Easily Confused Words

Easily Confused Words

When it comes to writing business documents, your meaning must be crystal clear. The correct use of words is, obviously, essential. A common type of writing error involves the use of easily confused words.

The most typical of this kind of error involves the use of words that sound similar, such as 1) there, their, and they’re 2) its and it’s 3) your and you’re.

  1. In the first group, there and their are homographs, meaning “same sound,” but their meanings and uses are very different from each other. The last one in this group, they’re, is a contraction which, even though it does not sound exactly the same as the other two words, is often incorrectly used in place of them.First, let’s deal with they’re. They’re is a contraction of they are, as in “I think they’re the right ones for the new program.” That’s the easy one to remember.Now, to the homographs. There can be an adverb, a pronoun, or a noun. But, don’t worry about that. There is always used to refer to a place or to a state of being. These are some examples of the correct use of there:We will open our new operations center there.
    There have been many recent changes in our customer base.
    There was a time when we visited each customer on a weekly basis.And, of course, it’s not really a sentence, but: Been there, done that.

    A way to remember how to use there is to call to mind the fact that the word here is embedded in the word there. If you can use here in a sentence, then you can use there in that sentence, if the word is being used to refer to a physical space.

    Now for their. Their is a possessive pronoun. It is always used before a noun or a noun phrase to indicate that something belongs to two or more people or to an entity.

    Here are some examples:

    We are ready to adopt their procedure.
    Did you see their office?
    That’s their problem.

  2. Two other words that are very often confused with each other are its and it’s. The first one, its, is a pronoun, as in “The operations staff makes its own decisions.” The second word, it’s, is a contraction of it is. It is used as follows: “We have decided that it’s time for the announcement.”
  3. Now we will deal with your and you’re. The first one, your, is a pronoun. It is used in the following way: “Getting the project started is your responsibility.” The other word, you’re, is a contraction of you are. It is used as follows: “We believe that you’re the right one for this job.”

The following is an additional list of easily confused words (mostly in pairs) that sound and/or look similar to each other, and which people often use incorrectly or interchangeably. Since they have vastly different meanings from each other, their inappropriate uses can dramatically change the intent of what you are writing. If the word is spelled correctly, most word processing spell check programs will not indicate that you have used the wrong one. If you are not sure about when to use each of the following words, you should rely on a dictionary for definitions and usages or, in Microsoft Word, go to Tools, and then Language, and then Thesaurus. That will reveal words with similar meanings. In addition, there are a number of excellent websites devoted to the topic of easily confused words.

  • accept…except
  • access…excess
  • adverse…averse
  • advice…advise
  • affect…effect
  • all ready…already
  • all together…altogether
  • allusion…illusion
  • breath…breadth
  • canvas…canvass
  • capital…capitol
  • cite…sight…site
  • compose…comprise
  • connote…denote
  • course…coarse
  • complement…compliment
  • council…counsel
  • desert…dessert
  • diner…dinner
  • discreet…discrete
  • elicit…illicit
  • eminent…imminent
  • faith…fate
  • foreword…forward
  • farther…further
  • few…less
  • flaunt…flout
  • holy…wholly
  • lead…led
  • lightening…lightning
  • loose…lose
  • moral…morale
  • passed…past
  • personal…personnel
  • principal…principle
  • prostate…prostrate
  • quiet…quit…quite
  • stationary…stationery
  • than…then
  • throne…thrown
  • weak…week
  • weather…whether
  • whose…who’s

Ok. That should clear up the problem. In reference to writers who have had problems with this issue in the past, hopefully, they’re now competent in their use of the words, and there will not be any more mistakes. It’s not difficult to learn how to use each word in its correct place. In reference to easily confused words, once you’re sure about their meanings, your writing will be much clearer.