People often and quite easily confuse the ideas of grammar and usage. They are, in fact, closely related. It might help if you remember that "grammar" is a broader term and deals with not just the word, but with word order, sentence construction and with words that are considered incorrectly used in any context; "Ain't," is the common example. "Usage" deals with getting the correct term in a certain context. If you think back to all those glossaries you saw that are titled "Commonly Confused Words," those are there to help you with usage, not grammar. What follows on this page is just that: a glossary of commonly confused words. I am hoping to continue to add to this glossary and time goes on, but for now, it is pretty adequate for pretty much anyone's use.
NOTE: An asterisk (*) at the beginning of an entry indicates new content.
ACCEPT / EXCEPT:Accept means to receive or allow: "I will accept your late payment." Except means "not including:" "All errors are lessons except those we don't learn from."
ADAPT / ADOPT:Adapt means to adjust: "People adapt to changes in their environments." Adopt means to take as your own: "I will adopt a child."
ADVICE / ADVISE:Advice (rhymes with "ice") is a noun meaning "counsel:" "That is good advice." Advise (rhymes with "eyes") is a verb meaning "to give counsel: "Will you please advise me of my rights?"
AFFECT / EFFECT:Affect is usually a verb that means "to have impact:" "This new policy will positively affect us." Effect is typically a noun meaning "result:" "The effect will be reduced taxes." (Of course there are exceptions here: Affect, in limited circumstances, can be a noun; psychologists may say of a patient, "This person has a flat affect," which means that he or she is not emotionally responsive. Likewise, effect can be a verb in rare instances: "The discovery of life on Titan, Europa or Enceladus may effect major changes in our collective, human ego, but it will not immediately affect our way of life on Earth.")
AID / AIDE: Aid can be either a noun or a verb that refers to help or support: "The Salvation Army offers aid to the poor;" or "The Salvation Army will aid the poor." An aide is a person who is an assistant to a political or military leader: "This person is Jon Doe, my aide."
ALL READY / ALREADY:All ready means either "fully ready:" "The car is all ready to leave the mechanic;" or it means "everyone is ready:" "The students are all ready for the exam." Already means "at this time:" "It is already time to go home."
ALL RIGHT / ALRIGHT:Alright has only recently been gaining acceptance as an acceptable (or "alright") term, even though its use stems back some 50 years or more. You do not need to use this term at all, but if you do, its use is limited to meaning "OK" or "satisfactory:" "My test answers were unclear at times, but otherwise they were alright." Personally, I insist on its use in all of my writing where appropriate. All right means "everything correct:" My answers on the text were all right; I got 100%." It is still considered correct, though, to use all right to mean "OK."
ALL TOGETHER / ALTOGETHER: The phrase all together means "collectively:" "We worked all (of us) together;" or "We all worked together." Altogether means "completely" or "entirely:" "I am altogether baffled by English."
ALLUDE / ELUDE:Allude is a verb that means "to mention" or "to refer to something obliquely:" "Poe alludes to the Bible when he says, 'down the valley of the shadow.'" Elude means "to evade" or "to escape:" "The clever criminal continues to elude the police."
AMONG / BETWEEN:Among implies a relationship with three or more persons or things: "There are good friendships among the students of our university." Between implies a relationship of only two persons or things: "There are many similarities between twins."
AMORAL / IMMORAL:Amoral means "unconcerned with morality:" "A lion killing a deer is an amoral situation." Immoral means "against morality:" "God is not please with the immoral act of murder."
AMOUNT / NUMBER:Amount refers to bulk substances where you can't or wouldn't want to be expected to count the tiny, individual items, such as money or traffic; with few correct exceptions, the noun that follows this word will generally be singular. (See also "much" and "less.") "Ten pounds is a large amount of sugar for a home." Number refers to countable objects, and the noun that follows this word is generally plural, such as dollars or cars: "We have a large number (not amount) of eager students in our class." (See also "more" and "fewer.")
ANXIOUS / EAGER: The rules here are changing swiftly. Anxious was originally used to mean "nervous" only, but it's beginning to have the second meaning of "eager" or "excited," as its use in this capacity has been ongoing since as early as the 1950's and perhaps earlier still. When it is used to mean "excited," it is followed by the infinitive, "to," but it's followed by "about" when it's used to mean "nervous:" Your best friend might say, "I'm really anxious to see your new car!" while your parents, might say, "We're really anxious about seeing your new car."
ANY MORE / ANYMORE: The phrase any more means "additional:" "Is there any more ice cream?" Anymore means "any longer:" We don't serve ice cream any longer."
ANY ONE / ANYONE: The phrase any one refers to a single item among a number of similar items: "Pick any one toy as your prize." The word anyone means "any person:" "Does anyone know the answer?"
AURAL / ORAL / VERBAL:Aural has to do with hearing: "Grampa has an aural deficit and needs a hearing aid." Oral refers to the mouth, with or without the use of words: "He responded orally, but I couldn't understand a word he said." Verbal means "with words," whether spoken or not: "The student's verbal communication was done both with sign language and writing."
BETWEEN: See AMONG / BETWEEN
BORROW / LEND:Borrow is the attainment of permission to use something temporarily: "May I borrow your car?" (It is considered incorrect to say, "Will you borrow me your car.") Lend means to temporarily hand over the use of anything other than money: "Yes, I will lend you my car." (It is considered incorrect to say, "Yes, I will borrow you my car.") See also Lend / Loan.
BRING / TAKE:Bring means "come here with." It always refers to something being carried to the person speaking: "Bring me the paper, please." Take means "to go there with." It always refers to something being carried anywhere except to the speaker: "Please take your project home with you."
CAN / MAY:Can refers to an ability to do something: "Can Superman really fly?" May refers to permission: "May I fly over the city of Metropolis?"
CAPITAL / CAPITOL:Capital means "head" or "top," which is why it is easily confused with its counterpart. Capital (with an 'a') refers to upper-case letters, the top of a column, money or to a crime that is punishable by death--virtually anything that does not refer to a sovereign state's administrative center: "Corinthian capitals are highly ornate;" "The school needs to raise capital to afford to expand," and "Canada no longer enforces capital punishment." Capitol (with an 'o') refers either to a building where a congress or a legislature meets or to the city where such a building is located: "The foreign dignitaries toured the capitol."
CITE / SIGHT / SITE:Cite is a verb meaning "to document:" "Be sure to cite your sources." Sight refers to seeing: "His new hair style was quite a sight." Site is a noun referring to a place: "This is a good site for the building;" or "Did you see the new Island English Tutor's web site?"
COMPARE TO / COMPARE WITH:Compare to means "to indicate similarities: "In an analogy we compare the concrete to the abstract." Compare with means "to indicate similarities and differences: "In a comparison/contrast essay, dogs may be compared with cats--how they are alike and how they are different."
COMPLEMENT / COMPLIMENT: A complement is a completion or an enhancement: "Your new hat complements your outfit." A compliment is an expression of praise: "I compliment you on your fine work." Remember: Compliment your girlfriend and she will always complement you."
CONVINCE / PERSUADE:Convince refers to one person changing another person's attitude or belief: "Christopher Columbus convinced the world that the earth is round." Persuade means "to instigate a response:" "The union persuaded me to vote 'yes.'" (The union cannot convince you to vote "yes," but it could convince you that "yes" is the right vote. If physical action is involved, use "persuade.")
COUNCIL / COUNSEL / CONSOLE:Council refers to an assemblage: "Did you attend the council meeting?" Counsel refers either to an advisor or to advice: "This is my counsel: plea bargain;" or "Counsel, please approach the bench;" it can also be a verb meaning "to advise:" "I counsel you to provide the document." Consoleas a verb, is pronounced 'con SOL' and means to offer comfort or encouragement: "A pastor's job is to console the grieving." As a noun, console is pronounced 'CON sol' and refers to a panel with controls, like a sound board.
DECENT / DESCENT:Decent (rhymes with "recent") means "appropriate:" "A black tuxedo is decent attire for a symphony concert." Descent (rhymes with "percent") is a noun meaning "movement downward," the opposite of "ascent." "After a successful climb up the mountain, you must be equally careful in your descent.
DEVICE / DEVISE:Device (rhymes with "ice") is a noun meaning "machine" or "piece of equipment:" "The transporter is a device that can set you on any planet from space." Devise (rhymes with "eyes") is a verb meaning "to invent:" I will devise a way to reduce tuition."
EAGER: See ANXIOUS / EAGER
EFFECT: See AFFECT / EFFECT
EMINENT/IMMINENT:Eminent means "honourable:" "David was an eminent king." Imminent shares its roots with the word "immediate;" it means "about to happen:" "Gas price increases are imminent."
ENVELOP / ENVELOPE:Envelop (rhymes with "develop") is a verb that means "engulf:" "Smog will envelop those who live in industrial cities." Envelope (rhymes with "antelope") is a noun that refers tot he packaging of a letter: "Seal the envelope."
EXCEPT: See ACCEPT / EXCEPT
FARTHER / FURTHER:Farther is a greater geographical distance: "Go farther, then turn left." Further means "in greater detail" or "to a greater extent:" "They developed their analysis further than their competitors."
*FAZE / PHASE:Faze is momentary worry; brief disconcertment: "That physics exam didn't even faze me." Phase is a step in a process or a stage of development: "Puberty is just a phase of becoming an adult."
FEWER / LESS:Fewer refers to countable items: dollars, seeds, cars: it will be followed by a noun that is plural: "Should we interview fewer contestants?" Less refers to bulk substances, things which are not counted: money, grain, traffic; it will be followed by a noun that is singular: "I think I will give less homework to my students than other teachers." See also AMOUNT / NUMBER and MANY / MUCH.
*FLOTSAM / JETSAM:Flotsam is debris that remains floating (hence, "flotsam") on the water after a ship has sunk. Jetsam is debris that has been thrown overboard or jettisoned (hence, "jetsam") from a ship so that the ship can remain light enough to stay afloat. Flotsam and Jetsam are indistinguishable after the sinking of a ship if material was jettisoned before the ship sank and then left flotsam above. That is, perhaps, why both terms are so often used in together.
FORTH / FOURTH:Forth means "ahead:" "Arise, go forth and conquer." Fourth is derived from "four" and is the written form of "4th." "Americans celebrate independence on the fourth of July."
HANGED / HUNG:Hanged refers to capital punishment: "He was hanged for high treason." Hung refers to suspending something above ground for display purposes: "We hung the painting over the mantle."
IMMINENT: See EMINENT / IMMINENT
IMMORAL: See AMORAL / IMMORAL
*IMPLY / INFER:Imply is to suggest to someone: "I implied (suggested) that his answer was incorrect, but I didn't SAY that." Infer is the opposite; it refers to reaching a conclusion by deduction or speculation: "I inferred from his coughing and sneezing that he had a cold."
INDIVIDUAL / PERSON:Individual is to be used most often as an adjective, as in "individual portions." It should not be used as a substitute for the word person. It may be used as a noun only in the rare circumstance when a person's singleness needs to be made distinct from an assembly: "Will you be dining as a group or as an individual?" Note: this person will be dining as a person whether or not he or she is part of a group. If the word person makes sense in context, use it rather than individual.
*INFER: See IMPLY / INFER
ITS / IT'S:Its is the possessive term for "it:" "The cat sat licking its paw." It's is a contraction for "it is:" "It's not unusual to see these terms confused."
*JETSAM: See FLOTSAM / JETSAM.
LAY / LIE:Lay means "to set" or "to place:" "I will lay the books on the desk." Lie, in contrast to lay, means "to rest:" "I will lie down." These words are easily confused because the past tense of lie is lay: "Yesterday, as I lay in the grass, daydreaming, a bug whispered a lie in my ear."
LEARN / TEACH:Learn means "to gain understanding or knowledge:" "In English you will learn to better use your native language." Teach means "give instruction:" "I will teach you how to write." Please remember that your teacher can't learn you anything; he or she will teach you something; your job is to learn.
LEND / LOAN:Lend means to temporarily give anything but money: "I will lend you my book." Loan is either a noun that refers to money that has been borrowed, or it is a verb that refers to the advancement of funds: "This money is a loan from the bank;" or "See if the bank will loan you some money." See also Borrow / Lend.
LESS: See FEWER / LESS
LOOSE / LOSE:Loose (rhymes with "moose") means "not tight:" "My shoelace is loose." Lose (rhymes with "whose") means to misplace: "Did you lose your key?"
MAY: See CAN / MAY
MAY BE / MAYBE: The phrase may be is an adverb/verb phrase meaning "might be:" "There may be a question like this on the test." The word maybe is an adverb meaning "perhaps:" "Maybe we will leave early."
MANY / MUCH:Many refers to countable items: dollars, seeds, cars; it will be followed by a noun that is plural: "Too many cars cause an increase of greenhouse gases." Much refers to bulk substances, things which are not counted: money, grain, traffic; it will be followed by a noun that is singular: "Too much traffic causes the 5:00 pm rush hour." See also AMOUNT / NUMBER and FEWER / LESS.
MEDAL / MEDDLE / METAL / METTLE:Medal (comes from "medallion") is an award: We won a gold medal in the Olympics." Meddle is a verb that means "to interfere: "Don't meddle in my personal affairs." Metal is the solid substance that can be used for jewelry or construction or as a conduit for electricity or heat: "What kind of metal is used in these wires?" Mettle is the term used to describe a person's courage or strength of character: "The ancient Spartans proved that they were made of sturdier mettle than the Persians."
*METEOR / METEORITE / METEOROID: A meteor is the bit of space debris that lights up in the sky as friction from our atmosphere heats its surface. A meteorite is that piece of debris after it has impacted with Earth's surface. A meteoroid is that space debris floating aimlessly in space. Here's a mnemonic that helped me: Q: What do you call a rock that you had previously mistaken for a meteorite? A: A meteor-wrong.
NUMBER: See AMOUNT / NUMBER
ORAL: See AURAL / ORAL / VERBAL
PASSED / PAST:Passed is the past tense of "pass;" it is a verb that means "moved beyond:" "I passed my first year in university." Past is a noun that refers to a former time: "In the past, I always feared failure."
PERSON: See INDIVIDUAL / PERSON
PERSUADE: See CONVINCE / PERSUADE
*PHASE: See FAZE / PHASE
POISONOUS / VENOMOUS: A substance that is poisonous is dangerous to ingest. A blowfish is poisonous if it is not prepared properly, though it is not venomous. Animals that have venom are venomous, not poisonous. Venom is injected directly into the bloodstream via a sting or a bite. Rattle snake venom is not poison; you can ingest it safely (though why would you want to?). But the rattler is venomous because it injects venom into your blood by biting.
PRESENCE / PRESENTS:Presence means attendance: "Your presence is required." Presents is plural of present that is a gift: "Thank you for the presents!"
PRINCIPAL / PRINCIPLE:Principal refers to a chief, a department head or "main" teacher: "Mr. Jones is our principal." (The principal is your pal.) Principle refers to a rule or scruple: "We must remember our principles." (Remember: rule, scruple and principle all end with "le.")
RAISE / RISE:Raise is a transitive verb meaning to lift something: "I will raise the blinds in the morning." Rise is an intransitive verb meaning "ascend:" "I will rise early tomorrow morning;" or "I will rise to the occasion."
RESPECTFULLY / RESPECTIVELY:Respectfully means "full of respect:" "Approach the principal respectfully;" or "I respectfully request . . ." Respectively means "each in order as presented:" "Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to the persons in 1st, 2nd and 3rd places, respectively."
RIGHT / RITE / WRITE:Right means either "correct:" "You got the right answer," the opposite of "left:" "The Island English Tutor is right handed," or "prerogative:" "It is my right to vote." Rite (which comes from "ritual") is a ceremony of pivotal moment: "First communion is a rite in various Protestant churches." Write is to record: "Write a letter."
RISE: See RAISE / RISE
RITE: See RIGHT / RITE / WRITE
SIT / SET:Set is a transitive verb that means "to place:" "Set your cup on the table." Sit is an intransitive verb that contrasts with stand or lie: "Children are comfortable when they sit on the floor."
SIGHT: See CITE / SIGHT / SITE
SITE: See CITE / SIGHT / SITE
SHALL / WILL:Shall refers to something imposed or enforced--an outcome not determined by our own desire. "I shall return!" is vastly different from "I will return," which means "I want to return." Will refers to a person's will, what he or she desires: "I will become famous." Keep the following sentence in mind: "If a man will not work, (that is, if he refuses to perform labour) then he shall not eat (lack of food will be imposed)."
*STALAGMITE / STALACTITE:Stalagmites are the pointy growths on cave floors formed by the minerals deposited by the water dripping from the stalactite, the pointy growths hanging from cave ceilings, directly above. Here's a mnemonic: Think of "stalag-mights" showing off their power (their might) the way weightlifters show off their rising biceps; both the stalagmite and the bicep rise. Think also of "stalac -tights" as garments (tights) covering legs dangling from the cave ceiling; both the stalactites and the legs dangle.
TAKE: See BRING / TAKE
TEACH: See LEARN / TEACH
THAN / THEN:Than is used to indicate a comparison: "I studied more effectively this year than I did last year." Then is used to indicate a sequence: "First, put the Jell-O in the bowl, then add hot water."
THAT / WHICH / WHO(M): Use that and which to refer to all objects or to any animals you care little for: "I squish all bugs that come into my home." Use who or whom either to refer to all people, irrespective of how you feel about them, or to refer to any animals you are fond of: "Benedict Arnold is the name of a man who (not "that") became a traitor." See also WHICH / WITCH and WHO / WHOM.
THEIR / THERE / THEY'RE:Their is plural possessive: "William and Kate are heirs to their throne." There refers to a place: "Not here but over there." They're is a contraction for "they are:" "They're going to rule England well."
THREW / THROUGH:Threw is past tense of "throw:" "He threw the ball." Through means "side to side," "end to end" or "beginning to ending:" Look through the telescope."
TO / TOO / TWO:To is either a preposition: "Go to the room;" or it is the first half of an infinitive: "to read," "to swim" or "to eat." "John had to run to the bathroom." Too means either "excessive" or "also:" " Mom? Dad says he had too much ice cream. May I have too much, too?" Two is the number: "Dad had two bowls of ice cream, and that was too much for him, but I still wanted to go to the frige to have too much ice cream, too."
VENOMOUS: See POISONOUS / VENOMOUS
VERBAL: See AURAL / ORAL / VERBAL
WARE / WEAR / WERE / WE'RE / WHERE:Ware refers to goods for sale: "Said Simple Simon to the pie man, 'Let my taste your ware.'" Wear is a verb that refers to clothing or covering: "I will wear my finest suit." Were, typically, rhymes with "purr" and is the plural form of "was:" "Since he was late, we were all late." (Note: only in the context of "werewolf" does "were" rhyme with "air.") The apostrophe in we're gives these four letters an entirely different meaning; it is a contraction for "we are:" "We're all going to be late." Where is related to the words "here" and "there," all of which include the word "here" in the spelling.
WEAK / WEEK:Weak is the opposite of "strong:" "I fasted for forty days and nights, and, boy, am I weak!" Week is a seven-day stretch of time.
WEATHER / WHETHER:Weather refers to outdoor conditions: "The weather forecast calls for more rain." Whether indicates alternatives and is one of the question words: who, whom, what, where, when, why, whither, whence, whereby, wherefore and whose.
WHICH / WITCH:Which indicates choices and is one of the question words: who, whom, what, where, when, why, whither, whence, whereby, wherefore and whose. Witch refers to someone who performs black magic: "Dorothy's nemesis is the Wicked Witch of the West." See also THAT / WHICH / WHO(M)
WILL: See SHALL / WILL
WHO / WHOM:Who functions as the subject of a verb; it is the same part of speech as the words 'I,' 'we,' 'they,' 'he' or 'she.' Whom functions as the object of a verb; it is the same part of speech as the words 'me,' 'us,' 'them,' 'him' or 'her.'
WHOSE / WHO'S:Whose is possessive: "Whose idea was this?" Who's is the contraction for "who is:" "Guess who's coming to dinner."
WOMAN / WOMEN:Woman is singular, like "man," which is also spelled with an 'a.' Women is plural, like "men," which is also spelled with an 'e.'
WRITE: See RIGHT / RITE / WRITE
YOUR / YOU'RE:Your is possessive: "This is your idea." You're is the contraction for "you are:" "You're the greatest English tutor in the world, and you're humble, too."