2.1 Word Confusion


This section of Ch. 2 will cover the following topics:

  • frequently misspelled words
  • commonly confused words
  • homonyms

Experienced writers know that deliberate, careful word selection leads to more effective writing. This chapter covers common word errors and how to correct them.

Frequently Misspelled Words

Spellcheckers are useful, but they cannot replace human knowledge and judgment.  Writers are responsible for the errors in their work.

Below is a list of words that are often misspelled.  Each word has a segment in bold type, which indicates the part of the word that is often spelled incorrectly.  Read through the list, noting words that are problematic for you.

across disappoint integration particular separate
address disapprove intelligent perform similar
answer doesn’t interest perhaps since
argument eighth interfere personnel speech
athlete embarrass jewelry possess strength
beginning environment judgment possible success
behavior exaggerate knowledge prefer surprise
calendar familiar maintain prejudice taught
career finally mathematics privilege temperature
conscience government meant probably thorough
crowded grammar necessary psychology thought
definite height nervous pursue tired
describe illegal occasion reference until
desperate immediately opinion rhythm weight
different important optimist ridiculous written

Exercise 1

Find the 10 misspelled words in the following paragraphs.  List them, spelled correctly.

(Note: “Lenapi” is not misspelled; it is the name of a native American tribe.  “Breuckelen” is also not misspelled.  Look for common words.)

Brooklyn is one of the five boroughs that make up New York City.  It is located on the eastern shore of Long Island directly accross the East River from the island of Manhattan.  Its beginings stretch back to the sixteenth century when it was founded by the Dutch who originally called it “Breuckelen.”  Immedietely after the Dutch settled Brooklyn, it came under British rule.  However, niether the Dutch nor the British were Brooklyn’s first inhabitants.

When European settlers first arrived, Brooklyn was largely inhabited by the Lenapi, a collective name for several organized groups of Native American people who settled a large area of land that extended from upstate New York through the entire state of New Jersey.  Over time, the Lenapi succumbed to European diseases or died in conflicts with European settlers or other Native American enemies.  Finalley they were pushed out of Brooklyn completly by the British.

In 1776, Brooklyn was the site of the first importent battle of the American Revolution known as the Battle of Brooklyn.  The colonists lost this battle, which was led by George Washington, but over the next two years they would win the war, kicking the British out of the colonies permanently.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Brooklyn grew to be a city in its own right.  The completion of the Brooklyn Bridge was an ocasion for celebration; transportation and commerce between Brooklyn and Manhattan became much easier.  Then, in 1898, Brooklyn lost its seperate identity as an independent city and became one of five boroughs of New York City.  In some people’s opinion, the intagration into New York City should have never happened; they thought Brooklyn should have remained an independent city.

Note: Homework and essays in this class should use MLA formatting guidelines (see Ch. 7.3 for details).


In addition to a definition, these words are identified by their part of speech.  For more about parts of speech, see Ch. 3.

Commonly Confused Words

As you study this information, pay special attention to words that are challenging for you.

A, An, And

  • A (article) is used before nouns that begin with a consonant: a key, a mouse, a screen
  • An (article) used before nouns that begin with a vowel: an airplane, an ocean, an igloo
  • And (conjunction) connects two or more words: peanut butter and jelly, pen and pencil

Accept, Except

  • Accept (verb) means to take or agree to something offered:  They accepted our proposal for the conference.
  • Except (conjunction) means only or but:  We could fly except the tickets cost too much.

Affect, Effect

  • Affect (verb) means to create a change:  Hurricane winds affect the amount of rainfall.
  • Effect (noun) means an outcome or result:  Heavy rains will have an effect on crops.

Its, It’s

  • Its (pronoun) shows possession:  The butterfly flapped its wings.
  • It’s (contraction) joins the words “it” and “is”:  It’s a beautiful butterfly.

Loose, Lose

  • Loose (adjective) describes something that is not tight or is detached:  Without a belt, his pants are loose at the waist.
  • Lose (verb) means to forget, give up, or fail to earn something:  She will lose more weight while training for the marathon.

Of, Have

  • Of (preposition) means from or about:  I studied maps of the city.
  • Have (verb) means to possess something:  I have friends help me move.
  • Have (linking verb) is also used to connect verbs:  I should have helped her.  (NOT “I should of helped her.)

Quite, Quiet, Quit

  • Quite (adverb) means to a significant degree:  My work will require quite a lot of concentration.
  • Quiet (adjective) means not loud:  I need a quiet room to study.
  • Quit (verb) means to stop or to end:  I will quit when I am tired.

Than, Then

  • Than (conjunction) is used to connect two or more items when comparing:  Registered nurses have less training than doctors.
  • Then (adverb) means at a specific time:  Doctors first complete medical school and then open a practice.

Their, They’re, There

  • Their (pronoun) shows possession:  The Townsends feed their dogs twice a day.
  • They’re (contraction of a pronoun and a verb) joins the words “they” and “are”:  They’re the sweetest dogs in the neighborhood.
  • There (adverb) indicates a particular place:  The dogs’ bowls are over there, by the table.
  • There (pronoun) is also used to introduce a sentence in which the verb comes before the subject:  There are more treats handed out if the dogs behave.   Often this kind of sentence is better if reorganized:  More treats are handed out if the dogs behave.

To, Two, Too

  • To (preposition) indicates movement:  Let’s go to the circus.
  • To also completes a certain type of verb:  to play, to ride, to watch.
  • Two (adjective) is the number after one and it describes how many:  Two clowns squirted elephants with water.
  • Too (adverb) means also or very:  The crowd was too loud, so we left.

Who’s, Whose

  • Who’s (contraction) joins the pronoun “who” and the verb “is” or “has”:  Who’s the new student? Who’s met him?
  • Whose (pronoun) shows possession:  Whose schedule allows them to take the new student tour?

Your, You’re

  • Your (pronoun) shows possession:  Your book bag is unzipped.
  • You’re (contraction) joins the pronoun “you” and the verb “are”:  You’re the girl with the unzipped book bag.

Exercise 2

Type the following sentences, choosing the correct word from those in parentheses.  Refer to the rules above so your answers are correct.

  1. My little cousin turns ____________ (to, too, two) years old tomorrow.
  2. The next-door neighbor’s dog is ____________ (quite, quiet, quit) loud.  He barks constantly throughout the night.
  3. ____________ (Your, You’re) mother called this morning to talk about the party.
  4. I would rather eat a slice of chocolate cake ____________ (than, then) a chocolate muffin.
  5. I don’t care ____________ (whose, who’s) coming to the party.
  6. Do you have any ____________ (loose, lose) change to pay the parking meter?
  7. Father must ____________ (have, of) left his briefcase at the office.
  8. The party ____________ (their, there, they’re) hosting will be in June at ____________ (their, there, they’re) ranch, and we are planning to be ____________ (their, there, they’re).
  9. It must be fall, because ____________ (it’s, its) getting darker earlier.
  10. Four animals live in my house: ____________ (a, an, and) cat, ____________ (a, an, and) owl, ____________ (a, an, and) two old dogs.


Homonyms are words that sound like each other but have different meanings.  For example, a witch rides a broom, but the word “which” is a question word when choosing between options.

Following is a list of commonly confused homonyms.  Read through the list, paying particular attention to words you have found confusing in the past.

Lead, Led

  • Lead can be used in several ways.  As a noun, is can name a type of metal:  The lead pipes in my home need to be replaced.  It can also refer to a position of advantage:  Our team is in the lead.  As a verb, it can mean to guide or direct:  The girl will lead the horse by its halter.
  • Led (verb) is the past tense of “lead”:  The young volunteer led the patrons through the museum.

Lessen, Lesson

  • Lessen (verb) means to reduce in number, size, or degree:  My dentist gave me medicine to lessen the pain of my aching tooth.
  • Lesson (noun) is reading or exercise for a student:  Today’s lesson was about mortgage interest rates.

Passed, Past

  • Passed (verb) means to move:  He passed slower cars using the left lane.
  • Past (noun) means having taken place before the present: T he argument happened in the past, so there is no use in dwelling on it.

Principle, Principal

  • Principle (noun) is a fundamental concept that is accepted as true:  The principle of human equality is an important foundation for peace.
  • Principal (noun) has two meanings.  It can mean the original amount of debt on which interest is calculated:  The payment covered both principal and interest.  Or it can mean a person who is the main authority of a school:  The principal held a conference for parents and teachers.

Threw, Through

  • Threw (verb) is the past tense of the word “throw”:  She threw the football with perfect form.
  • Through (preposition) indicates movement:  She walked through the door and out of his life.  (Note: “Thru” is a non-standard spelling of “through” and should be avoided.)

Where, Wear

  • Where (adverb) is the place in which something happens:  Where is the restaurant?
  • Wear (verb) is to carry or have on the body:  I wear my hiking shoes when I climb.

Whether, Weather

  • Whether (conjunction) means expressing a doubt or choice:  I don’t know whether to go to Paris or Hawaii.
  • Weather (noun) is a quality of the atmosphere:  The weather could be rainy.

Exercise 3

Type the following sentences, choosing the correct homonym from the options in parentheses.  Refer to the rules above to ensure that you choose the correct word.

  1. I ____________ (where, wear) my pajamas to attend online classes.
  2. Being ____________ (led, lead) up the mountain by a guide felt safer.
  3. Serina described ____________ (witch, which) book was hers.
  4. Do you think it is healthy for Grandpa to talk about the ____________ (passed, past) all the time?
  5. Eating healthier foods will ____________ (lessen, lesson) the risk of heart disease.
  6. Everyone goes ____________ (through, threw) hardships in life.
  7. The  ____________ (weather, whether) continued to be unpredictable.
  8. The ____________ (principal, principle) gave the students a long lecture about peer pressure.

The English language contains about 200,000 words.  Some are borrowed from other languages. Some have multiple meanings and forms.  When in doubt, consult an expert: the dictionary!


  • Error-free spelling enhances your credibility with readers.
  • Differentiating homonyms can reduce confusion.
  • Choosing the proper words leaves a positive impression on readers.


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