Are any words more frequently mixed up than there, their and they’re? They certainly are the first to come to mind for me. English is full of words that sound the same, but have totally differently spellings and meanings, as well as words that are spelled the same, but have totally different pronunciations and meanings. Ugh!
Even for native English speakers, choosing the correct word can be challenging. I have 8 years of university under my belt, using high level, formal English. Despite this, I still find myself questioning whether I’m using the correct word or not! Now imagine how difficult it might be if English isn’t your native language. It’s up to us English teachers to help make these tricky word decisions a little bit easier.
Here are my top 10 commonly confused or misused English words:
- Affect & Effect
‘Affect’ is usually a verb meaning change, or sometimes, a noun meaning emotion that changes behaviour.
Your test score will affect your final mark.
‘Effect’ is usually a noun meaning result of an action, or sometimes, a verb meaning to cause something to happen.
Studying with a friend can have a big effect on your mood.
2. All together & Altogether
‘All together’ means all at the same time.
My English class is going to the movies all together.
‘Altogether’ is an adverb meaning completely, in total, or on the whole.
I spent $90 altogether at the grocery store.
3. Among & Between
‘Among’ is a preposition that has to do with division. Use ‘among’ if the division is with more than 2 things or people.
We split the work among the four of us.
‘Between’ is also a preposition that has to do with division. Use ‘between’ if the division is with only 2 things or people.
Kate and Frank split the work between themselves.
4. Bad & Badly
‘Bad’ is an adjective with many uses, including when you talk about how you feel.
I feel bad about my math test score.
‘Badly’ is an adverb that describes how you performed or reacted to something.
I performed badly on my math test.
5. Breath & Breathe
‘Breath’ is a noun meaning air inhaled or exhaled.
It’s so cold outside that I can see my breath.
‘Breathe’ is a verb meaning to inhale or exhale air.
It’s hard to breathe when the temperature is very hot.
6. Complement & Compliment
‘Complement’ is a verb (and noun) meaning to complete something, or make it better.
Your pink shirt complements your blue dress.
‘Compliment’ is a noun (and verb) meaning to give praise or regards.
I received a compliment on my pink sweater today.
7. e.g. & e.i.
‘e.g.’ is an abbreviation meaning ‘for example.’
Please bring your school supplies – e.g., pencils, paper, a binder, etc.
‘i.e.’ is an abbreviation meaning ‘that is,’ and is used for clarification.
We’re going on vacation soon – i.e., in two weeks.
8. Everyday & Every day
‘Everyday’ is an adjective meaning ordinary, routine, or typical.
At school, you can wear your everyday clothes.
‘Every day’ means every single day, either overall, or within a time span.
My friend eats salad every day for lunch.
9. Fewer & Less
‘Fewer’ is used when describing plural words or countable nouns.
Everyone knows that a salad has fewer calories than a burger.
‘Less’ is used when describing singular words, or uncountable nouns.
There is less pollution in the countryside than in the city.
And of course…
10. There, Their, They’re
‘There’ has many uses and general meanings. Most often, it is related to location.
I went to high school there.
‘Their’ is an adjective that shows possession.
Luke and Holly play with their blocks.
‘They’re’ is a contraction of they (pronoun) and are (verb).
They’re finally getting married today.
There you have it! Ten of the most confused or misused English words.