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Most Commonly Confused Words Explained

Most Commonly Confused Words Explained

Some students continue to struggle with the differences between confusing English words. Such as ‘Affect’/’Effect’. These frequently confused words are common amongst many students. This can create potential grammar mistakes in all forms of academic papers which can certainly lower grades.

Follow this article written by professionals of our essay writing service to learn more about the most commonly confused words in English.

Affect: A consequence of a situation.

Effect: Special effects have been used in cinema for decades.

List of Commonly Confused Words

Advice / Advise

Issue: Do you ask a guide for advice or advise?

Answer: Advice


Advise means that something needs to be accomplished. It also means to recommend or to provide information to someone. It can also be used as a title, adviser.

Usually people in management are given the title (their department) and the word ‘advisor’. For example: Sales Advisor. Senior Accounting Advisor. Advice usually means to receive information from someone who is trying to help you.

Not to be confused. The ‘S’ of ‘advise’ is pronounced as ‘Z’. The ‘advice’ with a ‘C’ is receiving information.

Appraise / Apprise

Issue: Stores apprise or appraise goods?

Answer: Appraise


The term ‘appraise’ means to ‘evaluate the quantity of value of’ something or ‘mark a price onto it; value’. It is among the group of most commonly confused words, along with ‘apprise’. This refers to providing someone information. This means one would apprise another of the appraisal.

Breath / Breathe

Issue: Do we breathe or breath?

Answer: Breathe


‘Breathe’ means literally something that every living organism does on Earth. Take air into lungs and exhale. ‘Breath’ means the exhaled air which has been expelled from the lungs. Breath can also smell unpleasant.

Capital / Capitol

Issue: Do you need capital or capitol to run your own company?

Answer: Capital.


Capital has numerous meanings. It refers to money, a city where the main control of the country is located, the western political system (capitalist, capitalism). Capitol means a building where lawmakers meet.

big list with commonly confused words explained

Cite / Site / Sight

Issue: James caught sight or site of the study which he had sighted or cited in his essay?

Answer: Site; Cited


These commonly confused words are pronounced the same. It is easy to get mixed up between these variants. ‘Cite’ means to reference passages, books, authors or sources - as evidence of an argument or to backup a theory or claim.

The two homophones ‘site’ and ‘sight’ are more frequently confused words among the group. ‘Site’ refers to a location where something stands or an area of where an event will take place or has already happened. The noun form of ‘sight’ refers to the act of seeing, or something that one can see or that has already been spotted.

Desert / Dessert

Issue: George received an appropriate punishment. Did he get his just deserts or just desserts?

Answer: Just deserts


This term is not related to sandy deserts filled with cactuses and camels. It also does not refer to delicious desserts people usually consume after their evening meal. Instead, this deserts derives from the same word deserve. (Strangely, it is pronounced the same as desserts.)

Emigrate / Immigrate

Issue: Did Amy emigrate or immigrate to Ireland 6 years ago?

Answer: Immigrate


This term ‘Emigrate’ refers to the act of moving away from one city or country to another to reside somewhere else. As ‘Immigrate’ means to reside into a territory from somewhere else.

Flair / Flare

Issue: The house suddenly burst a flair or flare?

Answer: Flare


‘Flare’ means a bright flame that has bursted suddenly or a ‘burst of emotion’. Flair refers to a ‘unique or instinktive aptitude or ability for success’. It can also have the same meaning in the context of originality or fashionable. Meaning one dresses ‘with flare’. At the same time wearing a skirt that has a fashionable flare.

Farther / Further

Issue: Are the mountains farther or further away from the village?

Answer: Further


‘Farther’ is used to describe literal distances. As ‘further’ is used to describe both figurative and literal distances. ‘Further’ can also be used as a term to expand information.

Gray / Grey

Issue: Thom’s shirt is gray or grey?


American: Gray.
British: Grey.


There are two correct variants of this word in English. ‘Gray’ is the American variant of the word. As ‘Grey’ is the british variant. If you’re an art or graphic design student, remember to write the correct variants in the UK or USA. This can cause difficulty among students, sometimes. Thus, making it some of the most confusing words.

Historic / Historical

Issue: Was Winston Churchill a historic or historical figure?

Answer: Historical


These two words convey separate meanings about how facts of history. The term ‘historic’ means something of vital importance or famous in history (events or occurrences of history). For example: The signing of the Armistice was one of the most important historic events in Europe. The term ‘historical’ relates to important figures of history.

example of two commonly confused words

It’s / Its

Issue: It’s or Its very warm outside today in California?

Answer: It’s


The term ‘It’s’ is a contraction of “it is”. It is one of the commonly confused words in English with the other variant, ‘Its’. Which is a pronoun that implies a sense of belonging.

Learned / Learnt

Issue: Jake learnt or learned Algebra in his Mathematics class today.


USA: Learned
UK: Learnt


There are two correct variants of this word. ‘Learned’ is the American word. As ‘Learnt’ is the British word. It is important to remember this, wherever you are. If you’re writing a paper in America, use the American variant. As if you are writing a paper in Britain, use the British variant. This can cause confusion among peers, sometimes. Thus, it belongs to the group of confusing words.

Loose / Lose

Issue: Was Amy’s jacket too loose or lose?

Answer: Loose


There two frequently confused words are easily mixed. It is easy to remember once you gain the knowledge. Loose usually means that something doesn’t fit. As lose means to have something deducted from oneself.

Pour / Pore

Issue: Does the nurse pour or pore some water, from the jug, into her patients glass?

Answer: Pour


Generally speaking, these are some of the most confusing words. ‘Pour’ means to create a perfect flow of a liquid in form of a steady stream. ‘Pore’ often means the feet of an animal, like a cat or dog. It also means the minute openings you may find on your skin. It also means being absorbed in a particular study or reading.

two commonly confused words, bear and bare

Principal / Principle

Issue: Is Amy principal or principle of EssayPro International School?

Answer: Principal


Principal is a noun and well as an adjective. In form of a noun, it refers to someone who is leader of a school or organization. As an adjective, it means the most vital. The term principle means a strong belief or idea. These can the most commonly confused words in English, even by native speakers.

Than / Then

Issue: Did Amy’s dog run faster than or then George’s dog in the canine tournament?

Answer: Than


‘Than’ is a word used to make comparisons. As ‘Then’ is used as an indication of time or sequences. These can be frequently confused words by some people. The reason is because they really are similar. Even some native English speakers can easily confuse these words.

Their / There / They’re

Issue: Is the Empire State Building there or their or they’re?

Answer: There


These words are by far the most confused words in English. However, the differences are easy to remember. Their means belonging. There means a location. They’re is short for “They are”.

To / Too

Issue: Did Brian go ‘to’ or ‘too’ the fish and chip shop?

Answer: To


‘To’ is used to address something or someone. As ‘too’ implies that the person or object does the same thing or serves the same purpose.

Tortuous / Torturous

Issue: Some movies contain tortuous or torturous scenes?

Answer: Torturous


If movies about wars contained twists, then they would probably be tortuous. However, if it also involved or caused torture, writers need to be wary about the aspect of the movie they’re discussing.

list of most commonly confused words

Who’s / Whos

Issue: Who’s or Whose calling James this late at night?

Answer: Who’s


These two phenomenons are definitely commonly confused words among people. The term ‘Who’s’ is short for “Who Is”. The phrase ‘Whose’ is a possessive pronoun which refers to “belonging to [someone]”. E.g. Whose phone keeps ringing all the time?

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