Spelling, Vocabulary, and Confusing Words

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Many words in English sound or look alike, causing confusion and not a few headaches. This section lists some of these words, and other troublemakers.


WAIST, WASTE

Waist: the part of the human body between the ribs and hips.

Waste: garbage (noun); to squander (verb); to spend uselessly (verb).


WAIT, WEIGHT

Wait: to stay; to be available.

Weight: heaviness; significance.


WAIVER, WAVER

Waiver: relinquishment of a right.

Waver: to feel indecisive; to swing unsteadily.


WARN, WORN

Warn: to notify about trouble.

Worn: carried on the body; deteriorated.


WARRANTEE, WARRANTY

Warrantee: a person who is given a written guarantee or a warrant.

Warranty: a written guarantee.


WARY, WEARY

Wary: mistrustful; guarded.

Weary: exhausted; drained.


WAY, WEIGH

Way: a method; a direction; a manner.

Weigh: to measure mass; to mull over.


WAYS TO GO

A ways to go, meaning "a considerable distance," is best avoided in formal writing.


WEAK, WEEK

Weak: lacking strength.

Week: a period of seven days.


WEATHER, WHETHER

Weather: climatic conditions (noun); to withstand (verb).

Whether: if; in case.


WHETHER OR NOT

Often, the or not can be dropped, as in I don't know whether or not you've heard this.


WHICH

See who, which, that.


WHILE, WILE

While: during.

Wile: a ploy to fool, trap, or entice.


WHO, WHICH, THAT

Use who only when referring to humans. Avoid such usages as a company who or a country who or a dog who. For those, that or which is correct.

Contrary to superstition, that is perfectly acceptable when applied to people. The Man That Got Away and The Girl That I Marry, two hit ballads from the mid-twentieth century, were written at a time when the popular culture expected literacy from its songwriters. And don't forget the famous quotation from the Gospel of John which begins, "He that is without sin among you …"

Which as a pronoun should never refer to humans. (It's an adjective in sentences like Which man do you mean?)


WHOLE

See hole, whole.


WHOLLY

See holy, wholly.


WHO'S, WHOSE

Who's is a contraction of who is or who has.

Whose is the possessive case of who.

Who's the man whose wife called?


WITH REGARD(S) TO

See in regard(s) to, with regard(s) to.


WON'T, WONT

Won't: contraction of will not.

Wont: habit; custom (nouns); accustomed (adjective).


WORN

See warn, worn.


WRACK

See rack, wrack.


WRAP

See rap, wrap.


WREAK

See reek, wreak.


WREAK (WRECK) HAVOC

Because wreak havoc means "to cause destruction," some mistakenly think the first word of the phrase is wreck.


WREST

See rest, wrest.


WRETCH

See retch, wretch.


WRING

See ring, wring.


WRITE

See right, rite, write.


WRY

See rye, wry.


Misused Words

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