fact or law.
Examples: The principal spoke to us today. The principle of democracy is important to us.
Remember: Your principal is your PAL.


site, sight, cite
Site means “location.” Sight means “something seen.” Cite means to quote or reference something.
Examples: They are shooting the movie on a great site. What a sight her face was! You will need to cite an example of how that works.


stationary, stationery
Stationary means to be “standing still.” Stationery means “writing materials.”
Examples: Please remain stationary. They went to the store to buy some stationery.
Remember: “e” is in “letter” and in “stationery”; “a” is in “stand” and “stationary.”


suppose, supposed, supposedly
Suppose means “to guess or assume.” Supposed can mean “alleged,” or as a verb can mean “should.” There is no such word as “supposably,” – it’s “supposedly.”
Example: I suppose you think I’m gorgeous.

Examples: The supposed genius flunked his managerial accounting test. You are supposed to pay attention.

than, then
Than means "in comparison with." Example: He is bigger than I am.
Then means "next.” Example: After going home, he then started his assignment.


their, there, they're
Their is the possessive form of "they" that shows ownership. Example: Their flowers are gone.
There describes where something is. Example: Their flowers are there on the table.
They're is a short form of "they are." Example: They're going to buy flowers.


weather, whether
Weather means "conditions outdoors." Example: The weather is terrible.
Whether is an expression of choice between two options. Example: I do not know whether I will stay home or go to school.
Note: You do not need to say “or not” with whether. It is implied. Example: “I don’t know whether to go.”


who’s, whose
Who’s is a contraction for “who is.” Example: Who’s coming with us?”
Whose means “belonging to whom.” Example:Whose book is this?”
Remember: This is tricky. You note that apostrophes show possession, so it’s easy to think that who’s is possessive. Replace whichever form you use with “who is.” If it sounds right, then use who’s; if not, use whose. So, “Who is coming with us?” is right. “I don’t know who is this is” is wrong.


your, you're
Your is a form of "you" that shows ownership. Example: Your car is new.
You're is a short form of "you are." Example: You're going to the store.
Remember: The apostrophe shows that a letter has been omitted. Replace the phrase with “you are” and see which one works.

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