The English language is full of confusing little rules, and word usage can be one of those confusing areas. There are many words that are spelled similarly, or sound similar, and mastering these sublties can prove beneficial to one’s career, reading competency, and one’s overall mastery of the English language. Within this guide are some of the most common mistakes we tend to make, and an example of how to correctly use each word variation.
1) Effect Vs. Affect
Effect is used to express result, or an end product. Effect is a noun.
Affect expresses influence or shaping. Having an effect on something. Affect is a verb.
Effect Example: The effect of ADHD medication is astounding.
Affect Example: It is interesting to study how ADHD medication affects our children’s health.
2) Eminent Vs. Imminent
Eminent describes that an individual or thing is distinguished, or well-known.
Imminent expresses that something is on-coming or impending.
Eminent Example: Jeff was is an eminent member of the community, having contributed not only money, but time to the building of four new schools.
Imminent Example: Televsion news stations are reporting on the imminent dangers tsunamis from the recent earthquake will pose to nearby nations.
3) To Vs. Too
To is a preposition, and is used to link a noun.
Too is an adverb which modifies the degree of something.
To Example: Please move the car over to the other side of the street.
Too Example: There are too many trees around the house to see the sunset at night.
4) Whose Vs. Who’s
Whose shows possession of something.
Who’s is a contraction for “who is.”
Whose Example: Whose hat is that sitting on the table?
Who’s Example: Who’s that guy at the counter, I don’t recognize him.
5) Conscience Vs. Conscious
Conscience is a noun meaning a sense of right and wrong, principles.
Conscious is an adjective describing awareness.
Conscience Example: Her conscience kept her from stealing the lipstick from the store.
Conscious Example: It took days after the car accident for him to regain consciousness.
6) Adverse Vs. Averse
Adverse means unfavorable, or unpleasant.
Averse expressed opposition or reluctance.
Adverse Example: The decision to dump sewer water into the city lake had adverse effects on the local wildlife.
Averse Example: She was averse to the idea proposed by the government because she believed it would impact the lives of community members too greatly.
7) All together Vs Altogether
All together means everyone or everything together.
Altogether is used to mean entirely, or overall.
All together Example: He tried to get his family all together for the holidays, but the winter storm thwarted his plans.
Altogether Example: She wasn’t altogether certain that his quickly laid plans would work.
8) Elicit Vs. Illicit
Elicit is a verb expressing the action of bringing out or extracting.
Illicit is an adjective describing illegal, criminal, or unlawful.
Elicit Example: None of the students knew the answer to the question, so the teacher gave hints to elicit an answer from them.
Illicit Example: The 40-year old man was arrested at the airport for illicit drug trafficking.
9) Principal Vs. Principle
Principal is the title of a person. It is a noun meaning the head of a school, or other major organization. A lesser known definition is also an amount of money.
Principle is a noun meaning a belief, or standard.
Principal Example: The principal forbade the students from wearing short skirts and baggy pants to school.
The principal balance left on the account was $500.00, a low enough amount for Sue to pay in just one month.
Principle Example: It was against his principles to steal, so he walked away when his friends decided to take candy from the store.
10) Than Vs. Then
Than is used in comparisons between two objects, circumstances, people, etc.
Then is an adverb expressing time or sequence.
Than Example: She was jealous of Hollywood actresses because she felt that they were more beautiful than she was.
Then Example: We went to the store first, then went by the coffee shop for some refreshments.
1) Dictionary.com, LLC (2011). Thesaurus.com.
2) Hacker, D. (2007). A Writer’s Reference. Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston.
3) Merriam-Webster (2011). Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Encyclopedia Britannica.