Confusing Word Pairs

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When words have similar spelling, pronunciation, or meaning, those words can be confusing. Being able to define and use words correctly will help you express your thoughts more clearly. While this handout reviews confusing word pairs and word groups generally, always work with your audience and assignment in mind.


Accept is a verb showing agreement, and except is typically a preposition indicating exclusion.

  • Example: I accept your apology.
  • Example: I like all vegetables except broccoli.


Affect is a verb meaning to influence, and effect refers to a result (noun) or cause (verb).

  • Example: Will missing class affect my grade?
  • Example: The effect of missing class will be a lower grade. (noun)
  • Example: Only the supervisor could effect change to the rules. (verb)


Allusion is a noun describing an indirect reference to something, and illusion is a noun indicating something that gives a false meaning or appearance.

  • Example: The speaker made an allusion to a Greek myth.
  • Example: A magician uses illusion to entertain the audience.


Among is a preposition describing association or closeness to three or more people or things, and between is also a preposition describing association or closeness, but it only refers to two people or things.

  • Example: There was a discussion among the group of friends.
  • Example: The argument was between Daniel and David.


Cite is a verb meaning to quote an example or authority. Site is a noun meaning a particular place. Sight is another noun which describes the function of seeing.

  • Example: You must cite all your sources in your research paper.
  • Example: We visited several tourist sites.
  • Example: Human beings have five senses: sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell.


A compliment is a noun referring to an expression of praise, and complement is a noun that means to complete or add to something.

  • Example: Her compliment of my new dress made me smile.
  • Example: Butter is the perfect complement for bread.


Council is a noun meaning a group of people who meet to make decisions, and counsel can mean advice (noun) or the act of giving advice (verb).

  • Example: Anne was elected president of the school’s student council.
  • Example: My mom gave me good counsel about living on my own. (noun)
  • Example: She counseled me to not procrastinate my homework. (verb)


Explicit is an adjective meaning direct, and implicit is an adjective meaning implied.

  • Example: Professor Anderson gave explicit instructions for writing the paper.
  • Example: Her description of the party contained an implicit insult of the host.


Farther is an adjective that describes a literal distance and indicates a greater extent or degree, and further is an adjective meaning more distant in time, space, quantity, or degree.

  • Example: My house is farther from campus than yours.
  • Example: Nothing could be further from the truth.


Fewer is an adjective meaning a small number of people or things that can be counted, and less is an adjective that refers to a small, non-specific amount.

  • Example: I own fewer books than my brother.
  • Example: I prefer less salt on my popcorn.


Good is an adjective meaning suitable, and well is most often an adverb indicating competence or completion or an adjective indicating good health.

  • Example: It was a good movie.
  • Example: She plays basketball well.


Imply is a verb meaning to suggest or state indirectly (referring to the action of the author or speaker), and infer is a verb meaning to draw a conclusion (referring to the action of the reader or audience).

  • Example: He implied that I wasn’t capable of completing the job.
  • Example: I inferred there was trouble from the sight of the police cars.


The word its is a personal possessive pronoun of the word it, and it’s is a contraction of it is or it has.

  • Example: The bird broke its wing.
  • Example: Unfortunately, it’s time to leave. (it is)
  • Example: It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. (it has)


Lay is often a verb describing the act of placing an object down on a surface, and lie is often a verb meaning to be horizontally positioned on a surface

  • Example: Lay the book on the table.
  • Example: I’m going to lie down for a while.


Like is often a preposition indicating close resemblance; as is an adverb used to compare or show equivalence.

  • Example: The boy swam like a fish.
  • Example: Ramone dressed up as a doctor for his presentation.


Loose is an adjective meaning not tight, and lose is a verb that means to misplace or to be defeated.

  • Example: I like to wear loose clothing.
  • Example: I hate it when I lose my keys. (misplace)
  • Example: The team was hoping they wouldn’t lose the game. (defeated)

May be/Maybe

The phrase may be is used as a verb to mean something is likely, and maybe is an adverb indicating possibility.

  • Example: The storm may be more hazardous than we thought.
  • Example: Maybe you should go to the doctor and have your sore throat checked.


Principal is a noun meaning the head of a school or an adjective meaning most important, and principle is a noun meaning a basic truth.

  • Example: Mrs. Sanchez, the principal of the school, is a very energetic woman. (noun)
  • Example: The principal speaker of the program went first. (adjective)
  • Example: When doing business, it is a good principle to be honest with clients.


Quite is an adverb meaning whole or complete, quiet is an adjective meaning not making much noise, and quit is a verb meaning to stop or give up.

  • Example: She is quite thorough in her calculations.
  • Example: Please be quiet during the performance.
  • Example: I quit my job last Thursday.


Set is often a verb meaning to place and is used when talking about an object or place, and sit is a verb meaning to be seated and is used when talking about something physically taking the sitting position.

  • Example: Ashley set her books on the table and got a snack.
  • Example: Come sit by me.


Than is a conjunction introducing additional elements in a comparison, and then is an adverb meaning at that time, next, or after.

  • Example: I am taller than my sister.
  • Example: He picked up the tickets, and then he picked up his friend.


There is often used as an adverb meaning in an area. Their is a personal possessive pronoun for they or a gender neutral pronoun for an individual person. They’re is a contraction for they are.

  • Example: Put the books down there.
  • Example: It’s their fault!
  • Example: They’re going to eat dinner at seven.


Thorough is an adjective meaning complete in all respects, through is a preposition meaning in one side and out another side, and threw is the irregular past tense form of the verb throw.

  • Example: Steve did a thorough job washing my car.
  • Example: To get to my apartment, you must drive through the tunnel.
  • Example: Sarah threw the ball at me and hit me in the head.


To can either be a preposition or the first part of an infinitive verb phrase, too is an adverb meaning in addition, and two is the word for the number 2.

  • Example: My mom sent me to the store. (preposition)
  • Example: To break the law is wrong. (infinitive)
  • Example: I like dancing, but I like singing too.
  • Example: I have two dogs.


Weather is a noun that refers to the temperature, precipitation, and other conditions of the atmosphere, and whether is a conjunction that indicates a choice between things.

  • Example: We are having unusual weather for this time of year.
  • Example: Miguel couldn’t decide whether he should go to the dance or stay home.


Whose is a personal possessive pronoun for who, and who’s is a contraction for who is or who has.

  • Example: Whose book is that anyway?
  • Example: Who’s here? (who is)
  • Example: Who’s got the answer? (who has)


Your is a personal possessive pronoun for you, and you’re is a contraction for you are.

  • Example: Is that your new car?
  • Example: You’re a good friend.