Frequently Confused Words
The Tricky Top Twenty
I see the following orthographic tricksters confused so often, I’ve awarded them a place on my own Top Twenty List of Misused Words. For ease of reference, the words are listed in alphabetical order.
1. bare/bear - These two short words cause an inordinate amount of confusion. The verb form of bear has so many uses, I’ve placed examples at the end of this list.
Clothes -- what you wear; garment
Cloths – pieces of fabric
compliment – praise, expression of admiration
complement – something that fills up or makes complete
dessert – ice cream, cake, pudding or other sweet
desert – arid land where ice cream might taste refreshing!
discreet – modest or prudent behavior; unobtrusive
discrete – constituting a separate entity; individually distinct
effect – (verb) to cause, to make happen
(noun) a result or impact of something; an outcome
affect – (verb) to influence something or to put on a pretense
(noun) an emotional response
elicit – to draw out
illicit – unlawful, forbidden
emigrate – leave one’s county
immigrate – settle in a new country
eminent – prominent; conspicuous
imminent – about to happen
envelop – (verb) to cover or surround completely
envelope – (noun) container for a letter; something that envelops
figuratively – metaphorically or symbolically
literally – exactly; without exaggeration; something that actually happened
[We often see literally used as an intensifier, like the word very, to gain emphasis. But this is generally considered to be incorrect usage.]
imply – suggest or express indirectly
infer – draw a conclusion; deduce
insight – discernment; the act of apprehending the inner nature of things
incite – spur to action; instigate
lightening – the relieving of a burden, weight or problem
lightning – electrical discharge released during a storm
metal – a substance that is primarily hard, opaque, and has good conductivity.
mettle – courage; vigor and strength of spirit or temperament
nauseous – to cause nausea
nauseated - to feel nausea
peak – highest point; maximum
peek – (verb) to look furtively; (noun) a brief glance
pique – a transient feeling of wounded vanity
pray – entreat, implore; to address God or a god in word or thought
prey – (noun) an animal or person killed or harmed by another animal or person
(verb) to hunt/kill an animal/person; to harm, cheat, steal from a person
To fall prey to means to be harmed or affected in a bad way.
principal – chief or main; non-interest part of a loan
principle – fundamental rule or code
rein – (verb) to guide or control
(noun) strap used to guide or control a horse
To give free rein – give freedom to make their own way
To keep under a tight rein – to watch or carefully control
reign – (verb) to rule as a monarch
(noun) a monarch’s exercise of power or period of rule
rain – (noun) condensed moisture falling separately in drops
(verb) to fall as water in drops from clouds; to fall like rain; to pour down or
Bare vs Bear
If you “grin and bare it” in a public place, you might be arrested!
I’ve yet to see the noun form of bear (relatives of Yogi, Smokey and Pooh) used incorrectly.
But the verb form of bear and the adjective/transitive verb bare are frequently interchanged, often with comic consequences.
A good rule of thumb for deciding which word to use is this: bare is generally used to imply exposure or uncovering, or a condition of lack. He bared his soul. The cupboard was bare.
The verb bear, however, has a multitude of meanings, none of which require nudity of the physical, mental or emotional sort. Here are a few:
a. to hold up under/be capable of: Her excuse didn’t bear close scrutiny.
b. support/carry: The thin pond ice will not bear his weight.
c. to hold or carry oneself/one’s body: She bears herself like a queen.
d. give birth to or produce by natural growth: A woman bears a
child and a vine bears fruit.
e. to move or go in a direction: Please bear left at the fork in the road.
f. press or weigh down: Bear down on the accelerator now!
g. to strive toward: We must all bear down on the task at hand.
h. substantiate: The facts don’t bear out Tom’s claim.
i. to endure: Nellie always bears up well under pressure.
j. show patience: Please bear with me.