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March 18, 2024

Commonly Confused Words in English + How to Get Them Right

Commonly Confused Words in English + How to Get Them Right

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English is full of homonyms — words that are spelled or pronounced the same way but have different meanings. 

Mixing up these words is all too easy, even for seasoned writers who are sticklers for grammar. I’ve seen it happen countless times in my 11+ years as an editor. 

The good news? Once you learn the difference between these commonly confused words, it’s easier to get them right.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through often-mistaken words in English and share some of my favorite tricks to tell them apart. I’ll also provide plenty of examples so you can see the words in action.

Key Takeaways

  • English contains many words that are easy to mix up because they sound or look alike but carry different meanings and grammatical uses.
  • These words are known as homonyms. 
  • Knowing what each word means, how they’re different, and what they’re used for is key to using them correctly. 
  • Wordtune’s Editor tool can flag misused and misspelled words as you write.

Frequently confused words in English

Below, I break down the differences between X sets of commonly mixed-up words. 

Accept vs. except

Accept is a verb meaning “to receive willingly” or “agree to.” 

"Lisa accepted Tim’s help."

Except means “other than” or “excluding.” 

"Everyone attended the party except Sophie."

Tip: Imagine the “x” in “except” as crossing something out. Or, remember both “excluded” and “except” begin with “ex.”

Advice vs. advise

Advice is a noun: “the guidance or recommendations someone shares.” 

"Faye shared great advice for overcoming stage fright."

Advise is a verb: “to offer suggestions.”

"Faye advised her colleagues to practice their presentations in front of a mirror."

Affect vs. effect

Affect is mainly used as a verb meaning “to influence,” “to move emotionally,” or “to pretend or assume (something).” When you want to convey the concept of change, you’ll use “affect.”

"Stormy weather can affect our moods."
"She affected a Southern accent while in Texas."

Affect is also used as a noun that refers to what’s observable about a person’s emotions.

"The patient had a flat affect."

Effect is generally used as a noun that means “the result of an action.” 

"The caffeinated drink had an immediate effect on Mabel’s energy."

Sometimes, it’s used as a verb meaning “to cause something (specific) to happen.”

"As mayor, she effected significant changes to the city’s public services."

Tip: Remember “A” for action (affect) and “E” for end result (effect).

All together vs. altogether

All together is a noun phrase meaning “all at once,” “all in one place,” or “as a group.”

"Let’s discuss it all together now."

Altogether is an adverb you’d use instead of “completely” or “entirely.”

"I’m altogether confused."

Tip: You’ll use “all together” if you can take out “all” and the sentence still makes sense.

Any way vs. anyway

Any way means whatever direction, course, or manner. 

"It’s beautiful any way you look at it."

Anyway is an adverb that means “regardless or in spite of other factors.” You can also use it to confirm recently mentioned points, as a transition word to resume a conversation or change its subject, or as an emphasizer in questions. 

"She felt tired but carried on anyway."
"Anyway, we found a babysitter for tonight."
"Why did you move here, anyway? "

Wondering about “anyways”? It has the same meaning as “anyway.” “Anyways” is most common in casual speech, though, so stick to “anyway” for formal writing.

Assure, ensure, insure

Assure means “saying something in a way that removes doubts.”

"Pedro assured Hannah everything would be fine."

Ensure means “to guarantee” or “to make certain.”

"Flight crews ensure all passengers are safe."

Insure is a financial term meaning “to protect against (something)” or “to arrange for compensation after damage, loss, injury, or death.”

"It’s essential to insure your home against natural disasters."

Breath vs. breathe

Breath is a noun: “air inhaled or exhaled from lungs.”

"Thiago took a deep breath."

Breathe is a verb: “to inhale and exhale.”

"High altitudes make it hard to breathe."

Compliment vs. complement

A compliment is a statement of praise or admiration. It can also be used as a verb.

"Ellie gave Aaron a compliment (noun) on his suit."
"Ellie complimented (verb) Aaron on his suit."

Complement means “someone/something that goes well or improves someone/something else.” It’s a verb as well.

"The cooling raita was a perfect complement (noun) to the spicy biryani."
"The raita perfectly complemented (verb) the biryani."

Tip: Think “I” in “compliment” is for “I give and receive compliments,” while “E” in “complement” is for things that enhance one other.

Elicit vs. illicit

Elicit is a verb meaning “to evoke or draw out (a reaction or response).”

"Her jokes were meant to elicit laughter."

If something is illicit, it’s forbidden by laws, morals, etc.

"The criminals transported illicit goods."

Tip: Think of “elicit” as pulling out a reaction (“e” for “extract” or “evoke”) and “illicit” as something not allowed (“ill” for “illegal”).

Farther vs. further

Farther refers to physical distance. 

"Liam ran farther than expected."

Further means “to advance or promote,” “for a longer way,” or “additional to what already exists.”

"Let’s discuss this further."

Tip: Remember, “farther” = physical distance because it has the word “far” in it. Use “farther” for any distance you can measure. Use “further” for ideas or abstract distances, like in conversations.

Its vs. it’s 

Its is the possessive of “it,” referring to something belonging to or associated with a person, place, or thing.

"Last year, the company boosted its revenue by 50%."

It’s is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” 

"It’s (it is) going to rain tomorrow, but it’s (it has) been a beautiful day today."
Tip: Swap either for “it is.” Does the sentence make sense? You’ll use “it’s.” If it doesn’t, you’ll use “its.”

Lead vs. led

When it rhymes with “reed,” lead can be a present-tense verb meaning “to guide,” an adjective meaning “first-place or most important,” or a noun meaning “the foremost place.”

"Irina leads the department with expertise."
"Quinn is the lead runner."
"The team is in the lead."

When it sounds like “bread,” lead refers to a metal — e.g., “a lead pipe.”

Led is the past tense of “lead.” 

"They led the meeting."

Lie vs. lay

As a verb, lie means “to be in or put yourself in a horizontal or resting position” or “to say something untrue.”

"I’m going to lie down."

You’ll use “lying” when the action is currently happening — e.g., “I’m lying down” or “He’s lying.” 

Lay is a verb meaning “to place something down.”

"I lay the book on the table."

Use “laying” when something is being placed down right now — e.g., “She’s laying papers on the desk.”

Tip: Remember this mnemonic: “Lie means recline, and both have an ‘I.’ Lay means place, and both have an ‘A.’”

Lose vs. loose

Lose is a verb that means “to no longer have something,” “to undergo defeat or deprivation,” or “to fail to keep in mind or sight.”

"She was afraid to lose her purse."
"I don’t want to lose you in the crowded train station."

Loose is an adjective meaning “not tightly or firmly in place” or “not tightly fitting.”

"My jeans are loose."

Passed vs. past

Passed is the past-tense form of the verb “pass,” meaning to move in a specific direction.

"The car passed in front of the bus."

Past refers to the time before the present. 

"Yuna has fond memories of the past."

Tip: If you can swap it for “went by,” use “passed.”

Than vs. then

Than is used for comparisons, while then refers to a consequence or a time in the past. 

"Is Paul McCartney older than Ringo Starr?"
"The Beatles released A Hard Day’s Night in 1964, then Help! in 1965."
"Back then, a concert ticket cost about $3.50."

They’re, there, their

They’re is a contraction of “they are.” 

"They’re going to the movies tonight."

There refers to a place or the existence of something. 

"Alice and Alfie had been there already."
"There were a dozen tulips in the vase."

Their is the possessive of “they.” 

"Their car broke down on the highway."

To vs. too

To indicates movement to a place or a state of being.

"As Charlie walked to the beach, the sky turned from blue to gray."

It’s also used in the infinitive form of English verbs. 

"James was nervous to sing in front of a crowd."

Too can be used in two ways: to mean “also” or to emphasize adjectives — in place of “very” or “overly.”

"Rami was late to the concert, too."
"The music was too loud."

Who’s vs. whose

Who’s is a contraction of “who is” or “who has.”

"It isn’t clear who’s speaking."

Whose means “belonging to or associated with (someone or something).”

"She asked whose keys were on the counter."

Your vs. you’re

Your is the possessive of “you.” It can refer to one person (e.g., “your personality”) or a group of people (e.g., “Thanks for your time today, everyone”). 

You’re is a contraction of “you are.”

"You’re scheduled for an appointment tomorrow."

Wordtune can help you avoid mistakes

Wordtune’s Editor interface, flagging incorrect uses of “ensured” and “accept” and suggesting solutions.
Wordtune’s Editor interface, flagging incorrect uses of “ensured” and “accept” and suggesting solutions.

Wordtune’s AI-driven writing assistant can help you catch and correct any errors in real time.

Simply place your drafted text into the Wordtune Editor, and the software will automatically flag mistakes and share suggestions to fix them.

You can even write directly within the Editor, and Wordtune will underline your mix-ups. This way, your writing is always clear and correct.


In English, it’s easy to mistake certain words for others. Understanding these commonly confused words can feel challenging, but all you need to succeed is this guide — plus a careful eye, plenty of practice, and a helping hand from Wordtune.

Looking to become a grammar wiz or just a more confident writer? Our articles can teach you how to master the art of grammar and punctuation, improve your writing skills, and more.


What is the most confusing homophone?

One of the most confusing sets of homophones is “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” The words are pronounced the same but have different meanings and grammatical uses.

What are some commonly confused verbs?

Commonly confused verbs in English include “affect” and “effect,” “lay” and lie,” and “raise” and “rise.”