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    Commonly Confused and Misused Homophones and Paronyms in English

    Commonly Confused and Misused Homophones and Paronyms in English

    Writers often confuse words that sound the same or similarly in written English. The following sections explain the differences in spelling and meaning for the most commonly confused and misused paronyms and homophones in the English language.

    Paronyms

    Paronyms are words with the similar sounds but different meanings. In written English, writers often mistake one paronym for another.

    accept – verb – to take or receive what is offered
    except – preposition – excluding
    except – verb – to leave out, to exclude

    The store accepts all major credit cards except American Express.

    advice – noun – recommendation regarding a decision or course of conduct
    advise – verb – to give advise to, to offer counsel

    After my father advised me on the matter, I took his advice into consideration.

    affect – verb – to influence, to have an effect on
    affect – noun – influence
    effect – verb – to cause to come into being, to bring about
    effect – noun – result or outcome of a cause

    The effect of the tornado affected the decision to evacuate the county.

    allusion – noun – an indirect reference, a hint
    illusion – noun – a distortion of the senses, anything that seems to be something that it is not

    Your allusion to the illusion in the movie is most transparent.

    assure – verb – to give confidence to
    ensure – verb – to guarantee
    insure – verb – to provide for compensation if some specified risk occurs

    I assure you that the company will ensure to insure your most valuable possessions.

    choose – verb – to pick, to elect, to decide
    chose – verb – simple past tense form of to choose
    choice – noun – an option, a decision

    I chose to choose the ethical choice.

    complement – noun – something that completes
    complement – verb – to complete
    compliment – noun – an expression of praise, congratulations, or encouragement
    compliment – verb – to express a favorable opinion

    The compliment from my boss complemented the celebratory party.

    decent – adjective – fair, good enough, okay
    descent – noun – a way down, a drop to a lower position
    dissent – verb – to disagree, to differ from

    The experienced hiker dissented to taking the decent descent down the mountain.

    desert – noun – a barren area of land with little to no precipitation
    dessert – noun – a sweet confection served at the end of a meal

    We shall gorge on desserts once we leave this godforsaken desert!

    diffuse – verb – to spread over
    defuse – verb – to make less danger

    The SWAT team defused the bomb while the police diffused the crowd.

    elicit – verb – to draw out, to bring out, to evoke
    illicit – adjective – unlawful, breaking social norms

    The interrogator will elicit the truth about any illicit activities.

    loose – adjective – unattached, not joined
    lose – verb – to cause something to cease to be in one’s possession, to not win

    A loose wheel caused the driver to lose the race.

    prescribe – verb – to order to do something
    proscribe – verb – to forbid, to order to not do something

    The doctor prescribed a new medication and proscribed grapefruit juice.

    than – conjunction, preposition – used in comparisons
    then – adverb – at that time, next

    Then select a cover larger than the couch.

    Homophones

    Homophones are words with the same sound but different meanings. In written English, writers often mistake one homophone for another.

    ad – noun – clipping of advertisement, a marketing solicitation
    add – verb – to join or unite

    The secretary added another ad campaign to her to-do list.

    aid – verb – to help, to assist
    aide – noun – an assistant

    My aide will aid you with the delivery schedule.

    ail – verb – to cause to suffer, to hurt, to be ill, to suffer
    ale – noun – an intoxicating liquor, beer

    Drinking too much ale in the evening ails me in the morning.

    ate – verb – simple past tense form of to eat
    eight – determiner – numeral 8

    The children ate eight cookies each.

    capital – noun – city, money and wealth
    capitol – building in which any legislature meets

    The school children took a trip to the capitol building in the state capital.

    cite – verb – to quote, to reference
    site – noun – a place
    sight – noun – the ability to see, something seen

    The mere sight of the beautiful site caused me to cite Shakespeare.

    for – preposition
    four – determiner – numeral 4

    For four hours the pastor babbled in front of his congregation.

    hear – verb – to perceive with the ear
    here – noun, pronoun

    Did you hear the sound over here?

    its – possessive determiner, possessive pronoun
    it’s – contraction of it is, it has

    It’s the cat that broke its tail.

    knew – verb – simple past tense form of to know
    new – adjective – recent, additional, not old, current

    I knew the new neighbors as a child.

    know – verb – to be certain or sure about, to be acquainted or familiar with
    no – interjection, determiner

    His depravity knows no bounds.

    peace – noun – a state of tranquility or harmony, a state free of oppressive and unpleasant thoughts and emotions
    piece – noun – a part of a larger whole

    Finding the missing piece of the puzzle brought me peace of mind.

    principal – noun – head of a school or an organization
    principal – adjective – primary, most important
    principle – adjective – fundamental assumption, moral rule or aspect, rule or law of nature

    The principal alphabetic principle places A before B.

    their – possessive determiner
    there – noun, pronoun
    they’re – contraction of they are

    They’re going over there where their car is parked.

    to – preposition
    too – adverb – also
    two – determiner – spelling of the numeral 2

    The two women went to the mall too.

    witch – noun – a woman who practices magic, an unpleasant woman
    which – interrogative determiner, indefinite pronoun

    Which witch broke her cauldron?

    who’s – contraction of who is, who has
    whose – possessive determiner, interrogative determiner

    Who’s the idiot whose glass left a ring on my coffee table?

    your – possessive determiner
    you’re – contraction of you are

    You’re your own worst enemy.

    By learning the differences in spelling and meaning of the most commonly used paronyms and homophones in the English language, writers can prevent embarrassingly mistakes.

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