Commonly Misused Words

The following is a list of frequently confused/misused words.  The have similar sounds but very different meanings.  When using any of these words, writers should double-check that they’ve chosen the correct definition for the context.

Accept vs. Except

Accept is a verb meaning “to receive” or “to agree to.” 

Ex: They accepted the invitation.

Except can be a preposition or a verb.  As a preposition, it means “excluding.”  As a verb it means “to omit” or “make an exception.”

Ex: All the ballots were counted except one.

Affect vs. Effect

Affect is a verb meaning “to change” or “to influence.”

Ex: This decision will affect my future.

Effect is most frequently used as a noun meaning “result.”  Effect can also be used as a verb meaning “to accomplish.”

Ex: The good news had a remarkable effect on the group?

The President is working to effect change for the nation.

All Right vs. Alright

All right is the preferable spelling for this phrase indicating agreement. 

Allusion vs. Illusion

Allusion is a noun meaning “reference,” and usually refers to an indirect reference.

Ex: During his speech, the candidate made several allusions to the Bible without ever mentioning it directly.

Illusion is a noun meaning “misconception” or “misleading image.”

Ex: The magician was a true master of illusion, captivating the crowd for hours.

Already vs. All Ready

Already means “prior to a certain time.”

All ready means “prepared.”

Capital vs. Capitol

Capital is both a noun and an adjective.  As a noun it means both the “location of the official seat of government” and “wealth or resources.”

Ex: The capital of the United States is Washington, D.C.

The company boasted a substantial increase in capital after they began to use inexpensive foreign labor.

Capitol is a noun meaning the “building in which the state legislature meets.”  When used to refer to the building in Washington, D.C. where the U.S. congress meets, the word is a proper noun and should be capitalized.

Ex: The Capitol was invaded by reporters as soon as the President vetoed the bill.

Complement vs. Compliment

Complement is both a noun and a verb.  As a noun it means “something that completes or brings to perfection.”  As a verb it means “to complete.”

Ex: The hostess had chosen the perfect red wine to complement the exquisite filet mignon.

Compliment is both a verb and a noun.  As a verb it means “to speak favorably of.”  As a noun it means “favorable remark.”

Ex: The student blushed when the teacher complimented his essay in front of the entire class.

Principal vs. Principle

Principal is both an adjective and a noun. As a noun it means “chief administrator of a school,” “leading character,” or “sum of money.”  As an adjective it means “first” or “main.”

Principle is a noun meaning “a rule” or “a theory.”

Stationary vs. Stationery

Stationary is an adjective meaning “not moving.”

Stationery is a noun meaning “writing paper.”