Commonly Confused Words

Posted by Collins Language @ Wednesday 28 March 2012

Confusing Words LargeWhen two words are confused for one another the results can sometimes be comical, for example when affluent is confused with effluent or desert with dessert.

On other occasions mix-ups between commonly confused words can result in a situation that isn’t so funny, for example when two words with almost opposite meanings – like prescribe and proscribe - are confused.

To help you avoid such mishaps we have compiled a list of the English language’s most commonly confused words and given the two words in each pair a definition so that you can appreciate the differences which are sometimes quite subtle and other times more substantial.

List of commonly confused words:

aberrant vs abhorrent
aberrant means abnormal or untypical
abhorrent means repugnant or loathsome

accept vs except
accept means take, receive, or tolerate
except means other than; apart from

adduce vs deduce
adduce means mention something as evidence or proof
deduce means reach a conclusion by reasoning or evidence

adapt vs adopt
adapt means alter for new use
adopt means take on or assume something

advice vs advise
advice means recommendation or counsel
advise means offer advice to someone

affect vs effect
affect means influence or change something
effect means result; produce a result

afflict vs inflict
afflict means give pain or grief to
inflict means impose something unpleasant on

affluent vs effluent
affluent means rich
effluent means liquid waste

allude vs elude
allude means refer to indirectly
elude means escape from, especially by cleverness

allusion vs illusion
allusion means passing reference
illusion means false appearance; mistaken belief

alternate vs alternative
alternate means occurring by turns
alternative means thing done or had instead of something else; choice

amend vs emend
amend means change or correct
emend means edit or correct a text

among vs between
among means in the midst of
between means in the middle of two points

amoral vs immoral
amoral means without moral standards, principles or rules
immoral means transgressing moral rules

ante- vs anti-
ante- means before
anti- means against

appraise vs apprise
appraise means assess the value, quality or worth of something
apprise means make someone aware of something

assure vs insure
assure means promise or guarantee
ensure means make certain

aural vs oral
aural means of or relating to the ears or hearing
oral means spoken; (of a drug) taken by mouth

biannual vs biennial
biannual means twice a year
biennial means every two years

blatant vs flagrant
blatant means glaringly obvious
flagrant means openly outrageous

climactic vs climatic
climactic means pertaining to a climax
climatic means pertaining to climate

complacent vs complaisant
complacent means self-satisfied
complaisant means willing to please

conscience vs conscious
conscience means sense of right or wrong
conscious means alert and awake

defuse vs diffuse
defuse means remove tension (from); calm
diffuse means spread out; scattered

desert vs dessert
desert means dry or lifeless region
dessert means sweet food served after a main course

disinterested vs uninterested
disinterested means detached or impartial; unbiased
uninterested means indifferent; unconcerned; apathetic

ensure vs insure
ensure means make certain something happens
insure means take cover against loss or damage of something

envelop vs envelope
envelop means cover or surround something
envelope means paper covering a letter

flaunt vs flout
flaunt means show off; boast; brandish
flout means defy; disregard; spurn

flounder vs founder
flounder means falter, struggle or make mistakes
founder means sink; break down or fail

glance vs glimpse
glance means look rapidly or briefly
glimpse means brief, incomplete view

historic vs historical
historic means important or significant
historical means pertaining to history

ingenious vs ingenuous
ingenious means skilful; clever; original
ingenuous means honest or sincere; naive

intense vs intensive
intense means of great strength or degree
intensive means using concentrated effort or resources

intensely vs intently
intensely means in an intense way
intently means closely or attentively

lay vs lie
lay means put, place (something somewhere)
lie means recline, rest, or lounge

lightening vs lightning
lightening means becoming less dark
lightning means electrical discharge in the sky

loath vs loathe
loath means unwilling, opposed to, averse
loathe means hate, despise, abhor

loose vs lose
loose means not firmly held
lose means misplace something; be defeated

luxuriant vs luxurious
luxuriant means rich and abundant or elaborate. It is mostly used in reference to hair or vegetation!
luxurious means something that is expensive, comfortable, and sumptuous

personal vs personnel
personal means belonging to a particular person
personnel means people who work for an organization

practicable vs practical
practicable means possible; feasible
practical means sensible; pragmatic; realistic

precede vs proceed
precede means happen before something else
proceed means start or continue to do something

prescribe vs proscribe
prescribe means order something; write a prescription
proscribe means ban or forbid something

rout vs route
rout means overwhelming defeat
route means road or path chosen to reach a destination

sceptic vs septic
sceptic means person who doubts what others believe
septic means infected with poison

there vs their vs they're
there is used to say that something does or does not exist, to show position or direction
their is used to indicate that something belongs to a group of people or things
they’re is a contraction of they are

tortuous vs torturous
tortuous means curved, twisted or winding; deceptive
torturous means causing pain or torment; pertaining to torture

venal vs venial
venal means easily bribed; mercenary; corrupt
venial means easily forgiven; pertaining to a minor sin

weather vs whether
weather means the condition of the atmosphere in one area at a particular time, i.e. what it is like outside
whether is a word you use when you are talking about a choice or doubt between two or more alternatives

wander vs wonder
wander means walk around in a casual way
wonder means be amazed at something