Misused Words


For many people automatic spell-checkers are a godsend. They catch spelling mistakes and even some errors of grammar, but sadly they don’t catch everything. When it comes to errors in word usage, spell-checkers are often of little help. The English language is full of word pairs that have different but related meanings that are often confused. Spell-checkers also do not catch misused homonyms (words that have the same pronunciation but different spellings, because these words are technically spelled correctly. Here are few of the most common usage errors made by writers.

ACCEPT/EXCEPT: The word accept is a verb that means to receive or agree to. (sample: I accept the fact that I will never be a supermodel.) The word except is proposition that means to exclude or omit. (sample: He took all the books except the dictionary.)

AFFECT/EFFECT: The word affect is a verb that means to alter or change. (sample: His poor vision affects his ability to drive.) The word effect is a noun that means a result, outcome, or consequence. (sample: Hair loss is an effect of the medication.)

A LOT: This is often incorrectly spelled as one word. It means many or a large amount and should always be written as two words.

CAPITAL/CAPITOL: The word capital is a noun that refers to a seat of government, property, assets, or an uppercase letter. (sample: The capital of Louisiana is Baton Rouge.) The word capitol is a noun that refers to the building in which a legislature meets. (sample: The senator entered the capitol and proceeded to his office for the meeting.)

COULD HAVE/WOULD HAVE/SHOULD HAVE: The words could, would, and should are past tense forms of the verbs can, will, and shall. They are often used in conjunction with the word have. (sample: I could have eaten a muffin.) Many people incorrectly use the word of instead of the word have. (incorrect: I could of eaten a muffin.)

LAY/LIE: The word lie is a verb that means to recline or assume a horizontal position. (sample: I’m going to lie down.) The word lay means to set something down. (sample: Lay the book on the table.)

LOSE/LOOSE: The word lose is a verb, meaning to fail to win, to misplace an item, or to deprived of something. It is pronounced with the “z” sound and not the “s” sound. (sample: If we don’t score a goal, we will lose the game.) The word loose is an adjective that means not attached, free, or not tight. (sample: After she lost ten pounds, Sally’s pants were very loose.)

PLURAL v. POSSESSIVE: I recently read an ad that used the plural form of the word family when the possessive form was needed. The ad read: Find your families new home today! (This indicates that you have more than one family and seems unconnected to the new home.) It should have read: Find your family’s new home today!

PRINCIPLE/PRINCIPAL: The word principle is a noun that means law, doctrine, or underlying faculty. (sample: This country was built on the principles of liberty and justice.) The word principal is a noun that can mean headmaster of a school or the amount of money that earns interests on a debt. (samples: The principal made the announcements. The principle amount of the debt is $15,000.) As an adjective it means most important. (sample: The safety of his family was his principal concern.)

THEIR/THERE/THEY’RE: The word their is a possessive pronoun. (sample: Their house is for sale.) The word there is an adverb regarding location. (sample: I am here and he is there.) The word they’re is a contraction of “they are.” (sample: They’re getting a dog.)

THEN/THAN: The word then is an adjective that refers to time. (sample: First I went to the bank, then I went to work.) The word than is a conjunction used in comparisons. (sample: She is faster than Sherry.)

TO/TOO/TWO: The word to is a preposition that indicates movement toward something or someone. (sample: She went to school.) The word too can indicate excess or something that is more than enough. (samples: The room was too hot. She was a student too.) The word two is a number. (Leslie has two cars.)

YOUR/YOU’RE: The word your is a possessive pronoun. (sample: Your hair looks great.) The word you’re is a contraction of “you are.” (sample: You’re a good friend.)

Double check your written communications for these simple mistakes and you can avoid some embarrassing mistakes. These are just a few of the mistakes I’ve noticed most often. If you can think of any others, please share them here.


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