Other words may not sound alike, yet might still be confusing.
1. Affect, Effect
Affect is a verb meaning “influence, shape” and effect is a noun meaning “result, outcome.” Effect can be used as a verb only when it means to bring about or cause something to happen.
- Will the study affect the school’s budget? (verb)
- We are studying the effects of the environment on behavior. (noun)
- We are hoping that the results will effect a change in his behavior. (verb)
2. Accept, Except
Accept is a verb that means to receive; except is a preposition that means excluding.
- John will accept his award during the ceremony.
- Everyone will be in attendance except his father.
3. Ensure, Insure, & Assure
Ensure means to make something certain; insure means to guarantee something against monetary loss, or protect against risk; assure means to state in a convincing manner.
- I cannot ensure that the contract is legally binding.
- The stolen ring was insured for $5,000.
- I can assure you of her sincerity.
4. There, Their, They’re
There refers to a place that indicates where something is located and can be used as a pronoun that introduces a sentence. Their is a plural possessive pronoun. They’re is a contraction of they are.
- Please leave your dripping umbrella over there. (location)
- There is no room for argument here. (introduces a sentence)
- The students had to turn in their proposals on Wednesday. (possessive)
- They’re meeting in the boardroom.
5. Council, Counsel
A council is group of people that assembles for discussion; counsel means advice or guidance.
- The council met twice every month.
- He obviously did not want any legal counsel.
6. Compliment, Complement
Compliment means a statement of praise; complement means to go well with or perfect something else.
- The customer sent his compliments to the chef.
- The picture complements the design perfectly.
7. Allusion, Illusion
Allusion is an indirectly made reference. Illusion is a misconception or false impression.
- He made several allusions to the poem in his paper.
- John was under no illusion about his new job; he knew exactly what to expect.
8. Principle, Principal
Principle means rule or standard. Principal refers to a person who holds a high position or plays an important role; it also an adjective that means chief or leading.
- The school principal will be resigning next year.
- He has a principal reason for resigning.
- He has always refused to compromise his principles.
9. Elicit, Illicit
Elicit means to bring out, draw out, or evoke. Illicit means illegal.
- Nothing the teacher said could elicit a response from the child.
- He is in jail for illicit drugs.
10. It’s, Its
Its is a possessive pronoun that indicates ownership or possession; it’s is a contraction of it is or it has. Note: The use of contractions needs to be avoided in formal writing.
- Place each item in its designated box. (possessive)
- It’s a shame that Jerry cannot make it to the concert tonight. (it is)
- It’s been a long time since he attended any musical event. (it has)
11. Emigrant, Immigrant
An emigrant is one who leaves one’s native country to settle in another; an immigrant is one who enters and settles in a new country.
- The emigrant spent four weeks aboard the ship before it landed in LA.
- It is very hard for immigrants to find jobs.
12. That, Which
That usually introduces as essential phrase that is not set off by commas; which introduces a non-essential phrase that is set off by commas.
- This is the room that we were looking for. (essential)
- The old car, which I’ve had for years, has finally broken down. (not essential)
13. Comprise, Compose
The whole comprises (or includes) the parts; and the parts compose (or make up) the whole.
- The United States comprises fifty states.
- Organic compounds compose the fertilizer used by the farmer.
14. Lie, Lay
Lie means to recline or rest on a surface; its principal parts are lie, lay, lain. Lay means to put or place; its principal parts are lay and laid.
- I was so tired after work I had to lie down for a short time.
- I laid the files on the desk.