Essential checklist of 140 words you could be getting wrong and that spellcheck might miss

in Resources / Learning

Are you making subtle but perceptible mistakes in your writing? Suffering from stuff spellcheck won’t pick up? Are you looking naïve in your pitches and emails?

It’s a complex beast, the English language. Forever evolving, like literally, it can be difficult to keep up with what means what: such as that guy on Channel 4’s intriguing reality show First Dates, who reckoned it a huge compliment to tell a girl ‘your eyes are ridiculous,’ before upping the ante and telling her teeth were ridiculous too. He was ridiculous. Like, literally.

To help you out, we’ll now take a look at the 140 most commonly confused words in the English language…

Mistakes you've probably made – or are making right now

1. Adverse / Averse

Adverse: not good
Averse: not liking, keen to avoid

2. Accept / Except

Accept: to get, or take on board
Except: does not include

3. Affect / Effect

Affect: make a change, or difference
Effect: a result, creating a result

4. All together / Altogether

All together: everything in one place
Altogether: completely, overall

5. Amoral / Immoral

Amoral: does not give a damn about right or wrong
Immoral: not in line with moral standards

6. Canvas / Canvass

Canvas: tent material
Canvass: drum up votes

7. Climactic / Climatic

Climactic: building up to a climax
Climatic: about the climate

8. Complement / Compliment

Complement: add to and improve
Compliment: show admiration

9. Council / Counsel

Council: people who advise or manage
Counsel: advice or advising

10. Defuse / Diffuse

Defuse: reduce tension
Diffuse: spread out, in a large area

11. Discreet / Discrete

Discreet: on the down-lo, hidden
Discrete: distinct, separate

12. Disinterested / Uninterested

Disinterested: impartiality, not biased
Uninterested: has no interest

13. Exercise / Exorcise

Exercise: gym stuff, or put in action
Exorcise: kill a ghost or demon

14. Flounder / Founder

Flounder: act clumsy, or find something hard
Founder: to fail

15. Grisly / Grizzly

Grisly: gruesome, horrific
Grizzly: big bear

16. Hoard / Horde

Hoard: store Horde: big crowd

17. Imply / Infer

Imply: suggest but not directly
Infer: make a conclusion

18. Loath / Loathe

Loath: not willing, reticent
Loathe: hate

19. Meter / Metre

Meter: device, i.e. water or gas meter
Metre: unit of length or rhythm of a poem

20. Practice / Practise

Practice: use of an idea, method - and where a dentist etc. works
Practise: to do something repeatedly to get better, or do something often e.g. practise what you preach

21. Principal / Principle

Principal: #1 in importance; boss of a school
Principle: rule or belief

22. Stationary / Stationery

Stationary: motionless
Stationery: office materials

23. Titillate / Titivate

Titillate: arouse interest
Titivate: spruce up, make attractive

24. Tortuous / Torturous

Tortuous: complex, or twisting
Torturous: laden with suffering, painful

And there's more...According to the Oxford University Press, many people struggle with misusing these words too

25. Advise / Advice

Advise: make recommendations
Advice: the recommendations themselves

26. Aisle / Isle

Aisle: space between the seats or supermarket shelves
Isle: Island, e.g. Isle of Wight

27. Aloud / Allowed

Aloud: out loud
Allowed: permitted

28. Altar / Alter

Altar: holy table in a church
Alter: change

29. Appraise / Apprise

Appraise: make an assessment
Apprise: to give someone info

30. Assent / Ascent

Assent: an agreement eg. royal assent
Ascent: rising or climbing

31. Aural / Oral

Aural: re. ears, or hearing
Oral: re. mouth, or speech

32. Balmy / Barmy

Balmy: t-shirts and shorts weather
Barmy: mad as a box of frogs

33. Bare / Bear

Bare: strip, or stripped
Bear: carry a load (bear with me...); grizzly bear, teddybear

34. Bated / Baited

Bated: as in 'with bated breath', i.e. the suspense is killing me
Baited: bait is attached

35. Bazaar / Bizarre

Bazaar: market, souk
Bizarre: weird

36. Berth / Birth

Berth: a shelf to sleep on
Birth: when a baby pops out

37. Born / Borne

Born: a life begun
Borne: carried

38. Bough / Bow

Bough: thin branch of a tree
Bow: to bend the head; the front of a ship

39. Brake / Break

Brake: pedal of a slowing car, stop
Break: divide or pause

40. Breach / Breech

Breach: break a rule or break in
Breech: part of a gun

41. Broach / Brooch

Broach: to raise a topic for discussion
Brooch: jewellery

42. Censure / Censor

Censure: criticise heavily
Censor: to ban, obscure; and also the person doing it

43. Cereal / Serial

Cereal: corn, maize etc.; also Cornflakes etc.
Serial: episodic

44. Chord / Cord

Chord: music notes
Cord: length of rope-like material (or body part)

45. Coarse / Course

Coarse: rough to feel
Course: path; series of class; part of a meal

46. Complacent / Complaisant

Complacent: self-satisfied
Complaisant: wants to please

47. Cue / Queue

Cue: signal for action; snooker tool
Queue: wait in line, or the line itself

48. Curb / Kerb

Curb: keep in control
Kerb: (chiefly British) edge of the pavement

49. Currant / Current

Currant: raisin-like sticky fruit
Current: now; flow of air, water or electricity

50. Desert / Dessert

Desert: to abandon; big sandy thing
Dessert: pudding e.g. cheesecake

51. Draught / Draft

Draught: air current
Draft: re. writing i.e. first draft, final draft etc.

52. Draw / Drawer

Draw: when scores are tied
Drawer: for storage, e.g. sock drawer

53. Dual / Duel

Dual: with two parts
Duel: head-to-head competition, fight

54. Elicit / Illicit

Elicit: to draw out a reaction
Illicit: illegal, hooky

55. Ensure / Insure

Ensure: make it happen
Insure: to make good a loss; prepare financial compensation

56. Envelop / Envelope

Envelop: surround or wrap
Envelope: what letters come in

57. Flaunt / Flout

Flaunt: ostentatiously show off
Flout: disregard the rules

58. Forbear / Forebear

Forbear: hold back, refrain
Forebear: ancestor

59. Foreword / Forward

Foreword: intro
Forward: ahead

60. Freeze / Frieze

Freeze: make ice
Frieze: decoration along a wall

61. Loose / Lose

Loose: make less tight
Lose: act of losing

62. Militate / Mitigate

Militate: stand strongly against
Mitigate: reduce severity

63. Palate / Palette

Palate: roof of mouth
Palette: artist's mixing board

64. Pedal / Peddle

Pedal: part of a bike or car
Peddle: sell stuff

65. Pole / Poll

Pole: long thin lump of wood/metal/plastic
Poll: vote

66. Pour / Pore

Pour: flow or make flow
Pore: small opening; study very closely

67. Prescribe / Proscribe

Prescribe: authorise or order
Proscribe: officially forbid, outlaw

68. Sceptic / Septic

Sceptic: doubter
Septic: filled with bad bacteria

69. Sight / Site

Sight: ability of seeing
Site: location

70. Storey / Story

Storey: level in a building
Story: tale with a narrative

With thanks to the Oxford English Dictionary, a true tool of the trade, a cache of words so magnificent that it would take a single data entry clerk 120 years to type it out (that’s 59 million words, in the second edition release in 1989).

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