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Commonly Misused English Words

Updated on April 6, 2015

English can be a tough language to get one’s head around, especially for those for whom English is a second language. However, even for native English speakers, written English in particular can be tricky and confusing. When I read the works of some over here, or when I see articles and forum discussions on the Internet, I come across a lot of words that are misused – as in they think they are using the right word, when in fact they are using a similar word which means something very different from the meaning they had intended to convey. The Internet is replete with such misused words. As an author, it is imperative that your work has credibility and knowing what these common errors are can make your articles more professional and credible. So, what are these common English mistakes that people make? Let’s discuss a few of them below!!


Common English Error # 1: Advice versus Advise

advice (noun) - advice with the "c" is the noun - which means a recommendation or counsel.

Example: I was happy to offer advice.

advise (verb) - advise with the "s" is the verb - which means an advice or counsel that you are giving someone.

Example: I advised him to plead guilty.

HINT: You give or ask someone for advice. You advise someone on a course of action.

Common English Error # 2: Loose versus Lose

loose (adjective) -- not rigidly fastened or securely attached.

lose (verb) -- to miss from one's possession or customary place; to fail to keep

HINT: If you lose a few pounds your jeans might be loose.

Common English Error # 3: Accept versus Except

accept (verb) -- to receive willingly ; to give admittance or approval to

Example: I accept my shortcomings.

except (conjunction/preposition) -- with the exclusion or exception of

Example: I like that dress except for the trim.

Common English Error # 4: Effect versus Affect

affect - to have an influence on or effect a change in

Example: How does global warming affect humans?

effect - something brought about by a cause or agent; a result.

Example: The effect of global warming on the environment is a matter of concern.

Common English Error # 5: Complement versus Compliment

Complement: Something that fills up, completes or makes perfect.

Example: These two colors complement each other very well.

Compliment: An expression of courtesy; a flattering remark

Example: That was the sweetest compliment ever!

Common English Error # 6: ELICIT versus ILLICIT

Elicit - means to draw forth or bring out

Example: The persistent questioning elicited the truth from the convict.

Illicit - means something unlawful / not permitted

Example: He takes no illicit drugs.

Common English Error # 7: Stationary versus Stationery

stationary - fixed in position ; immobile

Example: The accident victim was told to keep his arm stationary until help arrived.

stationery - writing materials such as paper, pens and ink

Example: The letter was written on stationery that had an emblem on it.

Common English Error # 8: Aid versus Aide

aid – help (to provide with something useful, or to give assistance)

aide – helper (a person who gives assistance, or acts as an assistant)

HINT: With the “e” at the end is the person.

Common English Error # 9: Maybe versus May be

maybe – perhaps or possibly (as in something might happen)

Example: Maybe you will win the lottery some day. (can substitute ‘maybe’ with ‘perhaps’)

may be – has the ability to happen (as in implies something can happen)

Example: She may be in distress.

Common English Error # 10: Every day versus everyday

every day – means each day individually

Example: The school is open every day except Sunday.

everyday – (acts as an adjective) --- means: frequent or often

Example: Fireworks are not an everyday event.

Common English Error # 11: already versus all ready

already – previously / ‘by a specified time’

Example: By the time I arrived, he was already there.

all ready – each individual is ready (or all set)

Example: We are all ready for our French exam.

Common English Error # 12: principal versus principle

principal (noun/adjective) --- means highest in rank / main / chief, etc. Usually referenced in regards to the ‘principal of the school’ or in cases where a chief reason is being attributed to.

Example: principal cause of the ……..

principle (noun) --- means a basic truth, rule or a method

Example: He is a man of principle. OR The principles of physics.

Common English Error # 13: some time versus sometime

some time - an extended period of time

Example: I will make some time to see you.

Here the word “time” acts as a noun and the word “some” acts as an adjective describing time.

sometime - at some unspecified point of time

Example: We lost touch sometime last year.

Sometime is an adverb telling when.


Well, these are just 13 of the most commonly misused English words. There are lots of other English words that confuse and confound native English speakers as well as those for whom English is a second language.


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