IELTS: How to Write With Good Diction to Develop Style Tone Point-of-View
Commonly Confused Words in English

Is it 'accept' or 'except?' 'Affect' or 'effect?' How do you know when to use 'there,' 'their,' or 'they're?' Watch this video lesson to learn about some confusing words in English and how to properly use each one.

Commonly Confused Words in English

Commonly Confused Words in English

Confused Words

The English language is complicated and beautiful. It changes with time, morphing to meet the needs of each new generation. Unfortunately, English speakers can sometimes misuse many words of the language.

Many of those instances occur so often that people can become accustomed to the mistakes. So much so, in fact, that they forget the correct usage of some words. Let's look at some common errors and confused words that exist in the English language.

Confusing Pairs

There are many pairs of words that get mixed up by English speakers. The first example is 'through' and 'threw.' One means 'to physically toss an object,' and the other means 'to go in and out of.' Which is which? 'Threw' is the past tense of 'throw,' which means 'to toss an object.' 'Through' means 'to enter and then exit.' For example, look at this sentence: 'The car drove through the tunnel.' 'Through' is the correct usage because the car is entering and then exiting the tunnel.

There are many pairs of words that get mixed up by English speakers. Another example is 'accept' and 'except.' 'Accept' means 'to receive something,' whereas 'except' means 'to leave something out.' For example, 'I accept your apology,' and 'I will do all my homework tonight except math.'

'Affect' and 'effect' is another easily confused pair. For this pair, remember that 'affect' is a verb. You use this word when you are describing the action of having an impact. Like in this sentence: 'The earthquake affected the building's foundation.' On the other hand, 'effect' is a noun, which means 'the result of.' For example, 'The effect of the earthquake was a destroyed city.' Be sure to check which meaning you intend, in order to choose the correct word.

Groups of Confusing Words

Sometimes there are groups of three words that can get mixed up by English speakers. For example, look at the words 'two,' 'to' and 'too.' Do you know the proper use for each of these? 'Two' is 'the number between one and three.' 'To' means 'toward or in the direction of,' and 'too' is a synonym for 'also' or 'very.' Look at how each of these words is used in these sentences: 'I have two computers at home.' 'I drove to my house.' 'I have two computers, too!' When you use these three words, be sure to ask yourself if you need a number, a direction, or the words also or very. That should help you decide which word to use.

A second group of three words which are often confused is 'there,' 'their,' and 'they're.' For this case, remember that 'there' means 'a place,' 'their' shows 'ownership of an object,' and 'they're' is the contraction for 'they are.' Look at this common mistake: 'Their going to go to Florida for vacation.' In this form, 'their' needs to show ownership of some object. Does that happen in this sentence? No, it does not. This is because the sentence should read, 'They are (they're) going to go to Florida for vacation.' On the other hand, 'Their vacation was fun.,' shows ownership of the object vacation. This is using the possessive form correctly. Lastly, you may respond, 'I would like to go there,' as 'there' now refers to a place.

A final group of three confusing words is 'your,' 'you're,' and 'yore.' Similar to 'their,' 'your' shows 'ownership of an object.' For example, 'Your bike is very fast.' The bike is owned by you, so the possessive your is correct. Also, similar to the contraction 'they're,' 'you're' is the contraction for 'you are.' Here is a sentence using it correctly: 'You're going to ride your bike to the store.' Finally, the word 'yore' means 'a period of a long time ago.' For example, 'The days of yore were hard on the early settlers.' Be sure to check which definition you need for these confusing groups of words.


Those were just some of the examples of words in the English language that are commonly used incorrectly. In addition to those words, there are some examples that are not really words at all.

One is the nonword 'ain't.' You might have heard someone say, 'She ain't going to the game.' The correct sentence is, 'She is not going to the game.' 'Ain't' is never a replacement for using the verb 'to be' along with 'not.'

A second nonword commonly used is 'y'all.' Some people mistakenly use this as a contraction for 'you all,' as in this sentence, 'Y'all come back here soon.' In reality, for correct grammar, you should not even use the word 'all.' The pronoun 'you' can be used to refer to a single person or a group of people. The correct way to form that sentence is, 'You come back here soon.' The 'all' is unnecessary.

A third example of a common nonword in English is 'irregardless.' Many people mistakenly say this word instead of 'regardless,' which means 'without regard' or 'nevertheless.' Look at this example: 'We should try to win the game, irregardless of the fact that we are outmatched.' This simply makes no sense. Adding the prefix 'ir,' which means 'not,' makes it 'not without regard,' which is similar to a double negative and logically confusing. 'Irregardless' is simply not a word, and you should always say 'regardless.'

A final example of a nonword is 'supposably.' This nonword is often used in a sentence meaning 'theoretically,' as in this example: 'She supposably studied for this test.' This is a case of simple mispronunciation. Speakers of this nonword really should say 'supposedly,' since the root word is 'suppose,' which means 'to assume.' There is no 'b' sound in this word. You should be sure to pronounce it correctly and say 'supposedly.'

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