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Commonly Confused Words – Your Vital Guide to Spot-on Grammar

If there’s one thing a computer spell checker is never going to pick up, it’s words that are spelled correctly, but not used correctly.

The English language is filled with words that are similar when spoken, but have a completely different meaning depending on how they are spelled. It’s easy to confuse certain words, but vital to make sure you are using the correct ones, because when you don’t, it really can have a negative effect on the overall quality of your writing, whether it’s an essay or thesis, a letter or a proposal. What’s more, the wrong choice of a commonly confused word could even alter the entire meaning of a sentence.

Here we are going to take a look at some of the most commonly confused words in the English language. We’ve also included a guide to help you make the right choices.

Affect / Effect

When something is affected, it changes. Affect is a verb, so you might say something like, ‘the way James presented his essay affected his grades’. Effect on the other hand is usually a noun. When something has an effect, it brings about a reaction or result. ‘The way James presented his essay had an effect on his grades.’

Adverse / Averse

When there is an adverse reaction or effect, it generally indicates something negative has happened. Averse on the other hand is used to describe an opposition to something. ‘James was averse to anything that would stop him from enjoying time with his friends.’

Aural / Oral

Aural refers to anything that is heard or that is related to the ears. Oral is anything spoken, or connected with the mouth.

Coarse / Course

If something it coarse, then it is rough in texture: ‘coarse fabric’. Course on the other hand is either something a student enrols in; part of a meal or a direction something takes. ‘The course of a river takes many turns.’

Compliment / Complement

When you compliment someone, they’ll thank you for it, and will probably smile. A compliment is a favourable thing to say. A complement, on the other hand, is something that goes well with something else. When two things go well together, they complement each other.

Bit of an oops moment here we think!

Currant / Current

A currant is a dried grape, whereas current refers to the flow of something such as water or electricity as well as what is happening now, for example current affairs.

Dual / Duel

Dual refers to something that has two parts. A driving instructor will have dual controls in his car. A duel is a contest between two people.

Elicit / Illicit

You elicit a response or reaction, but something that is illicit is not allowable under law or regulation.

Envelop / Envelope

To envelop something (verb) is to surround or cover it. An envelope (noun) is a container for a letter.

Enquiry / Inquiry

When you enquire about something, you are asking for general information. ‘To enquire about job vacancies in your local coffee shop.’ An inquiry, however, refers only to a formal investigation, such as that launched by the police.

Licence / License

Licence is a noun. So you may have a driving licence, or indeed be working towards getting one. License is a verb. So when you pass your driving test, you will be licensed to drive.

Loose / Lose

When something is loose, it is not tight fitting, or it could be that it’s relaxed, wobbly or unrestricted. Lose is a verb meaning to misplace something.

Principal / Principle

The principal thing is that which is most important. The principal of a school is the person in charge. Principles on the other hand refer to beliefs or rules. ‘It was against his principles to cheat in the test.’

Stationary / Stationery

Something that isn’t moving is stationary. Notepaper, envelopes and the like are referred to as stationery.

Storey / Story

A building has storeys, as in floors. A story is something you recount or read.

Who’s / Whose

Who’s calling my name? Who’s is an abbreviation of ‘who is’. Whose on the other hand is a possessive pronoun indicating belonging. Whose paper is this? Who’s submitting this paper? The test is to check whether you can break the word down into ‘who is’ with the sentence still making sense. ‘Who is paper is this’ of course doesn’t!

Why Getting it Right is Vital

So there you have it. The importance of using the correct grammar and making the right choices when it comes to words like this cannot be over-emphasised.

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