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The Writer’s Reference Book


Module 23 – Commonly Confused Words – Hint Sheet

a (use before a consonant sound)
an (use before a vowel sound)

  • a Coke; a brain; a cheat; a television
  • an ache; an experiment; an hour

accept (to receive, agree to)
except (exclude; but)

  • We accept your terms.
  • Everyone went except Joe.

among (preferred)
amongst (old-fashioned)

  • He worked among the poor.
  • He worked amongst the poor.

advice (an opinion)
advise (to counsel, give advice)

  • Take my advice.
  • Jill will advise you.

a lot (always two words)
alot (avoid in formal use)
all right (always two words)

  • A lot of problems have no solutions.
  • Many problems have no solutions.
  • We decided everything was all right.

affect to influence
effect the result
effect to bring about something

  • I was affected by her plea.
  • What was the effect of the plan?
  • Let’s effect a solution.

among (refers to 3 or more)
between (refers to 2)

  • Among my friends, Tex is the oldest.
  • Between you and me, Zelma is a pain.

amount (use for noncountables)
number (use for countables)

  • No amount of work will help.
  • A large number of workers is useless.

every day (every single day)
everyday (daily)

  • I work every day of the week.
  • Complaints are everyday occurrences.

farther (use with distance)
further (use with degree)

  • How much farther is Alumni Hall?
  • What further advice do you have?

fewer (use with countables)
less (use with noncountables)

  • Fewer people went on the trip this year.
  • We had less trouble this year.

desert (a dry stretch of land)
desert (to abandon one’s post)
dessert (the last part of a meal)

  • We visited the Painted Desert.
  • The coward deserted from the army.
  • What do you want for dessert?

insure (to guarantee against loss)
ensure (to make sure, certain)
assure (to convince, promise)

  • Tim insured his car for full coverage.
  • Let’s ensure that the message is clear.
  • I assure you that it’s not dangerous.

its (belonging to it)
it’s (it is)

  • Look at its structure.
  • It’s raining.

know (to understand)
no (a negative )

  • I know what you mean.
  • No people live there.

lead (to guide)
led (past tense of to lead)
lead (a metal)

  • He will lead the group.
  • He led the group to freedom.
  • The bullets were made of lead.

loose (not secure)
lose (misplace)

  • Sew on that loose button.
  • The new employee may lose her job.

may be (may occur)
maybe (perhaps)

  • She may be the suspect.
  • Maybe I’ll go to the movies.

moral (a concise lesson)
morale (mood or spirit)

  • The moral of the story is obvious.
  • The morale of the employees was low.

passed (went by, succeeded in)
past (a time before now)

  • Everyone passed the test.
  • Don't live in the past.

peace (calm)
piece (a part)

  • There was peace in the city.
  • Have a piece of cake.

principal (main)
principal (one who runs a school)
principle (a law or standard)

  • This is the principal problem.
  • Mr. Smith is the principal.
  • What are the principles of economics?

regard (concerning)
regards (friendly greetings)

  • This letter is in regard to my bill.
  • Give my regards to Broadway.

than (used in comparisons)
then (at that time)

  • I’m more tired than you.
  • Then I let him have it.

that (used after a general noun)
which (used after a specific noun)

  • The letter that just arrived is on the table.
  • The phrase that just arrived identifies which letter.
  • Emily’s letter, which just arrived, is on the table. The phrase “which just arrived” is additional information about the letter, which has been identified as Emily’s letter.

their (belonging to them)
there (at that place)
they’re (they are)

  • It’s their fault.
  • Go over there.
  • They’re late.

to (toward)
to (a verb part)
too (also)
too (very)
two (the number 2)

  • I’m going to heaven.
  • She started to smile.
  • The coffee was hot, too.
  • The coffee was too hot.
  • There were two cars.

whose (belonging to whom)
who’s (who is)

  • Whose coat is this?
  • Who’s going?

you’re (you are)
your (possessive pronoun)

  • You’re in the music room.
  • Your mother is here.
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