Spelling, Vocabulary, and Confusing Words

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Because many words in English sound or look alike, frequently causing confusion, this list will be very helpful.


a vs. an

Rule. Use a when the first letter of the word following has the sound of a consonant. Keep in mind that some vowels sound like consonants when they’re sounded out as individual letters.

Examples:

  • a finger
  • a hotel
  • a U-turn (pronounced You-turn)
  • a HUD program
  • a NASA study

Rule. Use an when the first letter of the word following has the sound of a vowel. Remember that some consonants sound like vowels when they’re spoken as individual letters.

Examples:

  • an FBI case (F is pronounced ef here)
  • an honor (H is silent here)
  • an unusual idea
  • an HMO plan (H is pronounced aitch here)
  • an NAACP convention (N is pronounced en here)

Deciding whether to use a or an before abbreviations can be tricky. The abbreviation for Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) causes confusion because it can be pronounced as a word (fak), or one letter at a time (F-A-Q). Using the guidelines above, one would say a FAQ when it is pronounced as one word, and an FAQ when it is pronounced one letter at a time.


accept

to agree; to receive

except

but, with the exception that


ad

advertisement

add

to perform addition


ades

fruit drinks

aides

people who help; assistants

AIDS

acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

aids

helps, assists


adverse

unfortunate; strongly opposed (refers to things, not people)

Examples: an adverse reaction to the medication

                     adverse weather conditions

averse

having repugnance (refers to people)

Example: He is averse to a military draft.


advice (noun)

recommendation

advise (verb)

the act of giving a recommendation


affect vs. effect

Rule 1. Use effect when you mean bring about or brought about, cause or caused.

Example: He effected a commotion in the crowd.

Meaning: He caused a commotion in the crowd.

Rule 2. Use effect when you mean result.

Example: What effect did that speech have?

Rule 3. Also use effect whenever any of these words precede it: a, an, any, the, take, into, no. These words may be separated from effect by an adjective.

Examples: That book had a long-lasting effect on my thinking.

                     Has the medicine produced any noticeable effects?

Rule 4. Use the verb affect when you mean to influence rather than to cause.

Example: How do the budget cuts affect your staffing?

Rule 5. Affect is used as a noun to mean emotional expression.

Example: She showed little affect when told she had won the lottery.


ail

to be ill; to cause pain or distress

ale

malt beverage more bitter than beer


air

what we breathe

err

make a mistake

heir

one who inherits something


aisle

passageway

I’ll

contraction for I will

isle

a small island


all

entire, everything

awl

a tool


allot

to parcel out

a lot

always two words meaning many


allowed

gave permission to

aloud

said out loud; spoken


all ready

means all are ready

Example: We are all ready to go.

already

refers to time

Example: Is it summer already?


all together

refers to a group; all of us or all of them together

Example: It is wonderful to be all together to celebrate your birthday.

altogether

entirely

Example: It is not altogether his fault.

altar

pedestal, usually religious

Example: They exchanged wedding vows at the altar of the church.

alter

to modify

Example: Please don't alter your plans until we have the final schedule approved.


allude

to refer indirectly

Example: He alluded to his past as a spy.

elude

avoid capture

Example: The fugitive eluded the police for a month.

illude

mislead

Example: He illuded her about his age.


allusion

an indirect mention of something

illusion

false perception


ambiguous

to have more than one meaning

Example: The law was ambiguous.

ambivalent

to have mixed feelings

Example: She is ambivalent about her wedding dress.


amicable

friendly (refers to things, not people)

amiable

friendly (refers to people)

Example: The amiable couple had an amicable divorce.


among

involves three or more

Example: Who among us has not lied?

between

involves just two

Example: She couldn’t decide between Chinese and Thai food.


amount

used for things not countable

Example: We couldn't handle that amount of ill will.

number

used for things that can be counted

Example: The number of accidents increased by ten percent.


ant

a bug

aunt

the sister of a parent


ante

a bet placed before playing

auntie

affectionate term for a parent’s sister


anxious

to have anxiety or worry

Example: She is anxious about taking the test.

eager

excited

Example: She is eager to get a puppy.


any more

something additional or further

Example: It didn’t rain any more this year than last year.

anymore

any longer, nowadays

Example: Harry doesn’t travel anymore.


appraise

to put a value on something

apprise

to notify


arc

arch, crescent, half moon

ark

a vessel or a refuge


ascent (noun)

movement upward

assent (noun or verb)

enthusiastic agreement; to agree

consent

agreement


assistance (noun)

help

assistants (noun)

people who help


assumption

an idea not based on evidence

presumption

an idea based on evidence


assure

to promise or say with confidence

ensure

to make sure something will/won't happen

insure

to issue an insurance policy


ate

past tense of eat

eight

the number after seven


aural

having to do with hearing

oral

having to do with the mouth


averse

(see adverse)


awed

in a state of amazement

odd

unusual; opposite of even when referring to numbers


aye

yes

eye

organ one sees with

I

pronoun

 

Misused Words

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