Words Commonly Confused (troublesome)




Confusing Word Pair Diagnostic: identify specific points that need review

Word Pairs


Accept / Except: Is the action one of approving or rejecting?

40% off discount

They accepted my 40% off coupon when I bought my TV.  (They agreed to take it.)

They excepted televisions on the back of the 40% off coupon. (TVs weren't included in the coupon offer.)


Affect / Effect: is it an influence or an outcome? 

Thin Cover Girls

Seeing thin models affects a young girl's self image.

An emotional effect may be self-hate or anorexia (not eating) (result)


Another / The other: Is it one more or the rest?

milk and cookies

She ate one.  (a cookie)

Then she ate another (one more)

Then she ate the others (the rest)

Ashamed/ Embarrassed: Is it a moral or social error?


She was ashamed of herself for lying.
She was embarrassed by the lie.

?He shamed himself. 
  He embarrassed himself.

His lying was shameful.
His lying was embarrassing
He was embarrassed by it.

As it were / If you will: Are you asking the person to accept the use of a new word or phrase, or to follow your line of thought?

Starry Night

Van Gogh's night skies were filled with stars that swirled and danced, as it were, across the canvas. ("so to speak")

Imagine, if you will, a night sky filled with tiny little brush strokes.  ("Follow my thoughts.")

Van Gogh was a gifted artist, but he didn't have much of an ear, no pun intended, for music. 



Because/Though: Is it an expected (logical) or contrary outcome?

Snow travel

He wore his winter pants because it was snowing.
Schools were closed because of the cold temperature.
It was snowing.  For this reason, the schools were closed.

He was biking in his shorts though it was snowing.
The schools were open in spite of the cold temperature.
It was snowing.  Nevertheless, the schools were open.


During/ In: Is it and activity with duration or an exact time


We are on vacation during July.
We went to the beach several times in our stay.

They are on vacation in July.
*They stayed there during July, not during May.


Indeed / Even : Is it unexpected or extraordinary?

Gingerbread House

His work is indeed more amazing than before
His work is even more amazing than before
His work is in fact more amazing than before

Fewer / Less:  decreasing the amount of something


*Do you want less lines and wrinkles on your face?
fewer lines than before / less wrinkling than before

We use fewer toxic chemicals. (number)
We use less toxic chemicals. (percentage, composition)

Less is more  (noun)




For/Since: Is it a quantity of time or a specific time

Thin Cover Girls

We have been coming to this beach for fifteen years.

We have been coming to this beach since July, 1995.


Farther/Further: expressing comparative distance or "additional"

Further down the street

The shop is farther down the street.  physical distance
The shop is further down the street.  physical distance

What you say couldn't be further from the truth!  (a lie)   fig. 

Do you need any further assistance?  ("more") 
We'll help them further their cause (advance) verb 


If/ In Case: Is it a conditioned or a precautionary action


Keep some extra batteries and bottled water In case there is an earthquake.

Get away from falling objects if there is an earthquake.


If only/ Only If: Is it a regretful wish or a particular condition?


If only  I had more time!

Only if  you dry your dishes with a towel, will they be spotless! (word order change)


If/ Unless: expressing a specific condition for an outcome


If you cook your turkey like this, you will have a tender turkey. (if this condition is met)

Only if
you cook your turkey like this, will you have a delicious dinner. (under this condition - emphasizes this specific condition) .

you cook your turkey like this, you will have a tough turkey.(if this condition is not met)

Cook your turkey like this. Otherwise, you will have a tough turkey.(if using other methods)

If/Whether:  is it a condition or an alternative?

cell reception on a mountain top

I don't know if my cell phone will work here.

I don't know whether my cell phone will work here.

I don't know whether my cell phone will work if I use it here.


For/ Since: Indicating a quantity of time vs. a specific time

Thin Cover Girls

We have been coming to this beach for fifteen years.

We have been coming to this beach since July, 1995.


Lie/ Lay:  Who is lying down – the subject or the object?

Lay the baby down

The baby is lying on the couch.

I am laying the baby down for a nap.


Like/As: Are you comparing something to a noun or to a clause?

Teen Speak

My brother is like me.  (prep.)
My brother thinks as I do. (conj.)

He's smart like a fox.  (prep.)
He is as smart as a fox .  (idioms)


Little/Few: indicating insufficient quantity for count and noncount nouns 

bag of food

Few people can give to food programs this year.
A few people will work with food programs.

Little help is being offered. (not much)
A little help is being offered.  (enough)



Loose/Lose: is it not tight or gone?

loose tooth

Sophie's tooth is loose (not securely fastened)
Sophie will lose her tooth in a day or so.  (become unattached)

Sophie is loosening her tooth with her finger. (making it less tight)


Make/Do: Is the action "creating" or "performing"? 

make a cake

She is making a cake.  (is creating, preparing)
He is doing the dishes.  (is washing)

He is making travel plans.  (is arranging)
He is doing the accounts.  (performing the accounting job)

Do me a favor?


Quantity Phrases: indicating how much or how many

kid at desk with hand raised

Each of the kids knows the answer.

Most of the kids know the answer.
Most of the class knows the answer.
*Most of class knows the answer.

A number of kids know the answer.
The number of kids is ten.


Much/ Many: indicating quantity for count and noncount nouns


Not many good snacks are in the refrigerator.
Not much junk food is in the refrigerator.

Are there many good snacks in the refrigerator?
Is there much junk food in the refrigerator?

There are many good snacks in the refrigerator. (ok)
There is much food in the refrigerator. (awkward)


Much / More: increasing the amount of something


People have much more knowledge about eating right.
Many more people are eating healthier diets.

People eat too much fat, sugar and salt.
People eat too many chips, cookies and candy bars.

He is much too old for her. 
She is far too young for him.  


Rise/Raise: Who or what is rising – the subject or the object?


The sun rises at 6:00 a.m. 
We raise the flag up the pole at 6:00 a.m.

The rise of the middle class was easy to predict.
My grandparents raised me. (fostered)

Did you get a raise?


Say/Tell:  Are you quoting or reporting?

Guide speaking

She said, "Hello, I am the your guide".  (quoted speech)
She told us that she was our guide.  (indirect speech)

She said "Follow me."  (request / command)
She told us to follow her.  (request / command)


Sit/Set:  Who/What is sitting – the subject or the object?

set the pup dowm

My dog is sitting by the door.   (no object)

The woman is setting the pup next to its mother.  (requires an object)


So that: expressing purpose vs. effect

Meteor Shower

We stayed up all night so that we could watch a meteor storm.

We stayed up late, so we were able to see the meteor storm as it passed.


Some / Any: referring to an indefinite quantity or number


I'd like some tea.
I didn't get any tea.

Would you like some / any tea?

I doubt that there are any oranges here.
Not one of the shops has any tea.
I don't think that any oranges are left.

—What kind of tea is it? 
—I don't know… some tea he bought last week.


There/Their: indicating location, existence or possession

Neighborhood Food Truck Events

Each week there is an event. location
Chefs prepare gourmet food-to-go. Their menus vary.

There's a new way to order lunch.


Used / (be) used to: Is it a former habit or a habit you are becoming accustomed to?

Camping in a tent

We used to go camping every spring.  (We would go camping every spring).

We are used to going camping every spring.  (We do it often.)


When/While: joining clauses with same-time activity

Talking on phone and looking at newborn

When you called, he picked up his cell phone.

While he was talking on the phone, the baby slept.


Phrasal Verbs: using verbal expressions made up of verbs and prepositions (particles)

wolf lets out a howl
She let out a howl.

Look up. 
Look up the word in the dictionary.

He took his coat off.
He took off his coat. 
The airplane took off.