20 Common Word Errors and How to Avoid Them
Ok, let's start by saying I am not an authority on this and have probably been caught using at least a few of these incorrectly in my time. Whilst completing my qualification to be a proofreader, I came across a great resource for misused words on the Chicago Manual of Style site. They call it the Glossary of Problematic Words and Phrases. I spent hours going through this list going down a rabbit hole, only to surface an hour later wondering what I had originally wanted to look up! Here are my 20 common word errors with my top 10 misused words and top 10 misspelt ones. With another caveat that they can vary depending on the context and region.
Top 10 misused and confused word errors.
'Their' is possessive, 'They're' is a contraction of 'they are,' and 'There' indicates a place or location. 'Their' is often confused with 'they're' or 'there' because of their similar pronunciation.
Incorrect 'Their going to the store.'
Correct 'They're going to the store.'
'Your' is possessive, and 'You're' is a contraction of 'you are.' Your' is frequently mistaken for 'you're' as they sound the same when spoken aloud.
Incorrect 'Your welcome to join us with you're friends.'
Correct 'You're welcome to join us with your friends.'
'Its' is possessive, and 'It's' is a contraction of 'it is' or 'it has.' 'Its' is misused as 'it's' because of the common association of an apostrophe with possessive forms.
Incorrect 'The dog wagged it's tail.'
Correct 'The dog wagged its tail.'
'Effect' is a noun that refers to the result or consequence, while 'Affect' is a verb meaning to influence or have an impact on. 'Affect' and 'effect' are often confused because they are homophones (two or more words that sound the same [identical pronunciation], but have different meanings). The distinction between them can be challenging to remember.
Correct 'The medicine had a positive effect on my health.'
Incorrect 'The second cup of coffee had no affect on me.'
Correct 'The drought affected the growth of the crop.'
'Then' relates to time or sequencing, while 'Than' is used in comparisons. 'Then' and 'than' are easily interchanged due to their similar pronunciation. The correct usage depends on the context, making it prone to confusion.
Incorrect 'I would rather go for a walk then watch a movie.'
Correct 'I would rather go for a walk than watch a movie.'
'Loose' is an adjective meaning not tight or secure, while 'Lose' is a verb meaning to misplace or be deprived of something. Loose' and 'lose' are often misused due to their similar pronunciation. Their distinct meanings can be easily overlooked or confused.
Incorrect 'I don't want to loose the game.'
Correct 'I don't want to lose the game.'
'Principle' refers to a fundamental truth or guiding belief, while 'Principal' can mean a person in a position of authority or someone or something that is the most important, consequential, or influential. 'Principle' and 'principal' are words that sound similar but have different meanings. The confusion arises from the similarity in pronunciation and the overlapping usage of the word 'principal' to refer to both a person and a financial concept.
Incorrect 'The school's principle is responsible for discipline.'
Correct 'The school's principal is responsible for discipline.'
'Complement' means to complete or enhance something, while 'Compliment' is an expression of praise or admiration. 'Complement' and 'compliment' are frequently interchanged due to their similar spellings and pronunciations.
Incorrect The necklace really compliments your dress.'
Correct 'The necklace really complements your dress.'
Correct 'He complimented me on my dress.'
'Discreet' means careful or cautious in one's speech or actions, while 'Discrete' refers to separate or distinct things. It's used especially in mathematical and research contexts as the opposite of 'continuous.' Discreet' and 'discrete' are often misused due to their similar spellings and pronunciations. However, they have different meanings and contexts of usage.
Correct 'It’s essential to be discreet in my line of work.'
Correct 'The patient passed through several discrete stages of illness before recovering.'
'Farther' relates to physical distance, while 'Further' is used in the sense of additional or to a greater extent. The traditional distinction is to use farther for a physical distance (we drove farther north to see the autumn foliage) and further for a figurative distance (let’s examine this further) (look no further.) Although it’s a refinement of slight importance, connoisseurs will appreciate it.
Incorrect 'The route was 5 miles further than the map suggested.' (But Brits will use this all the time!)
Correct 'The route was 5 miles farther than the map suggested.'
Top 10 misspelt words.
Here are my top 10 commonly misspelt words. But before we continue, I must address the fact that a lot of words are spelt differently if you use British English (used in the UK, Australia and New Zealand) or if you use American English. Spelled is mostly used in America, and either Spelled or, more commonly, Spelt is used in England. (Of course, spelt is also a species of wheat!)
The double 'm' and double 'c' in 'accommodation' can trip people up. The repeated letters can be easily overlooked or mistakenly reduced to one of each.
'Definitely' can be misspelled as 'definately' due to the phonetic similarity between the 'i' and 'a' sounds. People rely on what they hear rather than the correct spelling.
The correct spelling of 'separate' often gets confused because of the common mistake of interchanging the positions of the 'a' and 'e,' resulting in 'seperate.' I try and remember the R "separating" two As.
'Receive' can be misspelled as 'recieve.' The 'i' and 'e' placement can be confusing, and the incorrect spelling may come from the habit of pronouncing the word with a long 'i' sound. You can always try remembering "I before E, except after C", which is a mnemonic rule of thumb for English spelling. But be careful; there are always exceptions to the rule!
Who knew there were 2 Rs? 'Embarrass' often becomes misspelled as 'embarass'. People may inadvertently omit one of the 'r's while typing or writing, leading to this common error. It might help to know that the word has its roots in the French 'embarrasser.'
The double 'c' and double 'r' in 'occurrence' can be difficult to remember, leading to misspellings such as 'ocurrence' or 'occurance.'
Another word that is prone to misspelling because of its French origin and unfamiliar letter combinations. Common misspellings include variations like 'restaraunt' or 'resturant', where the placement of the vowels gets jumbled. This is one of my favourites as I can't help hearing Barry from The Big Bang Theory trying to get Siri to understand him saying 'Wecommend a westauwant.'
'Privilege' is often misspelled as 'priviledge'. The incorrect spelling may arise from the pronunciation of the word or the influence of similar words like 'allege' or 'alleged.'
The word 'conscience' can be tricky to spell, and people often mistakenly write 'consciense' or 'concsience.' I try and remember con+science.
'Unnecessary' is a word that frequently gets misspelt as 'unneccessary' due to the repetition of the 'c' and 's' sounds. So ironically you end up with an unnecessary 'C'!
Remember, language is a beautiful and complex tool that allows us to communicate our thoughts, ideas, and emotions. However, it's not uncommon to stumble upon certain words that give us trouble, whether through misspellings or misuse. The examples I've shown are just a few, and shed light on some of the linguistic hurdles we face.
But fear not! Mistakes are a natural part of learning and growing, and by recognising and understanding these common pitfalls, we can enhance our language skills together. Remember, language is a living entity, constantly evolving and shaped by its speakers. Embrace the journey of improving your language proficiency, and let's celebrate the joy of effective communication.
So, whether it's mastering the proper usage of "there" and "their" or perfecting the spelling of "accommodation," we can overcome these challenges by practicing, seeking knowledge, and supporting one another. Let's foster an environment of warmth and friendliness, where language becomes a bridge rather than a barrier. I would love to know which words have tripped you up in the past. Pop a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and start a conversation. Who knows where it might lead? Maybe I can help you find the right words, or maybe you can teach me some new ones.
Keep exploring, keep learning, and let your words resonate with clarity and kindness. Together, we can continue to cultivate a rich and vibrant linguistic landscape.