Hope's Collection of 
Commonly Confused Words
Spelling differences, homonyms, similar words

averse - to be opposed to something 
adverse - inauspicious
E.g. I am averse to buying stock during adverse conditions in the market.

bight - a loop in a knot; also a type of land formation
bite - as a verb, to chomp down on something.
    as a noun, having been bitten, or, the shape of someone's mouth (e.g., the child had an overbite.)
byte - 8 bits, used in computing.  Generally combined with metric prefixes such as kilo-, mega-, and giga-.
E.g. I bite my lip as I try to tie a bowline on a bight, wondering how many kilobytes of storage a short video on the subject would require.

brake - what you step on to stop a vehicle; also a patch of vegetation, as in a cane brake.  
break -  to render something in an unusable state, e.g., Don't break my MP3 player! 
A synonym for rest, e.g., "I need a break."
In music, when one musician in a band takes a solo, e.g., "Foggy Mountain Breakdown."  
Also, back in the 80s, a form of dancing.
E.g. "Slow down.  You're driving too fast.  Don't break the brakes."

board - a piece of wood, or a group of people, such as a board of directors
bored - not interested, or past tense of to bore, as in a hole...
E.g. The new secretary was bored at the board meeting.

cache - (pronounced CASH) a supply of something, usually hidden, sometimes high off the ground to be out of reach of scavengers
cachet - (pronounced cash-SHAY) a certain aura of notability, something that has desirability or honor
cash -  (pronounced CASH) n. money; v. to turn an asset into money, as in, to cash a check.
E.g. His cache of diamonds held a certain cachet until he turned them into cash by selling them. 

Cavalry - a mounted Army unit, originally on horses, but now that can include tanks.
Calvary - Mt. Golgotha 
E.g. If Jesus' disciples could have called out the cavalry, they might have ruined what happened on Calvary.

cord - a thick thread
chord - a group of musical notes that sound good together.
E.g. The pianist played a chord, then tied up the music paper with a cord.

device - an object or piece of technology used for a specific purpose, as "an electronic device."
devise - to work out or invent, as in "devise a plan."
E.g. The boy devised a plan to get his parents to buy him a new game device.

discreet - not a blabbermouth, etc.
discrete - the opposite of concrete, e.g., discrete sound mixing
E.g. "Be discreet when discussing discrete mixing."

dispel - v. to dissipate, to make go away, as in, "He dispelled the rumor that he was running for president."
distill - v. to make stronger by condensation, as in, "The moonshiners  plotted a new way to distill their rotgut whiskey after the revenuers broke up their old still."

dual - a synonym for "double," as in, "a dual purpose.
duel - a fight, as in, "the offended marquis challenged the baron to a duel." 
E.g. The allegedly illegal alien had to duel for his right to dual citizenship.

elicit - to look for a response
illicit - illegal or improper
E.g.:  The police officer attempted to elicit information from the bank robber about his illicit activity.

impute - Could hardly believe it when I saw impute used instead of input on a television news story, e.g., the city will seek impute from local voters. NOOOOOOO! 
input - The city will seek INPUT from local voters!

lest - unless (this should be pronounced to rhyme with best, not beast)
least - smallest, or most insignificant
E.g. Be kind to the least important person in the room, lest they turn out to be important someday.

lose - to misplace something
loose - the opposite of tight (or the opposite of morally upright)
E.g. "Did you lose your ring?"  "Yes, it was too loose."

I've seen these four used interchangeably, which, as you can tell by the definitions, is incorrect
metal - a generally malleable elemental mineral or alloy of several minerals, such as silver, gold, steel, aluminum, etc.
mettle - moral or physical constitution, e.g. "to test one's mettle" (also an obsolete usage for metal)
medal - an award, often given for valor or an achievement
meddle - to interfere
E.g. Joanie deserves a metal medal for refusing to meddle in the test of her sister's mettle.

oar - a type of paddle used to propel a rowboat; can also be used figuratively, as in "He don't have both oars in the water" (he's not quite all there...  And it's hardly ever used with good grammar.)  
or- an alternative conjunction, as in "something or other"
ore- the stuff out of a mine which is smelted down to get rid of the impurities and release the pure metal within.
OR - Two letter postal code for the US state of Oregon first made mandatory by the US Postal Service in the mid-1980s
Ore - Old-time three letter abbreviation for the US state of Oregon, still seen in books written before computer-mechanization of the Postal System 
E.g. Don't shove your oar in where it isn't wanted, or you may not get the ore to send to OR.

palate - taste, tastebuds, educated or not, e.g., "He has no palate," meaning, he can't tell the difference between wines. 
palette - wooden, paper, or plastic board (sometimes shaped like the body of an electric guitar, with a thumb hole) used by artists to mix paints for a work of art, or a range of colors.
pallet - (1) one of those wooden stands that are used to transport items in warehouses, 
            (2) a makeshift bed made out of blankets and quilts to use when too many people come to visit overnight
E.g. The artist's palate was jaded by so much food, so he set down his palette, stopped painting for the night, sidestepped the wooden pallet on the floor, and curled up on the pallet in the corner.

I've seen these two used interchangeably, and it's just not right!
passed - to hand someone something, to go by something, to decide against something.  e.g.  "He passed me the mashed potatoes."  "He passed me in the hall."  "He passed on my suggestion."
past - no longer the present time.  "Yesterday is in the past."
Or, confusingly, something that has gone by something: "I ran the story idea past him."
"Time had passed, and their love was in the past."
"I ran the idea past the editor, and he passed on it."  

peak - n. a mountain, or part of a mountain, or something elevated above something else, as in "beat eggs whites until peaks form." Past tense peaked.
peek - n. or v. a quick look, occasionally in a furtive manner. "Honey, take a peek out the window and see what the neighbors just brought home!" Past tense peeked.
pique - irritation, or being in a snit. "She slammed the door in a fit of pique."
piqué - (not often confused with the first two, but with pique) a double-cloth type of fabric, often made of cotton or rayon

pedal - originally, pertaining to the foot, and now used as something to be pushed or activated by the foot, like the pedal on a bicycle, or the pedals on an organ.
peddle - to sell, as in The peddler peddled his wares. (Or, in British English, the Pedlar peddled his wares.)
petal - Part of a flower, coming out from the center, usually soft.
E.g. I pedal my bike with its basket of flowers to peddle my petals.

pension - money received, generally monthly, after retirement
penchant - a tendency toward something, as "My sister has a real penchant for running off at the mouth."

personal - something pertaining to a person, can be something private that doesn't need to be shared
personnel - the people who work in a place
E.g. The Human Resources Director, when asked why he'd recommended his girlfriend to head the Personnel Department, replied, "It's personal."

pore -  n. a small opening, usually in the skin.
v. To study, usually used in conjunction with "over." 
pour - v. To transfer a liquid from one container to another, or the act of a liquid emanating from something.
E.g. Sweat poured from the researchers pores as he pored over the ancient book in the overheated library.

rains - precipitation falls from the sky (or also, metaphorically, to have something fall on someone, e.g., "troubles rained on him.")
reigns - rules, e.g., Elizabeth reigns in the United Kingdom; Jesus reigns in the hearts of His disciples (singular: reign)
reins - leather (usually) straps used with a bit to control a horse
(I added these because at one of my community websites, I found someone had written that the characters held onto the reigns of his horse... *grin*)  "Reins" is also used as a noun, archaic, to refer to the kidneys, so when you find that reference in the Bible, that's what it means! (From the word that gives us renal used in medical jargon.)
E.g. Joseph pulled on the reins of his horse as rains gushed from the skies, hoping for news that the king still reigned.  

right - (1) opposite of left
           (2) correct
           (3) an entitlement or guarantee, such as the First Amendment's right to bear arms
rite - a ritual
wright - a skilled laborer, e.g., playwright, wainwright (old term for a wagon-maker), cartwright, etc.
write - to compose with words (or, latterly, computer terms, as in, to write a program).  
E.g. "Write this to the wright: you have no right to perform this right rite."
By extension: it's copyright, the right to make copies, not "copywrite," which refers to composing an article for a newspaper, or writing ad copy, i.e., to write copy.

ring - n., a circle, or an object of jewelry 
         v. to make a bell sound, as "ring the doorbell."
wring - v. to squeeze, generally with a twisting motion, as in "Granny wrung the chicken's neck. Guess what's for supper!" (Tense usage: wring, wrung, wrung.) 

ringer - (1) one who rings a bell, e.g., a bell-ringer
             (2) an expert substituted for another player 
E.g., "Our team wouldn't have lost the game, but those cheaters brought in a ringer!"
wringer - Originally, the two long tubes like rolling pins used to wring the water out of wet clothes (known in England as a mangle) E.g. "You look like you've been through the wringer."

sear - to grill or burn meat to seal in the juices, or, in searing, can be used as a descriptor of heat
seer - one who sees, or a prophet, or one with psychic powers
sere - dry, as in a desert landscape
E.g. The seer stood in the sere garden, letting the sun sear his skin.

secret - something hidden, not generally known
secrete - to hide something; to give off a discharge of some substance, as secretion
E.g. The agent secreted the highly sensitive secret documents.

side - not the front or the back (although, technically, these are sides, too)
sighed -  let out a breath, usually in sadness, frustration, or some other emotion
soughed - (Yes, this is pronounced SIDE, too) a soft blowing sound, as in, The wind soughed through the pines.
E.g. Mary stood to the side and sighed as the wind soughed through the trees.

site - a location, in cyberspace or elsewhere, e.g., "The supervisor went to the building site."
sight - vision, e.g., "You're a sight for sore eyes!"
cite -  refer to, i.e., "The author cited an unknown source for his reference material."  
E.g. The supervisor cited city regulations as he took in the sight of mismanagement on the construction site.

spec - (1) an abbreviation of speculation (the oldest usage), e.g., "The writer sent an article to the magazine on spec. 
          (2) an abbreviation of specification (recent, mid-to-late 20th century in origin), often used in the plural, specs, e.g., "Wait'll you hear the specs of my new smart phone!"
speck - a tiny spot, fleck, or particle, plural specks, e.g., "There's a speck of dirt on my coat."
E.g., "We're sorry, but the article on specks that you sent us on spec doesn't meet our current specs."

This next pair of similar words is one I see confused more and more frequently:
start - to jump slightly when startled
startle - surprising someone so that they start
Just because the words are similar does not make them interchangeable.  
E.g.:  I started when Joseph came through the door.  "Oh!  You startled me!"

tenet - part of a belief system
tenant - someone who rents a property
E.g. The tenant held firmly to the tenets of his faith.

threw - past tense of throw, as in toss
through - (1) finished
                (2) a direction, as in, "Go through the door."
E.g. When the horse was through bucking, it threw a shoe through the window.

troop - v. to march in a body, e.g., The children trooped through the garden.
            n. singular form of troops, not, as is increasingly (and incorrectly) heard on television news these days, as individual soldiers. (The correct form is "The peace-keeping force lost three troopers today," not: "The peace-keeping force lost three troops. If they'd lost three troops, it would have meant three groups of soldiers, not just three soldiers.)
E.g., The troops trooped into the barracks.

trooper - a policeman, deputy, or member of a Cavalry troop, singular (see above)
trouper - member of a theatrical troupe 
(The correct term is "you're a trouper," as in, the show must go on.)
E.g. The trooper pulled over the speeding circus trouper.

(I used to think this next one was obvious, but I've seen it misused recently.)
to -  used with verbs to form the infinitive of a verb in English.  Also for indication direction, as, "He is going to the store."
too - Also, as well as; e.g., "She's a writer, too."
two - A number immediately following one and preceding three.
E.g. Are the two of you going to the movies, too?

This is a new one on me, discovered on YouTube.
verses - lines of poetry, or lyrics
versus - against, especially used in trials, as in the state versus Mr. Jones, or the crown versus the Honourable Mr Smythe.
E.g. The poet wrote a few verses about his cat versus the mouse that got into the pantry.

wait - noun or verb, indicating that something is not to be had immediately, as in "I had to wait for the train."  "It was a long wait."  
weight - the measure of something, usually in pounds or grams; also, metaphorically, as in "a weighty subject"
E.g. There was a long line, and patients had to wait to check their weight.

Apostrophe abuse

It's always means "it is," and is never used to indicate a possessive.  The proper possessive for it is its.  Period.  
E.g.,  "It's always a good idea to put everything in its place."

there - a place, opposite of here, as in, "The house is over there."
their - possessive of they, as in, "That is their house."
they're - Contraction for they are," as in, "They're your friends."
E.g. "They're going to their house over there."  

who's - who is, as in, "Who's going to the writer's conference?"
whose - possessive of who, as in, "Whose idea was it to put all these commonly misused words on this website?"
E.g. Who's going to tell me whose these shoes are?

your - belonging to you
you're - you are
E.g. You're going to get your grammar straight if you keep reading this page.

And for Southern dialogue, y'all is not properly spelled ya'll because it is a contraction of you all, not ya all.  Y'all got that?  (Although some still dispute this, in most [though not all] parts of the South, y'all is definitely plural rather than singular. However, if you want to be sure it's plural, you can always say all y'all.)


These are words that shouldn't exist.  I will allow for the necessity of "ain't" in dialogue, because it has a reason to exist (merely for the fact that it does.)  However, the following list should not ever be used:

alot.  I've not seen this non-word a lot, but it's beginning to crop up in written usage, probably due to the character space restrictions in Twitter.

alright.  This is not a word.  The correct term is all right.  I suppose the rationale behind the usage is almighty, i.e., if that is acceptable for all mighty, then why isn't alright all right?  Sooner or later, it probably will be.  Most grammatical errors end up being adopted into the language eventually.  However, those of us who know better should try to keep the language from deteriorating as long as possible.  

I'll add more as I find them!  If you have suggestions, please feel free to post them in the guest book!  Thanks!

This page was last updated: April 24, 2017