Common Misspelled Words - Affect versus Effect, and Others

Misspelled Words, Confusing Words, and Grammar Mistakes Happen!

Several years ago when my son was a freshman in high school he was assigned a paper to write for a history class. History was always one of his stronger subjects, so I was a little surprised when I noticed that his grade took a dip. And then I saw the reason:

"Realigns of the World"

This glaring error, using the word realigns instead of religions, did not stop at the title. It was sprinkled throughout the entire paper. After I got over being horrified, it occurred to me that he had relied on his word processor's spell check. Blindly, he let it auto-"correct" an already misspelled religions with realigns.

English is a tricky language, with exceptions to almost all the rules. Misspelled words; confusing words and their meanings; and other grammar mistakes are all too common. Not only do people let these errors slip by, so too do word processors.

Are you having trouble with confusing words?

Every writer should have a reference source to avoid misspelling words and other grammar mistakes. A book or a bookmarked website are two ways to have accessible answers.
Every writer should have a reference source to avoid misspelling words and other grammar mistakes. A book or a bookmarked website are two ways to have accessible answers.

Avoid Grammar Mistakes When Choosing Between Words that Sound Similar

The Little, Brown Handbook, a required book for my college English courses in the 1980s, is the one textbook that is still in my possession. It has served me well over the years, especially as a quick reference guide for some of the trickiest grammar and word usage questions I have encountered while writing. Buried in the back is the "Glossary of Usage" which provides explanations on the use of words and phrases that often cause problems for writers.

This short online guide to grammar errors resulting from misspelled words will highlight five very common pairs of confusing words:

Affect versus Effect

Affect is a verb and means "to influence."

  • Her low homework grade did not affect her overall class grade much at all.

Effect is usually a noun meaning "result." Effect can also be used as a verb meaning "to bring about."

  • (noun) Studying with a partner had a positive effect on her exam grade.
  • (verb) His petition efforts effected a change in rules.

Than versus Then

Than is a conjunction used in comparisons.

  • I would rather go to the early movie than the late one.

Then is an adverb indicating time.

  • Let's go to dinner and then see a movie.

Lose versus Loose

Lose is a verb meaning "to mislay."

  • Be sure you do not lose your car keys.

Loose is an adjective meaning "unrestrained" or "not tight." While not as common, loose also can be used as a verb meaning "let loose."

  • (adjective) Don't open the gate; the dog is loose in the yard.
  • (verb) Loose the dogs as soon as we get to the dog park.

Farther versus Further

Farther refers to additional distance.

  • The store is farther down the road than the school.

Further refers to additional time.

  • There is no need to talk about this any further.

Lay versus Lie

Perhaps lay versus lie is the most confusing of all the word choices, especially since the word lay is also the same word that is used to represent the past tense of lie. The best rule of thumb is that in the present tense lay means to place something in a horizontal or flat position, and lie is to be in a horizontal position.

Lay is a transitive verb. Transitive verbs are nearly always followed by direct objects. The three forms of lay are: lay (plain dictionary form), laid (past tense), and laid (past participle used with have, has, or had).

  • If we lay a towel on the beach, then we won't get sand on our clothing. Since it laid there all day it got dirty.

LIe is an intransitive verb. Intransitive verbs are verbs that make complete sentences without use of an object. The three forms of lie are: lie (plain dictionary form), lay (past tense), and lain (past participle used with have, has, or had).

  • Chicago lies west of Lake Michigan.
  • I lay awake all night, just as I had lain the night before.

Confusing Word Choices: Lay versus Lie

To put or place in a horizontal position or position of rest (source:
To be in a horizontal or reclined position (source:
Present Tense
Past Tense
Past Participle (use with have, has, or had)
There are many confusing word choices in the English language, resulting in misspelled words. Lay and lie could perhaps be the most confusing.

Tips for Correcting Misspelled Words and Other Grammar Mistakes

  • Purchase a helpful reference book, such as the latest edition of The Little, Brown Handbook.
  • Bookmark helpful online websites and articles to use for future reference.
  • Do not rely on a word processor's spell check tool.
  • Read your words out loud and revise as necessary.
  • Hire a proofreader or have someone else read your work.

Recommended Grammar Reference Books

The Little Brown Workbook (11th Edition)
The Little Brown Workbook (11th Edition)

A handy textbook to help avoid grammar mistakes and misspelled words.

Little, Brown Essential Handbook, The (5th Edition)
Little, Brown Essential Handbook, The (5th Edition)

Older editions of the Little, Brown Handbook are usually available at much lower prices and since grammar rules really don't change, will still be a very helpful reference guide.

The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition
The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition

The most widely read and employed English style manual is also a good reference book for all writers to have on their bookshelves.


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Comments 31 comments

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

This is a well done resource hub that is a service to everyone! I try so hard to remember that something affected didn't cause the event, but I still get confused because if it influenced the event wasn't it part of the cause? :)

Voted up and this is another that should have the option "important" to click on...thanks much!

Howard S. profile image

Howard S. 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

You done good! I mean, you did well. Many similar hubs miss the essential distinctives while attempting to give rules of thumb, and are almost always rife with spelling and grammatical errors. That doesn't instill confidence in the reader.

To add to an excellent hub, may I suggest:

1) Present a link to purchase the book (despite not living in an Amazon-friendly state).

2) Affect is also a noun, although rarely used outside of psychology and emotional states. I think affect and effect are among the hardest to control because both can be n. and v. and the meanings seem inextricably tangled. Not only can someone affect an effect, but arguably effect an affect. To explain further would require an entire hub.

3) A convenient rule of thumb for than/then is the question word when. If the question "when?" is appropriate to the context, answer with the rhyming word then. If not, then use than.

4) A similar rule of thumb works for farther/further. If the question phrase "how far?" is appropriate, answer with the words far, farther or farthest, not further or furthest.

5) You could emphasize the transitivity of lay by inserting the word "something" after the boldfaced instance of "place".

None of these suggestions imply the hub has any errors. I am a linguist and editor, operating in that role. This is the finest hub I have seen of this nature. Voted up and useful.

CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 5 years ago from Arizona

Great hub, I always mess up using affect and effect. Hopefully now I won't anymore. I will probably have to come back here every time I need to write that word.

stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Awesome! I have to admit that poor use of grammar, punctuation, etc. is a big pet peeve of mine (I absolutely cringe when the possessive is used, rather than plural: "Hat's for sale")

Another great resource for writers/proofreaders is Strunk and White's Elements of Style. Rated up and useful! Great job, Steph

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

RTalloni. I appreciate you taking the time to read my articles and comment on them. The fact that you consider some of my hubs "important" work is very flattering.

As far as affect and effect go, I tend to only use the verb affect and the noun effect, although if you read Howard's comment he rightly points out that affect can also be a noun in rare instances. So if affect is used primarily as a verb and effect is used primarily as a noun, then that narrows it down on which is the proper one to use.

I cannot imagine learning English as a second language, that much I know for sure!

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Howard S. - Thank you once again for your confidence-building words.

I appreciate all of your suggestions and did add some Amazon links to a few grammar reference books. I love your "rules of thumb" for then/than and farther/further. Those are really helpful.

As you so kindly suggested, I added "something" to the definition of lay as that better points out that lay is usually used with a direct object (something).

I certainly appreciate that you are willing to share your expertise as a linguist and editor. Your tips and suggestions are very useful to all writers.

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

CWanamaker - I'm so glad you found this article helpful, especially with whether or not to use the word affect or effect. You definitely are not alone.

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Steph - Thank you so much for commenting. I appreciate the book recommendation and have included a link to it. Now that I think about it, I think my son may have used that book for college English last year.

Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

A woman after my own heart! I'm working on a grammar hub! I love grammar and love your hub.

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Thank you Victoria. I will be watching for it. I think I am going to make a bookmark folder for grammar, and since I know you're an English professor anything you publish would probably be great to keep handy.

Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

Thanks, ktrapp! That's very cool of you to say! I'm just trying to finish up the hub to make it more attractive right now. Then I'm going to do a hub solely on possessives, as I see errors ALL the time with my students, with my co-workers, and even here on HubPages. I love grammar, so, needless to say, I enjoyed reading your hub!

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Aahh - Possessives - That's a great one. I will be looking out for it.

Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

A great one, huh? I like you! You must have a bit of the grammar geek in you, as well. :-)

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

I probably do, just a little bit :)

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

I found this extremely helpful as I'm always a little uncertain about affect/effect and farther/further. It makes me realize that it wouldn't hurt to dig out my old copy of Strunk and White and dust it off now and then! Hubs on grammar and punctuation are such good refreshers for us all. Voted up!

moonlake profile image

moonlake 5 years ago from America

I meed this book. VERY GOOD HUB. voted up.

moonlake profile image

moonlake 5 years ago from America

I guess I could have put need and not meed. It's hard to type with a big white cat on my keyboard.

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Stephanie, I am glad you found this short guide to be helpful. If you look at one of the comments made by Howard S. he gives a helpful tip for farther/further. Farther refers to distance and contains the word "far" in it. I think that is a real easy way to remember the difference between farther/further. Thanks for your vote. I appreciate it.

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Hi Moonlake. I often have trouble typing with my beagle cuddled as close as she can possibly get to me. I am trying to think of ways to improve my productivity and am thinking I might need to write more when she is asleep away from me at night.

Anyway, thank you for your comment and vote. If you scroll up you will see that Victoria Lynn has also written a helpful grammar hub.

stephaniedas profile image

stephaniedas 5 years ago from Miami, US

THANK YOU for publishing this. These are my pet peeves- especially effect and affect, then and than, and your and you're. Also, there their they're. So many people just don't know these rules, or don't care and it drives me nuts! Voted up!

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

You are welcome Steph. I have a feeling your list could go on and on :) You could add alot when it should be a lot and the mixing up to and too.

biancapaloma profile image

biancapaloma 5 years ago

Very useful and informative. I'm a bit of a spelling pedant, so I think you're providing the world with a good service here too!

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Hi Biancapaloma - I am glad you found this discussion on commonly misspelled words useful. I certainly hope others do as well when faced with choosing the correct spelling between words that are almost spelled the same but have entirely different meanings.

DREAM ON profile image

DREAM ON 5 years ago

I am in deep trouble now.With a great hub as yours guiding fellow hubbers in the right direction we should make less mistakes.I can not guarantee 100% even though you did such a wonderful job explaining and also listing a very valuable reference guide for all readers.I am pressed for time and try to write when I can correcting as I go.If I wait for everything to be perfect I would of never written one thing.I will post your important grammar hub on my refriderator as a reminder.I have a long way to go but I am on the right track.Thanks for sharing and caring and making writers better at what they love to do write and write well.Have a beautiful day.

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Dream On, Thank you for your honest comments. I don't think any of us can guarantee 100% accuracy in anything we do so that is why it is great to have reference guides to do just that -- guide us. Personally, I like to proofread my work a few times immediately after writing it, then I like to walk away from it for awhile and proof again later.

vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

Thank you for teaching others how to use these words and to spell them correctly. You could probably do another 100 or so just like this one. :) Voted up!

Outbound Dan profile image

Outbound Dan 5 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

Outstanding hub! I have a Master's in English and still misuse lie and lay. For me, it is one of those things I have to think about; I may "get it" in another twenty years or so.

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Thanks Dan. Your compliment means a lot, especially since you have a Master's degree in English. And that explains why I enjoy your hubs so much; not only do you make regular topics a bit funny, but they're well written too. And just for the record, I usually just avoid using "lay" or "lie" since I must always look up to see which is the correct one to use.

vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 5 years ago from Peru, South America

These are such good reminders. English is a tricky language! Thank you for a very useful hub.

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

vespawoolf - Agreed. English is a very tricky language. I can't imagine trying to learn it as a second language. Even yesterday I was writing and wanted to use the word "lay" or "lie" and had to refer back to this hub of mine. To me those words are the trickiest to get correct, and sadly I sometimes select another word altogether.

diamond1mo profile image

diamond1mo 4 years ago from Arizona

I would not say they are mispelled- but rather an incorrect word choice. Not quite homophones, but easily confused. I would link to this, but the title is a misnomer. Useful +

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