Commonly Confused Words

Word Choice

Week 1:

affect: (verb) means to influence. The flood will affect the harvest.
effect: (almost always a noun) means “result.” The effect of the flood was frightening.

effect: (as a verb) means to cause. He will effect many changes in the agricultural rules.

allude: to make an indirect reference to something. President Clinton alluded to the problems of past Republican administrations when defending his record. (Note: To refer to something means to mention it directly.)
elude: to escape or avoid detection. Newt Gingrich eluded the fashion police.

among: implies a “distribution” involving three or more persons or object that have no explicit relationship. The lottery money was divided among Oregon’s five lucky winners.
between: refers to position or action of two persons or objects, and is also used if there is a “definite relation” between persons or objects. Between you and me, this building will never be completed. Negotiations have broken down between architects, builders and the owner.

anxious: afraid or worried. Sally was anxious about the championship game.
eager: excited. Sally was eager to play in the championship game.

Week 2:

accept: to receive. Gail Devers accepted the gold medal.
except: to exclude. Every swimmer received an Olympic medal except for Janet Evans.

aid: assistance. Students often ask their parents for aid.

aide: an assistant. A congressional aide said the senator was unavailable for comment.

because of: shows cause and effect. Because of a tuition increase, students were angry.
due to: use only with a linking verb. The riot at Johnson Hall was due to a tuition increase.

because: gives reason or cause for something. The bridge was closed because the river flooded.
since: denotes a period of time. The bridge has been closed since the river flooded.

compose: made up of other things, to create or put together (e.g., parts, ingredients). The car is composed of many mechanical and electrical systems.

comprise: takes in, includes or embraces other things, contains. The United States comprises 50 states.
Note: The whole comprises the parts — the whole is never comprised of the parts.

Week 3:

compared to: to liken one thing to another type or category of things as in a metaphor. He compared playing goalie to being a drill sergeant.

compared with: to examine similarities and differences within the same type or category. We compared Big Macs with Whoppers.

convince: to be secure about a decision or principle. Jody Runge is convinced the Ducks will win the game.
persuade: to induce someone to do something or embrace an idea. Jody Runge persuaded the referee to call a foul.

complement: (noun or verb) denotes completeness or the process of supplementing something. Susan’s Doc Marten’s complement her leather jacket.
compliment: (noun or verb) denotes praise. Sean was proud of the compliments on his writing.

continual: a steady repetition. The senator’s drinking was the source of continual rumors.

continuous: uninterrupted, unbroken. Ahead of them was a continuous stretch of desert.

discreet: prudent, circumspect. British royalty seem to have forgotten how to be discreet.
discrete: detached, separate. There have been six discrete incidents of plagiarism this year.

Week 4:

elicit: (verb) to bring out or draw forth. Her lecture on prison reform elicited a strong reaction.
illicit: (adjective) illegal or unlawful. Bob Packwood’s illicit actions led to his downfall.

enormity: wickedness. The enormity of the crime was revealed in Technicolor.
enormousness: very great in size. The enormousness of the national debt boggles the mind.

fewer: refers to a number of indivdual items. Lisa made fewer free throws than Cindy.

less: refers to bulk, amount, sum, or period of time. Because of her injury, she had less time on the court than the other players

farther: physical distance. Sue kicked the soccer ball farther than any of her teammates.
further: extension of time or degree. The reporter will look further into the president’s death.

hanged: (verb; conjugated hang, hanged and hanged) refers to people. The State of Oregon hanged the murderer for his crimes.
hung: (same verb; conjugated hang, hung and hung) refers to objects. The University of Oregon athletic department hung photos of women basketball players in the halls of Mac Court.

Week 5:

hangar: a building. The remnants of the plane are in the hangar.
hanger: something you hung your shirt on. There are never enough hangers in my closet.

if: a conjunction meaning “in the event that” or “on the condition that.” If the Ducks keep playing well, they may play in post season games.

whether: a conjunction meaning “in case,” “if it happens that” or “if it is so that.” Bob Rodman asked whether the Ducks had won.

illusion: an unreal or false impression. The commercial created the illusion that the politician had told the truth about his past.

allusion: an indirect reference. Packwood made an allusion to his critics in Oregon.
elusive: tending to elude capture, perception or understanding. An informative, intelligent political commercial has proved elusive.

like: a preposition used to compare nouns or pronouns. Nicole runs like the wind.

as if: a conjunction used to introduce clauses. Nicole runs as if her life depends on it.

Week 6:

imply: to suggest or hint. Perot implied that he would run for president.
infer: to conclude from evidence. Reporters inferred that Perot would run as a third-party candidate.

media: (plural) in the sense of mass communication. The media are pressing for access to more government documents.
medium: (singular of media) AM radio may be the medium that has changed the most in the last five years.

more than: generally refers to relationships between figures and amounts. Tuition has increased more than 18 percent in the last two years.

over: generally refers to spatial relationships. The helicopter flew over the volcano.

notorious: to be widely and unfavorably known. Ted Bundy was a notorious killer.
famous: to be widely known. The Miami Dolphins signed the famous coach, Jimmy Johnson.


Week 7:

proven: use only as an adjective. This is a proven method to get good grades.
proved: past participle for the verb prove, which means to establish the truth of something. The game against Washington proved the Ducks’ defense had a lot to learn.

regardless: without regard or unmindful. The couple hikes every weekend regardless of the weather.
irregardless: a dreaded double negative that has been snubbed by dictionaries nationwide.

reluctant: unwilling to act. Susan is reluctant to go to the dentist.

reticent: means unwilling to speak. Steven is reticent in public places.

to: a preposition meaning (among other things) as compared with. President Clinton compared the nation’s debt to a swelling balloon.
with: a preposition meaning in the company of or alongside of. Susan went with her sister to the meeting.


Week 8:

towards: Don’t even think about using this out-of-date word unless you’re writing a poem in Olde English.
toward: This is the 20th Century word.

under way: two words in virtually all uses. Construction on Allen Hall is well under way.

underway: Use only as an adjective before a noun in the nautical sense. In other words, forget about it.

under: physically underneath. Several people sleep under the bridge at night.
less than: a lesser quantity or amount. I can go to the concert if the tickets are less than $5.00.


Sources: “Grammar for Journalists,” E.L. Callihan
The American Heritage Dictionary
The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual
“When Words Collide,” Kessler and McDonald.

Related posts:


  1. Christy says

    Thank you so much for this site! I’ll be using it to reinforce grammar with my daughter before she takes her ACT. I plan on going through the entire 10-week curriculum as a refresher for her. Huge blessing! Thanks!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *