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Common Misspelled Words - Affect versus Effect, and Others

Updated on September 26, 2011

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
The Little, Brown Workbook
A handy textbook to help avoid grammar mistakes and misspelled words.

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