Confusing words

Some words sound so similar, it’s easy to confuse or misuse them when writing. Computer spell check won’t catch these mistakes! Use this list as a reference whenever you’re unsure about which word fits in the context.

Here’s a quick-reference list of pairs of words that regularly cause people problems. The words follow the accepted British English spelling. Some of them do have alternative American spellings and you will find these at the main dictionary entry on this website.

 

 

 

Word 1 Meaning Word 2 Meaning
accept to agree to receive or do except not including
adverse unfavourable, harmful averse strongly disliking; opposed
advice recommendations about what to do advise to recommend something
affect to change or make a difference to effect a result; to bring about a result
aisle a passage between rows of seats isle an island
all together all in one place, all at once altogether completely; on the whole
along moving or extending horizontally on a long referring to something of great length
aloud out loud allowed permitted
altar a sacred table in a church alter to change
amoral not concerned with right or wrong immoral not following accepted moral standards
appraise to assess apprise to inform someone
assent agreement, approval ascent the action of rising or climbing up
balmy pleasantly warm barmy foolish, crazy
bare naked; to uncover bear to carry; to put up with
born having started life borne carried
bough a branch of a tree bow to bend the head; the front of a ship
brake a device for stopping a vehicle; to stop a vehicle break to separate into pieces; a pause
breach to break through, or break a rule; a gap breech the back part of a gun barrel
broach to raise a subject for discussion brooch a piece of jewellery
chord a group of musical notes cord a length of string; a cord-like body part
climactic forming a climax climatic relating to climate
coarse rough course a direction; a school subject; part of a meal
complacent smug and self-satisfied complaisant willing to please
complement to add to so as to improve; an addition that improves something compliment to praise or express approval; an admiring remark
council a group of people who manage or advise counsel advice; to advise
cue a signal for action; a wooden rod queue a line of people or vehicles
curb to keep something in check; a control or limit kerb (in British English) the stone edge of a pavement
defuse to make a situation less tense diffuse to spread over a wide area
desert a waterless, empty area; to abandon someone dessert the sweet course of a meal
discreet careful not to attract attention discrete separate and distinct
draw an even score at the end of a game drawer a sliding storage compartment
dual having two parts duel a fight or contest between two people
ensure to make certain that something will happen insure to provide compensation if a person dies or property is damaged
envelop to cover or surround envelope a paper container for a letter
fawn a young deer; light brown faun a mythical being, part man, part goat
flaunt to display ostentatiously flout to disregard a rule
foreword an introduction to a book forward onwards, ahead
grisly gruesome, revolting grizzly a type of bear
hoard a store horde a large crowd of people
loose to unfasten; to set free lose to be deprived of; to be unable to find
meter a measuring device metre a metric unit; rhythm in verse
pedal a foot-operated lever peddle to sell goods
pole a long, slender piece of wood poll voting in an election
pour to flow or cause to flow pore a tiny opening; to study something closely
practice the use of an idea or method; the work or business of a doctor, dentist, etc. practise to do something repeatedly to gain skill; to do something regularly
principal most important; the head of a school principle a fundamental rule or belief
sceptic a person inclined to doubt septic infected with bacteria
sight the ability to see site a location
stationary not moving stationery writing materials
storey a level of a building story a tale or account

 

 

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