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Writing Mistakes: Commonly Misused Words in English

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List of Common Writing Mistakes in English! Many words in the English language are commonly misused because they sound similar, yet they have different spelling and meaning (homonyms). Other words may not sound alike, yet might still be confusing.

Common Writing Mistakes

Affect vs 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)

Accept vs Except

Accept is a verb that means to receiveexcept is a preposition that means excluding.


  •   John will accept his award during the ceremony.
  •   Everyone will be in attendance except his father.

Ensure – Insure – Assure

Ensure means to make something certain; insure means to guarantee something against monetary loss, or protect against riskassure 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.

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.

Council vs Counsel

A council is group of people that assembles for discussioncounsel means advice or guidance.


  •   The council met twice every month.
  •   He obviously did not want any legal counsel.

Compliment vs Complement

Compliment means a statement of praisecomplement means to go well with or perfect something else.


  •   The customer sent his compliments to the chef.
  •   The picture complements the design perfectly.

Allusion vs 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.

Principle vs Principal

Principle means rule or standardPrincipal 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.

Elicit vs Illicit

Elicit means to bring out, draw out, or evokeIllicit means illegal.


  •   Nothing the teacher said could elicit a response from the child.
  •   He is in jail for illicit drugs.

It’s vs 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)

Emigrant vs Immigrant

An emigrant is one who leaves one’s native country to settle in anotheran 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.

That vs 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)

Comprise vs 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.

Lie vs 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.

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Common Writing Mistakes in English

Common Writing Mistakes in English

Commonly Writing Mistakes in English

Common Writing Mistakes in English