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Words that are often confused

Accept to receive something; to bear up under (bad news)
Except with the exclusion of; but
   
Adverse opposed; bad
Averse feeling unwilling; experiencing distaste
   
Affect (verb, usually) to produce an effect upon; to influence
Effect (noun, usually) intent; result; appearance; influence; a distinctive impression
   
Aggravate to annoy, provoke, irritate; to make worse or more troublesome
Exacerbate to increase the severity of
   
Aisle a narrow passageway
Isle an island
   
All ready prepared (to go)
Already something has happened previously
   
Allude to make an indirect reference to
Elude to evade or escape from; to escape the understanding or grasp of
   
Altar a place or structure upon which sacrifices or offerings may be made, or where religious ceremonies may be enacted
Alter to change or make different; to modify
   
Ambiguous susceptible to multiple interpretations; doubtful or unclear
Ambivalent torn between two opposing feelings or views; uncertainty or indecision as to what course to follow
   
Amiable good-natured; cordial; sociable; congenial  (usually refers to people)
Amicable characterized by or showing friendliness (usually refers to relationships or agreements)
   
Among use when reference is to more than two
Between use when reference is made to only two
   
Amoral not moral or immoral; not caring about right and wrong
Immoral contrary to established moral principles
   
Amount bulk, the sum total referring to the number
Number refers to something counted
Quantity refers to something measured
   
Antagonist adversary; one who opposes and actively competes with another
Protagonist the leading character in a play, novel, movie, etc.; a leading or principal figure
   
Appraise to estimate the value of something
Apprise to give notice to; to inform
   
Artisinal food and other things made in small batches by hand (ARR-tizz-uh-nul)
Artesian describes water that spurts out of the ground under natural pressure (arr-TEE-zhun)
   
Assure declare, promise
Ensure make certain
Insure protect by insurance
   
Aural has to do with things you hear
Oral has to do with things you say, or relating to your mouth
A while a short time (n.)
Awhile for a time (adv.)
   
Beside at the side of; next to; apart from (beside the point)
Besides in addition to; furthermore; moreover;
   
Biannual twice a year; synonymous with semiannual
Biennial every two years
   
Blatant disagreeably loud or boisterous; clamorous; conspicuous; obvious
Flagrant glaringly bad; notorious; outrageous
   
Boarders residents in a house or school paying for their room and board (food); also, people who go snowboarding
Borders having to do with boundaries or edges
   
Bring to convey toward (the speaker)
Take to carry from (the speaker)
   
Cache from a French word meaning “to hide”, pronounced like cash
Cachet a quality attributed to something with authority or prestige (ca-SHAY)
   
Can to be able to; to be capable of
May to be permitted to
   
Canon a secular law, rule or code of laws; an authoritative list; a musical form
Cannon a big weapon for firing projectiles; section of a horse’s leg
   
Capital the seat of government; money invested in a business
Capitol the building (and only the building) in which a state or federal legislative body meets
   
Carrot an orange, crunchy vegetable
Carat unit of weight for precious stones
Karat unit of measure for the fineness of gold
Caret a proofreader’s mark showing where something needs to be inserted
   
Censor person who examines literature or other material and may remove or suppress what is judged morally or otherwise objectionable
Censure an expression of blame or disapproval; an official rebuke; severely criticize
   
Chafe to make sore by rubbing; to irritate or annoy, or become annoyed
Chaff to tease good-naturedly; finely cut straw or hay used as fodder
   
Chord a combination of notes played simultaneously; harmony; emotional feeling
Cord a string or small rope, or electrical wire; raised rib on the surface of cloth
Cite to refer to; to quote by way of authority; to summon to appear in court
Sight a view
Site a place
   
Climactic pertaining to or constituting a climax
Climatic having to do with the climate
   
Coarse rough, crude
Course a class or seminar; a route or passage; a series or sequence; procedure or process, etc.
   
Collaborate to work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort
Corroborate to attest the truth or accuracy of; support or confirm by new evidence
   
Columbia name if U.S. cities, universities, a sportswear company, etc.
Colombia name of South American nation
   
Compel to force, drive or constrain
Impel to urge to action through moral pressure; to drive forward; propel
   
Compliment to praise (v.); a piece of praise (n.)
Complement a worthy addition (n.)
   
Comprise to consist of; to be composed of. The whole comprises the parts.
Compose to form in combination; to make up; to constitute; to create. The parts compose the whole.
   
Connote to suggest or imply; to convey to the mind what is not explicit.  (Indicates our association with a thing.)
Denote to reveal or indicate; to signify; to refer to specifically.  (Indicates the thing a word names.)
   
Continual repeated again and again
Continuous uninterrupted
   
Conscious capable of thought, will or perception; deliberate
Consciousness a critical awareness of one’s own identity and situation
Conscience conformity to one’s own sense of right conduct
   
Corps a group of people working together to achieve a specific task
Corpse a dead body, usually human
   
Council an assembly or group
Counsel advice; legal adviser
   
Country the physical territory of a nation or state; geographical characteristics of a place
Nation large group of people who share customs, origins, history and often language; political and social characteristics of a place
   
Cue a long stick, as for billiards; a reminder or a prompt to do or say something
Queue a waiting line of people or vehicles; a long braid of hair worn hanging down the back; a sequence of stored computer data or files awaiting processing
   
Currant small, sour fruit, used chiefly for jelly, or dried like raisins
Current now, in the present; flows, especially of liquids, gases and electricity
   
Defective having a defect; faulty
Deficient lacking an essential quality or element; insufficient
   
Definite unambiguous
Definitive authoritative
   
Dependant a person who depends on another (mostly used in British English)
Dependent contingent upon something or someone else; one who relies on another for support
   
Desert dry, barren, often sandy region (emphasis on first syllable)
Desert to forsake or leave; abandon (emphasis on second syllable)
Dessert something sweet, served at the end of a meal (emphasis on second syllable, as above)
   
Discomfort uneasiness; to make uncomfortable; hardship
Discomfit disconcert; defeat; thwart
   
Disassemble to take something apart; opposite of assemble
Dissemble to conceal ones real motives, nature or feelings under a pretense
   
Disburse to pay out; distribute
Disperse to break up and scatter; vanish, dissipate
   
Discreet cautious
Discrete separate
   
Disinterested neutral, unbiased
Uninterested bored, not interested
   
Drier one that dries; (adj.) comparative of dry (more dry)
Dryer an appliance that removes moisture
   
Dual an adjective describing the two-ness of something (dual-purpose)
Duel a prearranged, formal combat between two persons, to settle a dispute
   
earth the land surface of the world, as distinguished from the oceans and air.
Earth the third planet from the sun.
   
Effective having an intended or expected effect; producing the desired impression or response
Effectual producing or sufficient to produce a desired effect; fully adequate
   
Effective having an intended or expected effect
Efficient acting or producing effectively, with a minimum of waste, expense or unnecessary effort; exhibiting a high ratio of output to input
   
Elicit to bring out; evoke; to call forth
Illicit not sanctioned by custom or law; unlawful
   
Eligible qualified, as for a position or office; desirable and worthy of choice
Illegible not legible or decipherable (as in handwriting)
   
Emigrant one who leaves one country or region to settle in another
Immigrant one who enters and settles in a country or region to which one is not native
   
Eminent outstanding, high, lofty
Imminent threatening to happen soon
   
Empathy identification with and understanding of another’s feelings or situation
Sympathy feeling or expression of pity or sorrow for distress of another
   
Energize to give energy to
Enervate to cause to lose vitality or energy
   
Envelop to enclose or encase completely, with or as if with a covering
Envelope something that envelops; a flat, folded paper container, as for a letter
   
Envious combines resentment and desire; feeling of discontent and resentment toward another’s possessions or qualities, and strong desire to have them for oneself
Jealous apprehensive of the loss of another’s affection; resentful or bitter in rivalry
   
Epigram short, witty, proverbial poem, maxim or saying
Epigraph inscription (often in Latin) on a statue, coin, etc.
Epitaph words written in memory of one who has died, usually on their tombstone
   
Farther used with physical distance
Further used with abstract distance or depth
   
Fictional an imaginative creation or pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented
Fictitious imaginary; adopted or assumed in order to deceive; not genuinely believed or felt; sham
   
Flack a press agent or publicist; to act as a press agent
Flak excessive or abusive criticism; anti-aircraft artillery or bursting shells fired from anti-aircraft artillery
Flair a natural talent or aptitude; distinctive elegance or style
Flare to burst into intense, sudden flame; device that produces bright light for signaling; to expand or open outward in shape
Flaunt to ostentatiously show something off, deliberately to call attention to it
Flout to deliberately break or disregard a rule or law
   
Flounder to proceed clumsily and in confusion; a flat fish
Founder to sink below the water (ship); to become disabled or go lame (horse); to collapse or break down; to cave in
   
Forbear to abstain or desist from doing something
Forebear ancestor
   
Forceful powerful and vigorous
Forcible accomplished by force
   
Forgo to do without
Forego to go before; to precede
   
Fortuitous happening by chance
Fortunate lucky; having good fortune
   
Gambit a strategic maneuver
Gamut a full range or extent
   
Gild to cover something in gold or gold-like material
Guild a special interest group or association
   
Good (adjective) describes nouns or pronouns; can be linked with look, sound, taste (She is a good driver.) (Good describes “driver;” a noun.)
Well (adverb) describes verbs  (She drives well.)  (Well describes “drives;” a verb.)(adjective) healthy  (I am well.)
   
Gray American spelling of an achromatic color that is between black and white
Grey British spelling of the same thing
   
Hangar a structure, especially for storing or repairing aircraft
Hanger a contrivance to which something hangs (coat hanger)
   
Hebrew the Semitic language of the ancient Hebrews; the language of the Israelis
Yiddish a High German language with many words borrowed from Hebrew and Slavic that is spoken chiefly as a vernacular in eastern European Jewish communities and by emigrants from these communities
   
Historic an event whose significance will be remembered by future generations
Historical based on or concerned with events in history
   
Hoard (n) a hidden fund or supply stored for future use; cache. (v) to accumulate a hoard
Horde a large group or swarm; any nomadic tribe or group
   
Imply the speaker implies
Infer the listener infers
   
Incredible  unbelievable, hard to believe
Incredulous unbelieving or skeptical
   
Infamous having an exceedingly bad reputation; having committed an evil or criminal act that is publicly known (close to “notorious”)
Notorious known widely and usually (but not always) unfavorably
   
Insulate to prevent passage of heat, electricity or sound into or out of; to cause to be in a detached or isolated position
Insolate to expose to the sun’s rays
   
Jack  in electronics, a socket that accepts a plug at one end and attaches to electric circuitry at the other.
Plug in electronics, a fitting used to connect an appliance to a power supply
   
Legible capable of being read or deciphered (words on a page)
Readable capable of being read easily; pleasurable or interesting to read
   
Less generally used with qualities or quantities that cannot be individually counted
Fewer generally used with objects that can be counted one by one
   
Lesson a noun, something you learn or teach
Lessen a verb, to cause to decrease or make less
   
Lie to recline  (past tense: lay; past participle: have lain)
Lay to put or place something  (past tense: laid; past participle: have laid)
   
Lightening making something lighter; illuminating or brightening
Lightning accompanied by thunder during storms
   
Loath adjective meaning “unwilling.”  Rhymes with “both.”
Loathe verb meaning “to hate intensely.”  Ends in soft “th” like “breathe.”
   
Mantel shelf over a fireplace
Mantle something that covers, envelops or conceals; a cloak
   
Mfr. abbreviation for "manufacturer"
Mfg. abbreviation for “manufacturing”
   
Myth a sacred story from the past, that expresses a culture’s moral values in human terms, or explains the origin of the universe and of life
Legend a story from the past about a subject (people, places or events) that is believed to have been historical; associated with a time and place
   
Naval of or pertaining to ships or shipping, or a navy
Navel the mark on the abdomen of mammals where the umbilical cord was attached
Naturist a nudist
Naturalist one versed in natural history, especially in zoology or botany
   
Palate the roof of the mouth; sense of taste
Palette a board on which an artist mixes colors; range of colors or qualities inherent in an art form
   
Parameter a scientific term, adapted to general usage. Means a constant, a given or a precondition; or a limit or boundary (not physical)
Perimeter the outer barrier of a closed, curved figure or area; the length of this; circumference
   
Passed the past tense form of the verb “to pass,” which means to move forward or through
Past (n.) what has already happened (don't live in the past); (adj.) gone by, ended (this past week was busy); (prep.) beyond (it is past the deadline)
Pedal n. a lever worked by the foot (on a piano, sewing machine, bicycle, etc.)
v. to operate a pedal, or to ride a bike
Peddle v. to travel about selling wares; to sell; to give out or disseminate
Petal n. on a flower, a separate, often brightly colored segment of a corolla
   
Perfunctory done or acting routinely, with little interest or care
Peremptory putting an end to all debate or action; dictatorial; imperative
   
Personal private; done to or for, or directed toward a particular person
Personnel collective noun referring to people employed by or active in an organization
   
Perspective a specific point of view in understanding or judging things or events
Prospective looking toward the future; expected
   
Perspicacious having or showing insight; having a ready understanding of things
Perspicuous easily understood; lucid; expressing things clearly
   
Populace noun, meaning the population, the common people, the masses
Populous adjective, meaning containing many people, thickly settled, numerous
Precede go ahead of; be before
Proceed continue with an action
   
Principal leader or top person (noun); foremost or highest ranking (adjective)
Principle fundamental truth; a rule or tenet or precept or policy (noun)
   
Prescribe to set down as a rule or direction; to order or advise, as a medicine or treatment.
Proscribe to deprive of the protection of the law; to outlaw, banish, exile; to denounce or forbid the practice or use of.
   
Prodigy a person with exceptional talents or powers
Progeny children or descendants; offspring
Protégé a person whose training or career is promoted by an influential person
   
Prophecy a prediction; inspired utterance of a prophet ("y" is pronounced "e")
Prophesy to predict; to reveal by divine inspiration ("y" is pronounced "i")
   
Purposely by design, intentionally; not by accident
Purposefully with a specific goal in mind
   
Raise to make higher, to build, or to nurture and cause to grow
Rise to get up, to become elevated
   
Raise to make higher, to build, or to nurture and cause to grow
Raze to tear down or demolish; level to the ground; to scrape or shave off
   
Recipe set of directions and ingredients for cooking something; formula for or means to a desired end
Receipt the act of receiving something; to mark a bill as having been paid
   
Remuneration compensation, payment; act of payment or compensation
Renumeration NOT a word
   
Sarcastic expressing a sharply mocking or contemptuously ironic remark intended to wound another
Sardonic scornfully mocking and derisive
   
Septic of, pertaining to, or having pathogenic organisms or their toxins in the blood or tissues
Skeptic one who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions or disagrees with generally accepted conclusions
   
Shear to remove by cutting or clipping; to use a cutting tool such as shears
Sheer to swerve from a course; thin, fine and transparent
   
Stanch to restrain a flow
Staunch firm in attitude, opinion or loyalty  (both words pronounced the same)
   
Stationary unmoving (adj.)
Stationery nice writing paper (n.)
   
Than a conjunction, used to compare things
Then an adverb, used with descriptions of time
   
That restricts the reader's thought, directing attention to a specific bit of information to complete a message's meaning. (Example: "We have several cars. The car that is in the garage is my son's.”)
Which is non-restrictive and introduces subsidiary rather than essential information to the meaning of the sentence; always preceded by a comma. (Example: We have one car. "The car, which is in the garage, is my son's.")
   
Tortuous winding or crooked; or tricky to handle 
Torturous causing torture; or painful in a cruel way
   
Translucent transmitting light, but causing sufficient diffusion to prevent perception of distinct images
Transparent capable of transmitting light so that objects or images can be seen clearly
   
Turbid having sediment or foreign particles stirred up or suspended; in turmoil
Turgid  swollen or distended; excessively ornate in style or language
   
Unsociable not congenial; not disposed to seek the company of others
Antisocial opposed or hostile to the established social order; engaging in behavior that violates accepted mores
   
Venal open to bribery; corruptible; influenced by bribery
Venial pardonable (referring to a fault or sin); trifling, not serious (referring to misconduct)
   
Who's contraction of who is
Whose belonging to someone (possessive adj.)
   
Yea old-fashioned way to say yes; aye; an affirmative statement or vote (rhymes with "nay")
Yeah informal way to say yes

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Last modified: June 11, 2012

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