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Common Mistakes And Confusions In English Usage

Updated on May 29, 2012
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English can be a confusing language at times, with even native speakers at odds as to the correct usage. While many mistakes and confusions are ambiguous in nature, there are some mistakes which are comparatively clear cut and are recognized as such by most. These mistakes have probably been emphasised again and again by our English teachers, but for many of us, myself included, it’s been sometime since our last English class.

So this hub or article serves as a sort of revision. A revision of lessons learnt but forgotten, of lessons learnt but not really put into practice and of lessons that we slept through and never learnt.


Advise / Advice
Advice should be used as a noun as when a person is given a piece of advice or when a teenager turns a deaf ear to your advice. Advise, on the hand, is a verb. So, you advise your teenager to be more tolerant of her siblings and not to blow her top every time someone advises her of something.

More examples of the use of advise and advice:

  • Henry was diagnosed with an advanced and very malignant form of cancer and was advised to put his affairs in order as soon as possible.
  • Paul felt that the advice given to him was very generic and practically useless in real life situations.
  • It is so easy to advise somebody that they need to exercise and eat properly in order to lose weight, but so difficult to take that same piece of advice yourself.


Practise / Practice
Practice is a noun, so you get an ugly look from the coach when you are late for volleyball practice. But when you put in the effort and practise really hard, the coach will smile at you and tell you that he will let you off, just this time.

In American English, practice is generally used both as a verb and as a noun. So, if you are an American, you practice very hard at basketball practice while those who are British practise very hard at basketball practice.

Further examples of the use of practise and practice if you do not follow the American way of writing:

  • A surgeon needs lots of practice so that he will cut where he is supposed to, and will not cut where he is not supposed to.
  • When you are just starting to trade the forex markets, it is best that you do not practise with real money.
  • At this week’s practice session, we practised throwing the ball to each other.


Principle / Principal
A principal is the head of a school. Principal can also mean the initial capital outlay for an investment. However, when you talk about the principle of a matter, you are talking about a fundamental or accepted rule or truth for that matter.

Some examples of the use of principle and principal:

  • The principal of the school insisted on upholding the principle of the school.
  • There was an argument between the principal of the high school and the child’s parent over the principle of corporal punishment.
  • When you take up a long term loan, a large percentage of your monthly installments go to servicing the interest of the loan and not to repaying the principal.


Its / It’s
In the English language, the apostrophe is used to signify possession such as the professor’s class or the wives’ chatter. However, when possession is applied to “it”, such as “the rotational speed of it”, the apostrophe is deleted and it is written as “its rotational speed” and not “it’s rotational speed”. The apostrophe “s” can also be used as an abbreviation for “is” and “has”, such as, “it’s great that you can make time for our business presentation” or “it’s been such a long time since we met”.

More examples of the use of its and it’s:

  • Although its innocence is never in question, it’s still necessary to carry out the due process of law.
  • It’s been just yesterday since they met, but she misses him already.
  • It’s really a pity that this pair of shoes is not available in my size.


Your / You’re
This is probably more a typo than an actual error but I have seen this error been made many times. When you use your, you are actually implying possession, such as in your business or your pictures. On the other hand, you’re is an abbreviation of you are, such as in you’re pretty or you’re nice.

More examples on the use of your and you’re:

  • You’re the nicest girl that I have ever met although your punk rock hairstyle and tattoos do take a little getting used to.
  • Your employment contract is for a period of two years but you’re free to stay on after that.
  • You’re guilty of contempt of court but based on your previous good behaviour, the judge decided to let you off.

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    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      A great reminder; thanks.

    • wandererh profile image
      Author

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      L.L. Woodard - I learnt a thing or two myself when writing this hub. :)

    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 6 years ago

      It's been great checking out this article and carefully reading its contents! Thanks n cheers! :)

    • samsons1 profile image

      Sam 6 years ago from Tennessee

      up and useful! Well written, and needed. Sometimes if we would just re-read our articles, we would find some of these common mistakes.

      thanks...

    • Erik Parker profile image

      Eric Parker 6 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      These are some very common mistakes. Thanks for writing them down for us. Nice hub!

      Erik

    • tnderhrt23 profile image

      tnderhrt23 6 years ago

      English can be pretty confusing, at times, and I always appreciate hubs that review the rules. I just have to ask, is the use of "learnt" sarcastic? I thought the proper past tense term for learn was learned...wondering if I slept through that one...smile...Voted up!

    • wandererh profile image
      Author

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      quicksand - Don't need to read it too carefully or you are going to find a grammatical error. :)

      samsons1 - You got that right. Whenever I go back and read my old articles, I find typos and errors that should not be there. I gotta be more careful. :)

    • cwarden profile image

      cwarden 6 years ago from USA

      Great hub! Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

    • wandererh profile image
      Author

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      Erik Parker - Thanks! :)

      tnderhrt23 - I have always learnt that it was learnt but a quick search on the web indicates that learnt is hardly used in American English. Gonna look further into this word. Thanks! :)

      cwarden - Thanks. It was my pleasure. :)

    • greatpyr123 profile image

      greatpyr123 6 years ago

      Very useful hub! Thanks for reminding me of these, I tend to get some of them confused.

    • richtwf profile image

      richtwf 6 years ago

      Useful hub which serves as an excellent reminder and cheers for sharing.

      God bless!

    • wandererh profile image
      Author

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      greatpyr123 - Me too! This hub has been very useful for me too. :)

      richtwf - Thanks! :)

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 6 years ago from USA

      Howdy wandererh - This was an enjoyable article and it contained plenty of useful information about using the English language. However, I suppose that I will just stay confused, language or no language. (My normal state...)

      Gus :-)~

    • wandererh profile image
      Author

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      GusTheRedneck - Nothing wrong with staying confused. In fact, if enough people are confused about the same thing, that thing becomes the new standard and the right way. :)

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for such a brilliantly written hub. It was a good reminder.

    • wandererh profile image
      Author

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      Hello, hello, - Thanks! :)

    • transcriptionven profile image

      transcriptionven 6 years ago from 821 N. Mantel Ln. Santa Ana, CA 92701

      Little facts shared which we generally don't notice or where we get confused. A very useful hub to remind us to take care of the small facts which may create big mistakes at some point.

    • wandererh profile image
      Author

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      transcriptionven - Thanks. And it is the small things that sometimes can cost us the big things. :)

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      A good hub, but why is it that so many people on Hub Pages continue to write such bad English and don't seem to understand punctuation and its uses? I know that when we read over something that we have written, we read what we meant to write, rather than what is down there before us, and I am as guilty of typographical errors as much (or more so) than the next person.

      By the way: "You’re the nicest girl that I have ever met although your punk rock hairstyle and tattoos does take a little getting used to." should have been, "You’re the nicest girl that I have ever met although your punk rock hairstyle and tattoos do take a little getting used to.".

    • wandererh profile image
      Author

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      Twilight Lawns - I think the errors that you are talking about are much more than typographical errors. I have seen some hubs in which the writer is writing in English, the English doesn't contain any obvious grammatical errors and the spelling is all right but the hub just doesn't seem to make any sense. I suspect that it was probably translated from another language and the hubber might not even understand what was written in English.

      And the "You’re the nicest girl that I have ever met although your punk rock hairstyle and tattoos does take a little getting used to." should definitely be as you said. Going to change it now before anybody else notices. :) Thanks!

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Wandererh, you are a gentleman. I wouldn't have pointed that out to almost anybody else, but you obviously enjoy the English language being used properly as much as I.

      I agree with your first statement. I read some stuff written on hub pages and wonder where on earth the sentences are going to, and then I read what some people post as "poetry" and I almost lose the will to live.

      If you ever read anything that I have written, please feel free to point out any errors... I make so many typographical errors and sometimes the Spell Check facility throws up its hands and walks away in despair.

    • wandererh profile image
      Author

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      Twilight Lawns - It isn't everyday that I get called a gentleman. Thanks!

      I have never been a big fan of poetry although I do find most poetry understandable to some extent. But I do take exception to some of the "poetry" that you read here on HubPages, and I can understand why you almost lose the will to live.

      Anyway, if I ever do find a mistake in one of your hubs, although I highly doubt that it will ever happen, I'd be sure to let you know. :)

    • tebo profile image

      tebo 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Practice, practise is the one that always gets me, and yes the red line always comes under practise whenever I type it. I wondered if Americans only used the one spelling. Thanks.

    • wandererh profile image
      Author

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      tebo - That's an easy one for me but I didn't know that Americans have only one spelling for it. And I had always wondered about the red line too. :)

    • profile image

      Abdullah Haidari 6 years ago

      Hi guys, I want to prepare for IELTS, could somebody advice me, how to start it. Thanks email me in abdullah_afg@msn.com.

    • wandererh profile image
      Author

      David Lim 6 years ago from Singapore

      Abdullah Haidari - Don't forget to also surf the web as there are tons of info there.

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