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

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?

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

It’s a complex beast, the English language. Forever evolving, like literally, it can be challenging to keep up with what means what. Such as that guy on Channel 4’s entertaining reality show First Dates, who reckoned it a huge compliment to tell a girl ‘your eyes are ridiculous,’ before upping the ante and exposing 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: a 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: a 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; the 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. the 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, e.g. 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; a 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: the act of losing

62. Militate / Mitigate

Militate: stand firmly against
Mitigate: reduce the severity

63. Palate / Palette

Palate: roof of the 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 a flow
Pore: small opening; study very closely

67. Prescribe / Proscribe

Prescribe: authorise or order
Proscribe: officially forbid, outlaw

68. Sceptic / Septic

Sceptic: the doubter
Septic: filled with harmful bacteria

69. Sight / Site

Sight: the ability to see
Site: location

70. Storey / Story

Storey: level in a building
Story: a 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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