English is a tough language. There are so many rules, and so many words that sound alike, but mean completely different things. There may be words in your everyday vocabulary you aren’t aware you’re misusing. There are words and phrases we use in conversation that don’t actually make sense grammatically. Sometimes, you may have the right word in mind, but the correct word, when written, is actually one letter off. Even after years of education, we all make mistakes now and then. It’s still easy to mess up when you know what the rules are, even more so if you don’t. We’ve compiled a list of some of the words students most commonly mistake for one another. Make a mental note or bookmark this page so that you avoid these mistakes in the future.
Accept means “to receive (She accepted the award for her hard work).” Except means “excluding (He liked all the options except the last one).”
Affect is a verb: The neighbor’s loud music affected Chuck’s ability to study. Effect is a noun: Kate’s good grades were the effect of much studying. Try substituting the word “alter” or “result.” If alter fits, use “affect.” If result fits, use “effect.”
Allude means “to refer to (Tina alluded to her favorite TV show in her speech).” Elude means “to escape from (Ron eluded his mother’s questions for another day).”
Among indicates a loose relationship between many things (Jake walked among the crowd on his way to class). Between expresses a relationship between one thing and one or more things (While walking, Jake exchanged text messages between him and his friends).
Complement means “to complete (Many people agree that peanut butter complements jelly).” Compliment means “to flatter (Ross smiled when the boss complimented his work).”
Use either…or when describing two options (The students decided that they would either go to a museum or a farm for their field trip). Use neither…nor when describing options that are not possible (Neither Bob nor Cindy were able to come out to karaoke tonight).
Elicit means “to draw out/evoke (Beth’s sculpture elicited many puzzled looks from the crowd).” Illicit means “illegal (The government considers many substances to be illicit).”
Farther indicates a physical distance (The car could not drive any farther as it was out of gas). Further indicates a metaphorical distance (Naomi wondered how much further it would be to complete the project).
Use “I” as the subject (Josh and I will take the message to Sandra). Use “me” as the object of a verb or preposition (The boss gave a promotion to Julia and me).
Use “it’s” as a contraction for “it is (It’s my birthday today!).” Use “its” to show ownership (Kendrick wanted to buy an umbrella at the store, but he did not like its color).
Lead, when it rhymes with bed, refers to a type of metal (Lance wore a lead gown to protect himself from the x-rays). When lead rhymes with read (present tense), it means “to guide (The teacher leads the children through the hallways).” Led is the past tense of the verb lead, meaning “to guide (Mary led her friends to the best restaurant in town).”
Less and Much/Fewer and Many
Use less and much when talking about things that cannot be counted (Allison had fewer errors on her assignment, so she spent less time doing corrections). Use Fewer and many when talking about things that can be counted (Steve felt much joy when he won many awards).
Lie means “to tell a lie (Susie lies too much).” It can also mean “to recline (Jennifer loves to lie down on the beach during the summer).” Lay means “to place down (I lay down my phone for a short time).”
Loose is usually an adjective meaning “free/released from attachment (The gate was open, so the farmer’s cattle were loose).” Lose is always a verb, meaning “to misplace” or “to not be victorious (Kelsey did not want to lose the race.”
Use “than” when making a comparison (Apple is larger than most companies). Use “then” when referring to a cause and effect relationship or time (If Mike studies for one hour, then he will go to the concert).
Use “there” to indicate a place (Chris said that the store is there, at the corner of the street). Use “their” to show ownership (The ideals amazed the teacher). Use “they’re” as a contraction for “they are (They’re running for student government this year).”
Use “to” to indicate direction (Brian walked to the grocery store) or to form infinitives (He wanted to buy some juice). Use “too” when talking about quantities of things (While at the store, he decided to buy some candy too). Use “two” to indicate the number 2 (In all, Brian bought two items at the store).
Use “who” to refer to people (The man who left his wallet returned shortly). Use “which” to refer to things that are not considered people (Which brand of computer do you prefer?).
Use “which” when referring to things that are not essential to the sentence or phrase (Frank bought a car, which had a zebra-stripe pattern, for his birthday). Use “that” when referring to things that are essential to the sentence or phrase (Michelle wanted a dog that could sit in her lap).
Use “who” as the subject (Who is the person that designed the poster?). Use “whom” as the object of a verb or preposition (To whom do I deliver the flowers?).
Use “who’s” as a contraction for “who is (Who’s in charge of this group?).” Use “whose” to show ownership (The journalist wanted to know whose story was more accurate).
Use “your” to show ownership (“How would you like your food prepared?” asked the waiter). Use “you’re” as a contraction for “you are (You’re the best candidate for the job).
If you need help beyond the occasional grammar mistake, consider getting a tutor. We’re here to help!
Looking for more? Try this: 21 Tips For Increasing Your ACT English Score.