The English language can’t really be classified as a hard language to learn. In fact, English doesn’t even make it on the lists of most difficult languages in the world. Regardless if you are a native speaker or not, learning the grammar, vocabulary, syntax and sentence structure of the language should be a priority if you want to be a successful writer.
A common misconception is that if someone is a native speaker they will be better in the language than someone who just had their BA in the language. In terms of speaking – maybe. In terms of writing – not necessarily. It all comes down to the degree of knowledge of the science of the language that the person has.
There is an evident reason for that: the English language is a non-phonetic language, meaning that words are not spelled in the same way they are pronounced. Add the number of homophones, homographs and homonyms the English language has to the picture, and you have a perfect formula for confusion.
Most of the speakers are not even aware that they are making mistake when it comes to common words such as they, their and there, or Wednesdays and Wednesday’s. The native speaker who hasn’t studied the language in-depth might not see the misuse of words because they go by the sound of the words. The skilled English language undergraduate whose mother tongue isn’t English might be able to easily correct the mistakes. Those mistakes have nothing to do with the person’s ability to speak, but rather with their writing skills and vocabulary.
Being a writer means that you know when to use its instead of it’s. You know the difference between whole and hole. You don’t get confused between affect and effect. However, the structure of the language itself and the versatility of the English vocabulary makes no person immune to making a mistake and completely misusing a word just because they sound the same.
We will explore the most common misused words in the English language and point out the differences and the cases in which they should be used. Once they have been pointed out, it will become easier to spot then and avoid misusing them in your writing!
The Word Choice Trap
Homophones are, figuratively speaking, the easiest to go wrong on. By definition, homophones are “two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling”, so if someone is acting awkward around you, check your last email you sent to them in case you have written “bare with me” instead of “bear with me”. Speaking of that…
Bear vs Bare
The first meaning of bear is a large animal. However, when used as a verb instead of a noun, it means to carry something. Back to our little example, if you use it in the context “bear with me”, you are asking a person to hold on and wait until you complete a certain action.
Bare on the other hand, means exposed, in some cases even naked, like for example bare arms. No wonder it can lead to confusion!
Principle and Principal
A principal is a noun that refers to a person who is in a role of an authority such as a school principal. A principle is a truth or a proposition which is the foundation for a certain system of beliefs, for example, a principle of justice. A principal who has good principles is a person who knows how to properly lead an organization.
Through and Threw
A person might’ve gone and threw something through something. Threw is the past participle of throw and it carries the meaning of changing the location of something by using the force of the arm and the and to discharge it. Through, on the other hand, is a spatial preposition meaning to go in from one place and out from another, like going through an alleyway.
Quite and Quiet
It’s quite quiet out here, isn’t it? It might not be, but these two words definitely are another pair that are misused more often than expected. Quiet is a synonym for silent, while quite is another word for somewhat.
Compliment and Complement
That necklace complements that dress. Now go tell someone that and give them a compliment. A compliment is a statement in the form of a praise, while a complement is an element that fits in the bigger picture well.
Desert and Dessert
You surely wouldn’t want to have a desert to finish a three-course meal. Ask a doctor, they will tell you that you should not be eating sand, especially not large quantities of it! It will not satisfy your sugar cravings anyway. Try having a dessert instead.
Advice and Advise
Someone can give you an advice, but they might not always advise you wisely. Both words here share the same core meaning, but the way of using them is what makes a difference. Advice is a noun that means opinion or recommendation, while advise is the action of giving an advice.
Aisle and Isle
If your favourite grocery store has isles instead of aisles, then you definitely live on an advanced planet where supermarkets go cross-country. An aisle is a passage between two rows, while an isle is basically a small island such as Isle of Man!
Dual and Duel
You can challenge someone to a duel, but if you challenge them to a dual they will probably get confused. A duel is a challenge between two people – darts, boxing, drinking – whatever activity in which there is a winner, while dual is an adjective that describes something that has two parts.
Die and Dye
If you say to someone that your hair died, they will have a troubled look on their face imagining your ponytail saying its final words before leaving the material world. No, hair is not that dramatic, which is why we dye it instead of letting it die. Dye means changing the color of something and it can be both a verb and a noun. Die on the other hand…we all know what that means. Oh, and it is also a verb!
Adapt and Adopt
You can’t adopt to having a lavish lifestyle, because if it was that easy, we would all go to the lifestyle foster place and adopt a different lifestyle. Now, if you adapt to a certain lifestyle, that’s a completely different matter. Adapt is another way to say getting used to something, while adopt means legally taking something as your own.
Cue and Queue
Cue is a signal, like waving to somebody for example. Queue is that sad place where you are stuck for hours while you are waiting to get into the arena to see your favourite band – a long line basically.
Raise and Rise
This is an example where grammar gets involved on a large scale. Both raise and rise mean going in a upward direction. However, raise is a transitive verb, meaning it requires an object, like for example raising a hand. Rise is intransitive and should not be followed by on object. The Sun rises every day and it is a strong independent ball of hot gas that doesn’t need an object (at least in sentences).
Therefor and Therefore
These two misused words can be a rather tricky pair from evident reasons. Therefor is an adverb and it means “for that”. Therefore, is also an adverb that carries the meaning “as a consequence of”. Two adverbs, same pronunciation, the difference is one letter, and they have a completely different meaning – not confusing at all!
Loose and Lose
You can lose your favorite ring because it was too loose. Lose means to misplace something, while loose means the opposite of tight.
Waist and Waste
A waist is that part of your body that makes you look great in the new dress – it is the narrower part of your body just below the ribs and just above the hips. Waste can refer to garbage, but it can be used in the context “waste of time” – you can use it to describe the time you spent cleaning your car before it started raining.
The Ones We Can Easily Slip On
In all fairness, homophones are the words that all of us usually slip on. However, there are some words that should go separately for the purpose of stressing how often they are misused and they are words that we use every day.
Everyday and Every Day
Everyday is an adjective that describes a frequency of an activity, something frequent. Every day on the other hand, is just a phrase that carries the simple meaning of “each day”.
Then and Than
Probably the most misused pair of word anywhere in the world – then and than. So alike, yet so different. Than is used for comparing items, for example, light is faster than sound. Then is used in relation to time, like having a shower then going to bed.
Its and It’s
Its describes possession or property of something, in the same ways that his or her do. It’s s an abbreviated form of it is, in some cases even of it has.
Their, There, They’re
Knowing the difference between these three is the biggest moment of glory for any person, regardless if they are a writer or not.
Their – possessive form for 3rd person plural
There – adverb that refers to a place
They’re – abbreviated form of they are
But you knew that already, didn’t you? Here are some memes on the matter that will make you laugh.
Choosing the right words is what makes a good writer stand out. In fact, it is a real pleasure to have the opportunity to choose between so many different available words that the English language has. However, as we showed you in our misused words list, the slightest drop in attention can cause a “catastrophic” mistake. Chances are, not many will notice it because these mistakes are common and often go undetected, but if you notice one such misuse yourself after publishing the article it will feel like the end of the world for sure.
Hopefully you will find our list of misused words handy and helpful on your quest to become a better writer!