Most Commonly Misused Words
The following list of misused words was compiled by selecting words which appear most frequently on other lists of commonly misused words. Most misused words are words that sound alike but are spelled differently (called homophones—from Greek; homo meaning same; phone meaning sound).
A misused word is called a malapropism (definition - ridiculous use of words, especially through confusion caused by resemblance in sound. The word comes from the character Mrs. Malaprop in Richard B. Sheridan's play The Rivals.).
accept/except — accept means to take or receive with approval, to understand; except means to leave out, to exclude.
affect/effect — affect means to act upon or to produce an effect. It is a verb. effect means a result or consequence of an action. It is a noun.
already/all ready — already means by this time (We had already finished the story.); all ready means all are ready (We are all ready to go now.).
capital/capitol — capital means a city or town that is the seat of government of a state or nation, also wealth; capitol is a building.
complement/compliment — complement means something that completes another; compliment means something said in praise.
desert/dessert — desert means to leave behind or a dry, barren region of land; dessert is the sweet served at the end of a meal.
farther/further — while both words refer to distance, farther should be used with physical distances (I ran farther each day as I trained for the marathon.); further should be paired with metaphorical distances (When I delved further into the research, I found discrepancies.).
its/it’s — its is the possessive form of it meaning something belongs to it; it’s is the contraction of it is.
lead/led — lead (pronounce in the same way as led) means a metal; led is the past tense of the word lead (spelled the same way as the metal) meaning to command or provide direction.
lose/loose — lose means to be unable to find or to fail to win; loose means not firmly fastened; not tight; or inexact
plain/plane — plain means simple or unadorned; plane means an airplane, a tool, or a flat surface.
principal/principle — principal means the main or important; principle means a statement of a rule of conduct or in science or mathematics.
shear/sheer — shear means to cut or clip; sheer means straight up and down without a break.
sight/site — sight means something that is seen; site means a location of a planned structure.
stationary/stationery — stationary means to be fixed in one place; stationery is paper used in correspondence.
tail/tale — tail means the end of the body of an animal; tale means a story.
team/teem — team means a group on one side; teem means to become filled to overflowing.
then/than — then refers to a subsequent event; it places events in order of occurrence; than is a comparison (12 is more than 6).
there/their/they’re — there means a location away from you; their means belonging to them; they’re is the contraction of they are.
threw/through — threw means to have thrown an object;through means to go in one side and out the other
to/too/two — to is a preposition and can be used with a verb (to make a cake) or a noun or pronoun (The dog came to him when he called it.); too means more than enough (I ate too much ice cream.); two is the number 2.
vain/vane/vein — vain means conceited; vane means a weathervane or weathercock which indicates the direction of the wind; vein means a blood vessel.
vial/vile — vial means a small vessel for liquids; vile means morally despicable.
wait/weight — wait means a period of waiting; weight means the amount that an object registers on a scale.
waist/waste — waist means the middle section of a body; waste means to squander material or the leftover portion of a material used.
weak/week — weak means lacking strength; week means a period of seven days.
who’s/whose — who’s is a contraction of who is; whose is the possessive of who.
wonder/wander — wonder is a feeling of surprise and admiration; wander means to ramble around without a fixed destination; to drift from place to place
would have/would of — pronunciation might lead you astray here but would of is never correct.
your/you’re — your means belonging to you; you’re is the contraction of you are.
Do you have a suggestion for an addition to this list? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org