The first set involves words with or without an apostrophe.
its = possessive form of “it”
it’s = contraction, equivalent to “it is”
The walrus climbed onto the ice and looked for its friends.
It’s well known that smoking is a health hazard.
there = in that physical location
their = possessive form of “they”
they’re = contraction, equivalent to “they are”
I put the book there.
My grandparents have pictures of all their grandchildren framed on the wall.
The scientists issued a statement indicating that they’re skeptical of this finding.
your = possessive form of “you”
you’re = contraction, equivalent to “you are”
Is this your bowling ball or mine?
I don’t know whether you’re planning to go to the concert.
who’s = contraction, equivalent to “who are”
whose = possessive form of “who”
NOTE: who is used only for people, but whose is used also for object.
That is the actor who’s playing Hamlet next month.
Wagner is the composer whose wedding march is used at most weddings.
Pairs of words
These are pairs or groups of words that sound identical or similar, and thus are often confused.
accept = (verb) to receive; to come into possession of
except = (preposition) not including; other than
The country store cannot accept any credit cards as payment.
I like all forms of music except country music.
adverse = harmful; unfavorable; preventing success or growth
averse = having a strong dislike of something; idiomatically takes “to”
Drinking nothing but soda will have adverse health effects.
My aunt is averse to flying cross-country.
affect = (verb) to have an influence on
effect = (noun) results; impacts (of an action)
Does the movie version affect your opinion of the book?
Singing has positive health effects.
The most common uses of these two words are those above, affect as a verb and effect as a noun. Nevertheless, each word can be used in the opposite way, although these uses are rare.
effect = (verb) to cause, to bring about
affect = (noun) emotion [used in scientific literature]
The new CEO was able to effect an overall reorganization of the company.
After the accident, the victim demonstrated flat affect and disorientation.
Related to adjectives
These are related to the adjectives:
affective = related to the emotions
effective = powerful; able to accomplish things
Depression and bipolar disorder are affective disorders.
She argues that yoga is an effective way to maintain a healthy back into old age.
afflict = (or an illness or problem) to cause suffering; to trouble
inflict = to cause (something bad) to happen to someone
Malaria afflicts more than 100 million people each year.
The law forbids teachers to inflict physical discipline on their students.
a lot = many; a large number; [considered colloquial & informal]
allot = to divide (something) into portions; to split (something) up and distribute it; [often connotes some fair or systematic distribution]
A lot of students don’t like to read on their own.
The CEO set aside $1 million in total for holiday bonuses, but it was the job of the CFO to allot this money among the various employees.
allude = to suggest or hint; (in literature) to recall or suggest an earlier word
elude = to escape detection
allusion = an indirect reference, as in literature
illusion = something likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted
The governor, in her acceptance speech, alluded to the shortcomings of her predecessor.
For seven years, the bank robbers were able to elude FBI detection.
Eliot’s Four Quartets contains multiple allusions to the writing of mystics, West and East.
A mirage is an illusion created by thermal effects.
among = use for 3+ people (or things)
between = use for just 2 people (or things)
Among the five teams in the NL East, who will go to the World Series?
“The difference between death and taxes is death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.” — Will Rogers
all ready = all [the people or elements] are ready
already = by this point in time; at or before this time;
The children are all ready for school.
The parole board reasoned that, after 20 years in jail, the man already had suffered enough.
all together = all [the people or elements] are together
altogether = completely; totally; in total
Christmas is the only time that my family is all together.
Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony altogether failed to make a positive impression at its premiere.
ascent = (noun) a climb
assent = (verb) to agree; (noun) agreement
A French team made the first successful ascent of Annapurna I in 1950.
The Soviet Union refused to assent to the treaty.
She initially gave her assent to the project, but later criticized it vigorously.
assure = to make something sure verbally; to tell or confirm something a way to dispel doubts
ensure = to take steps to guarantee that something will happen
insure = to arrange financial compensation in the case of damage or loss
The candidate assured the voter that he knew nothing about the kickback scheme.
By installing this new stove, we have ensured that the house will be warm this winter.
A talented runner may well insure her own legs.
bale = a bundle (of hay, cotton, paper)
bail = cash an arrested person puts up to ensure that he will appear in court at his trial
Monet has a famous series of painting of fields with hay bales at various times of day.
If it is likely that a suspect will flee, the court may refuse to post bail.
bare = (verb) to strip; to render uncovered or unclothed
bear = (verb) to carry; to support
bear = (noun) a large carnivorous mammal
She choose to bare her deepest secrets on only the second date.
We have to strip the surface down to the bare wood before we repaint.
The cables of a suspension bridge bear much of the load.
She has more problems that a person should have to bear.
A bear came into the backyard and ripped open a metal freezer.
brake = (verb) to stop
break = (verb) to separate into pieces, often forcibly
break = (noun) a time when an activity ceases temporarily
A car has a brake pedal.
A batted baseball can break a window.
Will you go skiing over winter break?
capital = the seat of government of a state or country
capital = the wealth, as of a business
Capitol = the building, completed in 1800, where Congress meets
Tashkent is the capital and largest city of Uzbekistan.
Before Genron can open 80 new offices in Europe, it will have to raise more capital.
Washington praised Thorton’s design for the Capitol.
complement = anything that completes a pair or set
compliment = a statement of praise or appreciation
The pepper shaker is often considered the complement of the salt shaker.
A criticism is easier to receive when it is “sandwiched” between two compliments.
The kind teacher liked to give complimentary feedback to his students.
The yin and the yang are complementary metaphysical principles.
conscience = the human capacity for moral awareness and reflection
conscious = awake; aware
Lying to his boss didn’t seem to trouble his conscience.
We are seldom conscious of the exact moment of failing asleep.
could have/ should have/ would have = correct forms
could of/ should of/ would of = wrong 100% of the time!
I could have driven there last night, but I was too tired.
I should have told the truth, but I was afraid.
I would have come to the party if I had been invited.
disinterested = unbiased; impartial; fair
uninterested = apathetic; lacking all interest
Because we couldn’t agree, we sought the perspective of a disinterested person.
The tired students were completely uninterested in learning statistics that morning.
elicit = draw out (words, emotions) from someone
illicit = forbidden; illegal
The article I published was meant to elicit support for the refugees, not praise for my writing.
The police have noted a rise in illicit drug use since the beginning of the year.
emigrate = to leave one’s home country
immigrate = to arrive in a new country seeking residence
Many great American writers have chosen to emigrate, preferring the intellectual culture of Europe.
Many refugees from the Syrian Civil War want to immigrate to the US.
farther = beyond; about a physical distance
further = additionally; about a metaphorical extent
From San Francisco, New York City is farther than Juneau.
We hoped Tuesday would be the last day of rain, but it rained three days further.
incredible = wonderful, often beyond expectations or belief
incredulous = skeptical; unwilling or unable to believe
Because of incredible luck, the family was rescued and found fine after a week adrift at sea.
Most members of the press were incredulous when the senator insisted that he was innocent.
learn = to receive & integrate information
teach = to impart information to someone else
I wish I had learned a modern language in grade school.
My freshman physics professor taught me E & M and waves.
MISTAKE: My freshman physics professor
learned me E & M and waves.
loose = (adjective) not tight; not fixed firmly in place
lose = (verb) to misplace; to be deprived of or cease to retain
The table wobbles because some of the bolts at the tops of the legs are loose.
If you attach this lanyard to your keys, it will be harder to lose them.
If the Cubs get to the World Series, it would be tragic for them to lose.
may be = (verb) will possibly happen or be the case.
maybe = (adverb) perhaps; possibly
Shoeless Joe Jackson may be the most talented baseball player not in the Hall of Fame.
If it stops raining before midnight, maybe we can still have the picnic tomorrow.
over all = above others
overall = taking everything into account
As General of the Armies, Gen. Pershing had a rank over all other US generals in WWI.
The Republic of Ireland contains 26 counties, and Northern Ireland, 6; thus, the island itself has 32 counties overall.
overdo = (verb) to do too much; to do something to excess
overdue = (adjective) late; later than expected; needed for some time
When the holidays come, she tends to overdo the decorations.
When the Catholic Church pardoned Galileo after 350 years, it was seen as long overdue.
passed = (verb & participle) went beyond; moved beyond
past = (preposition) on the further side of
past = (adjective) go by in time and no longer existing
past = (noun) time period before the present
He passed the introductory math class easily.
The time for submitting applications for early admission has passed.
Go past the post office and turn left.
During the past month, I have been busy.
What is the difference between the past tense and the past perfect tense?
The ancient Israelites created the seven-day week in the distant past, and it has become a worldwide standard.
The storm has passed our town. The danger is past.
pedal = a foot-operated level or control (for a car, bike, instrument)
petal = the colorful leaves that form the outer part of a flower
If your car is skidding, pump the brake pedal.
The lowest notes of a pipe organ are the pedal tones.
Full rose flowers may have as many as 40 petals.
persecute = subject to hostility or ill-treatment
prosecute = institute legal proceedings against
The Roman Empire persecuted Christians until the conversion of Constantine.
People who trespass on the construction site will be prosecuted.
A hateful tyrant will persecute people.
A dutiful district attorney will prosecute people.
personal = (adjective) relating to a person, especially to something private
personnel = (noun) the employees or staff of a company or organization
Be careful about expressing too many personal feelings on a job interview.
What I write in my diary is personal.
After the quarterly losses were announce, some of the personnel were laid off.
pore = (noun) a natural opening on the skin
pour = (verb) to cause to flow, as from a container
When lymph exits the body through the pores, we call it sweat.
What is the proper way to pour champagne?
precede = (verb) to go or happen before something or something
proceed = (verb) to move forward; to take place; to continue
proceeds = (noun) profits, as from an event
Several acolytes precede the cardinal as he ceremonially enters the cathedral to celebrate Mass.
How long is the engagement period that typically precedes marriage?
After a long delay, the construction of the bridge will proceed.
Proceeds from the benefit concert will be donated directly to the orphanage.
prescribe = to authorize the use of a medicine
proscribe = to forbid, especially by law
A doctor should not prescribe antidepressants for someone with bipolar disorder.
Utah had to proscribe polygamy to be admitted as a state.
principal = (adjective) main; central
principal = (noun) the lead administrator in a public elementary or secondary school
principle = (noun) a fundamental truth that is the basis of something; moral belief
Humphrey Bogart was the principal actor in Casablanca.
The misbehaving child was sent to the principal’s office.
Science accepts the principle of uniformity of physical laws over space and time.
Lincoln was always careful to act in accord with his principles.
raise = to lift something up
rise = to move upward; to wake
The father raised the toddler above the crowd so she could see the parade.
His lighthearted humor always raises our spirits.
We watched the hot-air balloon slowly rise in the air.
At what time do you rise on weekends?
respectfully = full of respect; in a manner demonstrating respect
respectively = in the same order
The gentleman respectfully asked the woman her husband’s profession.
Senators Clay, Calhoun, and Webster were from Kentucky, South Carolina, and Massachusetts respectively.
stationary = (noun) office supplies; high quality paper for writing
stationery = (adjective) not moving; fixed in place
One can purchase a stapler at a stationary store.
The patient in the coma has been stationery for three days.
than = [a comparative word that introduces the second term in a comparison]
then = at that time; [also used in if-then statements]
The Fifth French Republic is less than 100 years old.
Washington is universally respected now, but was he then?
First we drove to Philadelphia; then, after a few days, we drove to Boston.
If a quadrilateral has four equal sides, then it is a rhombus.
to = (preposition) [multiple meanings]
too = (adverb) also
Give to the poor.
How do I go to Scarborough Fair?
To err is human; to forgive, divine.
Bill Clinton was the only US President who was a Rhodes scholar, but his press secretary George Stephanopoulos was one too.
weather = atmospheric conditions (e.g., rain, snow, sunshine, etc.)
whether = (sub. conjunction) expresses uncertainty about a choice or scenario; used in indirect questions
San Diego has the same mild weather all year.
We don’t know whether Alexander Hamilton would have been a good President or a great one.
The professor asked whether we thought Catcher in the Rye was literature.