SAT Writing: Frequently Confused Words

Hello again, Magooshers. Mr. B here today to talk to you about a topic that can make or break your score on the SAT Writing and Language Test: frequently confused words. Yes, the English language has left us with plenty of words that sound or look ‘correct’ in a sentence, but are wrong nonetheless. It’s not the fairest system, but we have to work with what we’ve got.


SAT Writing Frequently Confused Words -Magoosh

The average high school student’s opinion about the English language.


Before we delve into the words themselves, a disclaimer. Besides the words I discuss in this article, there are a lot more out there that have the potential to trick you up. The ones I’ve chosen come from my years teaching high school English and ACT prep. Also, if you’re planning to take the ACT, it’s a good idea to review this list of words, too. You’ll never know how they’ll try to trick you up on the ACT English Test.

Mr. B’s Top 14 Frequently Confused Words


Ah, yes, where one little letter makes all the difference in the world. The key difference here is that advice is a noun and advise is a verb. Ex: I advise you to listen to my advice about the SAT.

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Two different words for two different, but related uses. If you have two things, use between. More than two? Use among. Ex: I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I had a good day being among my five friends.


Even I have trouble remembering the difference between these two sometimes. A compliment is when you give praise to someone or something, while complement refers to something that makes something else whole or better. Ex: Sally gave Jane a compliment about how her pretty hat complemented her green dress.

P.S. Grammarly goes into great detail on the differences between compliment and complement here.


In my opinion, these two words should mean the same thing, even though they don’t. Disinterested means you have no opinion either way on a topic. Uninterested means you don’t care. Ex: Mark was disinterested in the election because he didn’t know a lot about the candidates. Mark was uninterested in the election because he didn’t like either candidate.


I reckon there’s a 99% chance that the SAT will spring the ‘fewer/less’ trap on you. If you can count what’s being talked about, use fewer. If you can’t, use less. Ex: 90 fewer people showed up today than yesterday. I have a lot less motivation than I did when I was younger.


Like other commonly confused words, this one can fall through the cracks because the words look alike. When something is personal, it relates to just one person. Personnel are employees at a company. Ex: It is rude to read someone’s personal personnel records.


Here’s another one I have trouble with from time to time. The best way to defeat who/whom is to figure out if ‘he/she’ or ‘him/her’ would work in the sentence. If ‘he/she’ works, use who. If ‘him/her’ works, use whom. Ex: Who is going to the store? To whom do I give this letter?

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this guide has cleared up a few commonly confused words. Like I mentioned earlier, there are more out there, so be sure to review other resources. Check out Magoosh’s expert advice for even more SAT Writing and Language practice! Also, give Top 10 New SAT Writing Tips a read, too.

That’s all for now, Magooshers. Take some time this summer to read a book, because believe it or not, you’ll learn more about the English language from any book than a blog post on the internet.


SAT Writing: Frequently Confused Words -Magoosh


  • Thomas Broderick

    Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

2 Responses to SAT Writing: Frequently Confused Words

  1. Shahidor Rahman August 15, 2016 at 7:57 am #

    Another pair of words I find confusing is “like and alike”.
    Please help with the following sentence:
    Although different in appearance, the tangerine and the clementine
    are like/alike each other in taste.
    Should I pick alike or like?
    Thank you very much.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 16, 2016 at 4:17 am #

      Hi Shahidor,

      Happy to help! This is a tricky question. 🙂

      Like is used when one person, or one set of persons, or any ONE entity, is being compared to someone or something. Alike is used when two or more persons or things are being compared to one another.

      Thus “is” can never be used with alike: it’s always “are.” Consider this example: Susan and Peter are siblings. Susan is a lot like Peter. Susan and Peter are alike.

      In the case of your example, we would have to say any of the following:

      Although different in appearance, the tangerine and the clementine are like one another in taste.
      Although different in appearance, the tangerine and the clementine are alike in taste.

      I hope that helps! 🙂

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