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Commonly Confused Words

Updated on January 9, 2014

 Hello, kids. I was online yesterday looking at a particular website's section for advertising and requesting tutoring. This one ad, seemingly placed by a parent of a child, twice misused the word "their." In its place, was 'there.' This is one of the most common writing mistakes. I know many people on here have published on the topic, so I beg your indulgence as I hopefully will help someone out there with one of my pet peeves.

Let's start with the words already referenced: their, there, they're.

"Their" is always a possessive pronoun (for more, see "Mines" is Not a Possessive Pronoun). If two or more people own something, this is the word to choose if it appears before the noun.

Alicia and Meg took their daughters to the pool.

"There" refers to a place (Look over there!) or functions as a lead-in to a sentence, in essence still referring to a place. Let's keep Alicia and Meg with us.

Meg set up her chair over there by the table, but Alicia set up her chair over there to get better sun. Their kids are playing over there in the shallow end. (Don't worry. They're being supervised.)

The "they're" here (or would it be there?) means 'They are,' with "they" referring to Rose and Iris. I think I should go swimming today, but I must do some writing first.

I will move on to some of the more common mistakes I have seen.

"Accept" and "except" is one common pair. Forgive my cheesy sentences for remembering these. I received mostly B's on my report card. I accept that I am just not an A student but not quite a C student.... Invite everyone except my ex. Accept means to receive or admit; except means to make an exception.

When you "affect" someone (notice the A), you make an Action that changes them. The rEsult (intentional E) of your action is the "effect." My words affect you. As a result, the effect is hopefully positive.

"Conscience" and "conscious" seem to be killers. Conscience refers to a sense of right or wrong. Conscious means to be awake and/or aware of one's surroundings. Because I was not conscious to his reasoning, I thought he had no conscience.

"Everyday" and "every day"... oh, the difference a space makes. I'll reverse this one. If something is done daily, it is done every (each) day. If it refers to an ordinary object or occurrence, 'everyday' is used. I write every day. It's an everyday habit. Also, consider this. 'Every day' is connected in thought to an action; everyday is connected in thought to an object.

"Its" and "it's" are too phrases that drive me batty when misused. "Its" is possessive. The dog wagged its tail. The committee has made its decision. It's (note the apostrophe) is a contraction for the words "it is." It's beautiful outside. It's a shame I have no one to play with. I often recommend against using contractions in writing, yet I do it myself all the time.

Look carefully at these words: lose, loose, and loss. The most common mistake I see here is when people write 'loose' when they mean 'lose.' I suppose it can be attributed to how you think the first two words sound. "Lose" means to misplace or give up something. If Mr. Younger does not come up with that money, he could lose his house. (I recommend the 2008 film version of Raisin in the Sun.) "Loose" means too big/baggy or not fixed. Because Kathy had lost so much weight, her old clothes were beyond loose. "Loss" is a noun - a decrease. The financial loss from dependence on credit cards is not fun.

"Past" and "passed" sound the same. In the past (before now), I passed (met the requirements for) many classes... We had passed our exit.

"Taught" is the past tense of 'to teach' and "thought" is the past tense of 'to think.'

I thought I did a good job when I taught the course.

"Than" and "then".... oh the difference a vowel makes. I mostly see this when people are making comparisons, for example, "I would rather be anywhere else then here." Than should be used when making comparisons (else than here).

"To" and "too" and "two" are not interchangeable.

'To' suggests directions. (It has other purposes beyond the scope of this.) Are you going to a barbecue anytime soon? 'Too' means also or very. Erin is too funny. Katy is funny too. 'Two' is the number.

Two (heh heh) more before I lose my steam and your attention...

"Where" is most often a question word referring to location. Where is the barbecue? Where did you buy that? "Were" is the past tense of the 'be' verb. Enrique and Julio were talking. This is where I see the most common mistake. When someone tries to ask the location of someone, that person tends to say "Were are you?" No. No. Just do not. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. "We're" always means 'We are.' We're meeting at 11:00, right?

Finally, "you're" and "your." For the first, see the sentence before the break. "Your" is once again a possessive pronoun.

You're going to be there, right? Bring your appetite.

Well, kids. The pool doesn't look too busy, so maybe I'll go use it for awhile (yes, one word). Will I see you their/they're/there?





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    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 5 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      Interesting subject!

      I do agree, but, sometimes, these errors may just be typos ~ as with your sentence: '"Its" and "it's" are too phrases that drive me batty when misused.' Here, of course, 'too' should be 'two' ~ a typographical error.

      I admit that I was surprised by your use of 'awhile' and looked it up in the online Oxford dictionary.

      It said:

      'The adverb awhile as in we paused awhile should be written as one word. The noun phrase, meaning ‘a period of time ’, should be written as two words, especially when preceded by a preposition: Margaret rested for a while; we'll be there in a while.'

      According to this, then, it seems that after 'for', it should be two words ~ 'a while'.

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