Common Word Usage Errors

The English language has a lot of words that look, sound, or are spelled alike but that have different roles and meanings. To help you choose the right words for every occasion, we've put together this list of commonly mixed up words and what they actually mean.


Accept: to receive something (I accepted the gift he offered me.)
Except: excluding something (Everyone except Mark got on the boat.)

Advice: opinion or information offered; a noun (She offered her advice.)
Advise: to offer advice to someone; a verb (The council will advise the king.)

Affect: to influence; a verb (The pungent odor will affect the party.)
Effect: result; a noun (The presentation had a powerful effect on the country.)

All ready: used as an adjective to express complete preparedness (I was all ready to go.)
Already: an adverb expressing time (Unfortunately, everyone had already left.)

All right: correct use
Alright: incorrect use

Awhile: an adverb (Stay awhile.)
A while: an article and noun (Stay for a while.)

Can: denotes ability (I can touch my toes.)
May: denotes permission (May I sit here?)

Complement: complete, accentuate (His cummerbund complemented her dress color.)
Compliment:  to give praise (He complimented me on my penmanship.)

Conscious: awake or perceiving; an adjective (Despite a head injury, he was conscious.)
Conscience: the voice in the back of your head; a noun (Chris didn't cheat because his conscience wouldn't let him.)

Everyday: something ordinary or common; an adjective (Those are my everyday shoes.)
Every day: used when something happens every single day (I clean my room every day.)

Good: describes nouns (That cake was really good.)
Well: describes verbs (She swims really well.)

Its: possessive pronoun, meaning something belongs to it (The dog is guarding its favorite toy.)
It's: contraction for it is (He likes the toy because it's squeaky.)

Lead: either a noun (pronounced "led"), as in "the lead in the pencil," or a verb (pronounced "leed"), as in "lead me to your ruler."
Led: the past tense form of lead (I led the horse to water.)

Lose: to misplace something, a verb (Don't give the money to her; she'll lose it.)
Loose: the opposite of tight, an adjective (My shoelaces are loose.)

Principal: the head of a school (The principal will hold an assembly tomorrow.)
Principle: a theory or belief (He lives by Plato's principles.)

Then: used for a sequence of events or the passage of time (I went home, vacuumed, and then slept.)
Than: used in comparison (I'm heavier than she is.)

There: a location (I left my coffee over there.)
Their: a possessive pronoun, used when something belongs to a group of people or an organization (I like going to Calla and Michael's house because their cats are cute.)
They're: short for they are (They're going to be late if they don't hurry up.)

To: a preposition (Take that book to her.)
Too: used when there's too much, too many, too little of something (I grabbed for her, but she fell too fast.)
Two: the number (My daughter is two.)

We're: contraction for "we are" (We're glad to help.)
Where: location (Where are you going?)
Were: a past tense form of the verb be (They were walking side by side.)

You're: contraction for "you are" (You're a good friend.)
Your: possessive pronoun, meaning something belongs to you (Where do your parents live?)