Everyone knows the problem with spell-check: your word might be spelt right, but it may be the wrong word. English is full of confusing words that sound alike but are spelt differently. It’s also full of words that share similar (but not identical) meanings that are easy to misuse. Below are some of the most commonly confused and misused words in English:
Advice is a noun: Chester gave Posey good advice.
Advise is a verb: Chester advised Posey to avoid the questionable chicken salad.
Affect is a verb: Chester’s humming affected Posey’s ability to concentrate.
Effect is a noun: Chester was sorry for the effect his humming had.
Among is the preferred and most common variant of this word in American English.
Amongst is more common in British English. Neither version is wrong, but amongst may seem fussy to American/Britsh readers.
Capital has several meanings. It can refer to an uppercase letter, money, or a city where a seat of government is located: Chester visited Brasίlia, the capital of Brazil.
Capitol means the building where a legislature meets: Posey visited the cafe in the basement of the capitol after watching a bill become a law.
A complement is something that completes something else. It’s often used to describe things that go well together: Chester’s lime green boots were a perfect complement to his jacket.
A compliment is a nice thing to say: Posey received many compliments on her purple fedora.
Disinterested means impartial: A panel of disinterested judges who had never met the contestants before judged the singing contest.
Uninterested means bored or not wanting to be involved with something: Posey was uninterested in attending Chester’s singing class.
Emigrate means to move away from a city or country to live somewhere else: Chester’s grandfather emigrated from Canada sixty years ago.
Immigrate means to move into a country from somewhere else: Posey’s sister immigrated to Ireland in 2004.
Farther refers to physical distance: Posey can run farther than Chester.
Further refers to metaphorical distance: Chester is further away from finishing his project than Posey is.
Gray is the standard American English spelling.
Grey is the standard British English spelling.
To lay means to put or to place. One way to remember this is that there is an an ‘a’ in both to lay and to place: Posey will lay out her outfit before she goes to bed.
To lie means to recline. One way to remember this is that there is an e in both to lie and to recline: Chester will lie down for a nap.
Loose is usually an adjective: Posey discovered that the cows were loose.
Lose is always a verb. It means to misplace something or to be unvictorious in a game or contest: Chester was careful not to lose his ticket.
Inquiry and enquiry both mean “a request for information.” Inquiry is the standard American English spelling
Enquiry is the British spelling.
Stationary means unmoving: The revolving door remained stationary because Posey was pushing on it the wrong way.
Stationery refers to letter writing materials and especially to high-quality paper: Chester printed his résumé on his best stationery.
Than is used for comparisons: Posey runs faster than Chester.
Then is used to indicate time or sequence: Posey took off running, and then Chester came along and finished her breakfast.