Vocabulary: Confusing and Often Misused Words

     Some words are frequently misread and misused by students
because the words are confused with similar-sounding and/or
similar-looking words. Sometimes, the confusing words even have
similar meanings, but are different parts of speech. The following
list defines each word and uses it correctly in a sentence. Study
the list carefully.

a         is used before a word that begins with a consonant

               He owns a horse, a car, and a boat.

an        is used before a word that begins with a vowel         

               In an hour, Sue will eat an egg for breakfast. 
          (the h is silent in hour, so the first sound you hear is
          a vowel)

and       is a conjunction joining words, phrases, or clauses.

               John and Mary went for a ride in a buggy.

accept    means "to receive" or "to get." It is a verb.

               She accepted his token of appreciation.

except    means "not included" or "excluded"; it is a

               Everyone went skiing except Bertha.

advice    means "counsel" or "opinion"; it is a noun.

               Don't accept your mother-in-law's advice.

advise    means "to offer an opinion" or "to offer counsel";
          it is a verb.

               In-laws often try to advise newlyweds.
affect    means "to influence"; it is a verb.

               Children can be deeply affected by the death of a

effect    as a noun means "result" or "consequence."

               Smoking has many bad side effects.

          as a verb means "to cause" or "to bring about."

               The negotiators labored all night to effect a
               compromise between the opposing unions.

all ready means "everyone (or everything) is ready."

               The foreman told the judge, "We're all ready to give
               our verdict, sir."
already   means "previously, before, or by a specific time";
          it is an adverb.

               The paramedics were already at the scene of the

allot     means "to distribute, assign, or give"; it is a

               The camp director allotted one bowl of rice and one
               cup of milk to each refugee.

a lot     means "plenty of, much of."

               He received a lot of money for his bar mitzvah.

          NOTE: a lot is never spelled as one word.

among     is a preposition used when discussing at least three
          ideas or concepts.

               The budget is divided among many competing
between   is a preposition used when discussing two concepts or

               Let's decide between the movies and the party.

between  can also mean "in the middle"

               Hunter College is between Park and Lexington on 68th

borrow    means "to take something with the intention of 
          returning it"; it is a verb.

               Many students have to borrow money from the
               government to pay their tuition.

lend      means "to allow someone to use something, on the
          condition that it is returned"; it is a verb.

               Many parents lend their children the down payment
               for their first house.

bought    means "purchased"; it is the past tense of the verb    
          to buy.

               They bought a new house.

brought   means "to take from here to there"; it is the past
               tense of the verb to bring.

               They brought flowers to their mother's house. 

breathe   is a verb; it means "to inhale and exhale."

               When she has an asthma attack, she can't breathe.

breath    is a noun; it means "air that is inhaled or exhaled." 

               You need to hold your breath when swimming

bring     means "to cause to come by carrying or leading"; it is a

               "You may bring a friend with you," said the
               hostess, "as long as he brings his own food."

take      means "to grasp or get possession of"; it is a verb.

               It's cold outside, so take a jacket.

buy       means "to purchase"; it is a verb.

               She wants to buy a new dress for the party.

by        is a preposition; it has several meanings, including
          "next to," "near," or "through some means or agency."

               We live by the seashore.

               The accident was seen by many people.

capital   means "chief," " most important," or "money."

               Murder is a capital crime.

               It takes a lot of capital to open a new business.

capitol   means "the building in which a legislative body
          meets"; it is a noun.

               The state assembly met at the capitol last night.

          When the word is capitalized, it refers to the
          building in Washington in which Congress meets.

               The President delivered his State of the Union
               address at the Capitol last night.

choose    means "to make a choice"; it is the present-tense
          form of the verb to choose.

               She must choose a major.

chose     has the same meaning, but is the past-tense form.

               She finally chose architectural engineering.

complement     is a verb, it means "goes well with" or "to complete
               or bring to perfection."

               A good wine complements the meal.

compliment     as a verb, means "to praise."

               She complimented him on his new tie.
               as a noun, it means "an act or instance of praise."

               An actor loves to receive compliments after a

desert    is a verb, it means "to abandon."

               Soldiers are trained never to desert their unit.
          as a noun, it means "arid land."

               The Sahara Desert is considered inhospitable to

dessert   means "a sweet dish at the end of a meal.

               I'll have chocolate cake for dessert.

fewer     means "a smaller number of, not so many as"; it is
          an adjective used with countable nouns.

               Since she quit her job, she has fewer friends
               than she used to have.

less      means "a smaller portion or quantity"; it is an
          adjective used with uncountable nouns.

               Nowadays, I have less trouble meeting people than I
               used to have.

hear      means "to perceive by the ear" or "to pay attention to";
          it is a verb.

               The judge will hear closing arguments tomorrow.

here      is an adverb; it means "in or at this place."

               The President will be here in New York next week.

its       is the possessive form of the pronoun it, meaning
          "belonging to it."

               The boat lost its motor.

it's      is a contracted form of it is or it has.

               It's a nice day today.

               It's been cold recently though.

learn     means "to gain knowledge or understanding"; it is a

               Each person must learn from his or her own mistake.

teach     means "to instruct,"  or "to assist in the learning
          process"; it is a verb.

               I can't teach you how to be responsible; you
               must learn it for yourself.

loose     means "not tight"; it is an adjective.

               Babies should wear loose clothing, so they can move
               around easily.

lose      means "to misplace"; it is a verb.

               Johnny frequently loses his money on his way to

passed    means "went by"; it is the past-tense form of the
               verb to pass.

               The parade passed this way an hour ago.

past      as a noun, it means "in former times."

               History teaches us about the past.

principal is an adjective, it means "chief, main or most

               Freedom of speech is a principal right of all

principle means "a fundamental truth or rule"; it is a noun.

               We are governed in our actions by the principles of

quiet     is a an adjective that means "not noisy."

               Libraries are quiet places.

quiet     may also be used as a noun to mean "absence of noise."

               May I have quiet, please.

quite     is an adverb meaning "very much so."

               She is quite a good student.

stationary     means "not moving"; it is an adjective.

               A security guard stands in a stationary position.

stationery     means "writing paper"; it is a noun.

               People sometimes write love letters on scented

suppose   means "to guess or assume."

               I suppose he is coming to the wedding.
supposed  implies an obligation; it is used as a passive verb to
          mean "have to."

               She was supposed to babysit for me tonight.

than      is a conjunction or preposition, used when comparing two
               She is taller than her brother.

then      is an adverb that means "at that time" or "soon after"

               I ate and then went to bed.

their     is the possessive form of they, meaning "belonging to
               Those poor people lost their homes in the

there     is an adverb that refers to a place or location.

               I distinctly remember putting the keys right there.

          It is also used as a filler subject in some sentences.

               There are many reasons to get a college degree.

they're   is a contraction, a shortened form of they are.

               They're going on a long vacation to New Zealand.

to        is a preposition; it means "toward" or "in the direction

               They are going to the movies.

too       is an adverb; it means "also," or "more than enough."

               I ate too much cake yesterday.

               I had cake yesterday too!

two       is the number that is one more than one.

               The child has two dollars to spend on a gift for his

weather   refers to the climate; it is a noun.

               The weather today is sunny and warm.

whether   is a conjunction that indicates an either/or situation.

               She can't decide whether to go to law school or
               graduate school.

who's     is a contraction, a shortened form of "who is."

               Who's on the phone?

whose     is the possessive form of who meaning "belonging to

               She is the woman whose dog was lost.

use       is a present tense verb; it means "to make use of, or to

               Do you know how to use a dictionary?

used      is used as the past tense or passive participle form of
          the verb to use.  It means "was accustomed to" or "was in
          the habit of."

               I used to like pizza until I developed an allergy to

your      is the possessive form of you, meaning "belonging to

               Your mother called while you were out.

you're    is a contraction, a shortened form of "you are."

               You're supposed to call her right back. 

Back to on-line resource file
Back to RWC home

Last updated Monday, 01-March-99 01:37:00 EDT.
All pages Copyright © 1998 Hunter College Reading/Writing Center.
Please contact WebMaster with any questions or comments.