They either look alike, sound alike or, worst of all, look and sound alike but have completely different meanings. Other words look and sound different but are similar in meaning, and it’s hard to determine which is the correct one in a given context. Hopefully the following list of pairs of commonly confused words will help you keep them straightened out.
Homophones: the Most Confusing Words in English
Accept vs. Except
- accept (verb) - to receive
He accepted the invitation to stay with us.
- except (conjunction) - apart from; otherwise than; were it not true
When Susan travels, she packs everything except the kitchen sink.
Affect vs. Effect
- Affect (verb) - to have an effect on; influence; produce a change in; to stir the emotions
Trading has been adversely affected by the downturn in consumer spending.
- Effect (noun) - anything brought about by a cause or agent; result
Eating junk food will eventually have an effect on your health.
Bad vs. Badly
- Bad (adjective) - not good
I have some bad news for you.
- Badly (adverb) - not well; in a bad manner; harmfully; incorrectly; wickedly; unpleasantly
The company has been very badly managed.
Breath vs. Breathe
- Breath (noun) - air taken into the lungs and then let out
Leo could smell the wine on her breath.
- Breathe (verb) - to inhale and exhale
The room filled with smoke, and it was becoming difficult to breathe.
Complement vs. Compliment
- Complement (noun) - that which completes or brings to perfection; (verb) - to make complete
We've taken our full complement of trainees this year.
- Compliment (noun) - something said in admiration, praise, or flattery; (verb) - to pay a compliment to; congratulate
All the guests paid her extravagant compliments.
Seen vs. Saw
- Seen (verb) - past participle of the verb see; must be used with the verbs has, have, or had
By mid-morning I had seen enough step wells and gonged enough bells to see me through lifetimes.
- Saw (verb) - past tense of the verb see
I saw the movie yesterday.
Principal vs. Principle
- Principal (noun) - a governing or presiding officer, specifically of a school; (adjective) - first in rank, authority, importance, degree,...
His comments on Paul Caton, the deputy principal, were gratuitously offensive.
- Principle (noun) - a fundamental truth, law, doctrine, or motivating force, upon which others are based
Schools try to teach children a set of principles.
Site vs. Sight
- Sight (noun) - something seen, a view, field of vision
She was a sight for sore eyes.
- Site (noun) - a piece of land considered for a specific purpose
The corner lot was a perfect site for the new shopping center.
to vs. too vs. two
- To (preposition) - in the direction of and reaching; as far as; to the extent of
She stood up and walked to the window.
- Too (adverb) - in addition; as well; besides; also; more than enough; superfluously; overly; to a regrettable extent; extremely
Do you think the music’s too loud?
- Two (adjective) the number 2
I’ll be away for almost two weeks.