Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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Commonly Confused Words

Most people have the tendency to misuse some words in the English language. There are different reasons why some words are often confused. The following is a short list of these reasons:

  • Some words have different spellings but the same pronunciation.
  • Some words have similar spellings and/ or pronunciations.
  • Some words are mispronounced.
  • Some words are simply nonwords.

Words often confused can be pairs (such as accept and except), groups (like your, you’re, and yore), or nonwords (like ain’t, irregardless, y’all, and supposably).

The following sections will introduce some commonly confused words with examples and explanations.

Frequently Confused Words

Frequently confused words can be nonwords, or they can belong to pairs or groups.

Confusing Pairs

Some words are frequently confused because they belong to pairs that have similar pronunciations and/or similar spellings. The following tables present some such pairs. Examples and explanations are also provided.

Commonly Confused Words Accept Except
Accept & except: While accept means to agree, except means with the exclusion of. We have decided to accept your offer. In this example, accept means agree with or receive. Everyone in my family is vaccinated except for my nephew. This example can be rewritten as: Other than my nephew, everyone in my family is vaccinated.
Through Threw
Through & threw: Through is a preposition that indicates entering from one side and exiting from the other side. However, threw is the past tense of the verb to throw which means to toss. We had to walk for a couple of hours through the forest. The sentence can be rephrased as We entered the forest and exited the forest after a couple of hours. The girl threw her ball in the water is similar to The girl tossed her ball in the water.
Affect Effect
Affect & effect: Affect is a verb, but effect is a noun. To affect means to influence, while an effect means a result. Global warming affects our planet on a daily basis. The sentence means: Global warming is changing our planet. The effects of global warming are already seen in the coastal cities. The effects in this example means the results.
Led Lead
Led & lead: Led is the past tense of the verb to lead meaning to guide. However, lead is a soft metal element. Since my mom was the only one with a sense of direction, she led the way. Led means showed the way. Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin. In this example, lead is a noun and is referring to a metallic element.

Led is an example of commonly confused words.

Confused words

Groups of Confusing Words

Some words are often confused because they have the same pronunciation but different meanings and spellings. This section looks at some of these groups of words.

To, two, & too To Two Too
To is a preposition that means towards. Two is the number between one and three. Too means also. All three words are pronounced in the same way. Sally and Jane walk to (towards) school. Sally and Jane are two (2) of the students who walk to school. Sally walks to school; Jane walks to school too (also).
Your, you’re, & yore Your You’re Yore
Your is a possessive pronoun that shows belonging. You’re is the contraction of the pronoun you and the verb are i.e., you are, and Yore is a noun that means long ago. All three words have the same pronunciation. You left your jumpers in the gym locker. You’re not lost; you’re here (you are). In days of yore (long ago), people did not have access to phones.

An example of commonly confused words.

confused words

There, they’re, & their There They’re Their
There refers to a place that is opposite of here, while they’re is the contraction of they and the verb are. On the other hand, their is a possessive pronoun that shows belonging to the third person plural or third person singular (gender neutral). Check my website; there you can find all the information you need. They’re (They are) in my business class. James and Rufus sent their applications a while ago.
Write, right, & rite Write Right Rite
Write is a verb that means to make letters or numbers on a surface. Right is the opposite of wrong; it means correct and acceptable. Rite is a noun referring to an act that is part of a ceremony. Please write all your answers in ink. That’s right (correct); the weather is quite pleasant today. There are many cultures that burn incent in their religious rites (ceremonies).


There are word mistakes that people make that can be the result of the mispronunciation of some words creating nonwords. For example, supposably and bidness are nonwords that have come to be as a result of the mispronunciation of supposedly and business. However, there are some nonwords that is not exactly clear how and why they were made; ain’t is such an example. The following table features a list of nonwords, examples, and explanations.

Nonwords Examples Explanations
Y’all Y’all need to come and visit us. Y’all is used to mean you all to refer to you in plural. However, in English you is used to address both singular and plural second person, you.
Ain’t It ain’t happening. Ain’t is a contraction to mean am not, is not, are not, and have/has not. The example can be rewritten as It isn’t happening. Ain’t used to be associated with uneducated diction; however, more people have been using this nonword in recent years. Although still a nonword, it now has its own entry in the Merriam Webster’s Dictionary.
Irregardless Irregardless of the amount of experience you have, you can apply for this job. This word is probably the result of a wrong generalization i.e., since the antonym of regular is irregular and rational is irrational; therefore, the opposite of regardless must be irregardless. The example can be rewritten as: Regardless of the amount of experience you have, you can apply for this job.
Supposably The new variant of this virus is supposably not as fatal as the previous variants. This adverb is the mispronunciation of the adverb supposedly. Supposably can be replaced with supposedly in the example.

Other examples of nonwords that people often use are listed in the table below.

Nonwords Words
bidness business
conversate converse
excape escape
ostensively ostensibly
expresso espresso
acrossd across

Lesson Summary

There are many words in the English language that can be confused or used wrongly. Sometimes, some words are confused with other words due to their similarities in spellings and/or pronunciations, and sometimes the commonly confused words are simply nonwords. For example, accept means to receive or agree, but except means with the exclusion of. To, two, and too have the same pronunciations but different meanings i.e., to means towards, two means number 2, and too means also.

Other frequently confused words in groups are you’re, your, and yore, as well as they’re, their, and there. While both your and their are possessive pronouns, you’re and they’re are contractions of you and they with the verb are. On the other hand, there is a place that is the opposite of here, and yore is a noun that means long ago. People also use nonwords, such as y’all, ain’t, supposably, and irregardless.

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