When writers set out to produce work, they are — in some sense — entering a minefield. Each word, phrase and piece of punctuation offers the opportunity for misstep. And while writing errors won’t kill you, the real possibility exists that they will kill your credibility.
Perhaps one of the most treacherous areas for writers is in word choice. The difficulty comes in the transition from speaking to writing. Words that sound alike or somewhat alike but are spelled differently can cause significant confusion when it’s time to write them down.
The following is a list of the top ten most commonly confused words.
1) To, Too, Two:
- “To” is either a preposition or part of an infinitive (a verb before it’s conjugated).
- Preposition: The writers went to the author’s reading in hopes of learning something new.
- Part of the infinitive: Choosing to write for a living could be considered insane.
- “Too” is an adverb, which means it needs an adjective or another adverb to modify.
- The writer spoke too quietly to be heard.
- “Two” is a number.
- The writer submitted two different articles for the magazine.
2) There, Their, They’re:
- “There” is used either as an adverb indicating place or an expletive.
- Adverb: The writers who have been published are standing there by the display.
- Expletive: There is one thing every writer must remember before submitting a query to a magazine: Know the publication.
- “Their” is a possessive pronoun.
- Writers know that their success depends on hard work and perseverance.
- “They’re” is the contraction of “they are.”
- They’re all successful authors, but their social skills leave a lot to be desired.
3) You’re, Your:
- “You’re” is the contraction of “you are.”
- You’re one of the most successful authors in the country.
- “Your” is a possessive pronoun.
- Did you meet your deadline?
4) It’s, Its:
- “It’s” is the contraction of “it is.”
- It’s a well-known fact that a failure to proofread will come back to haunt you.
- “Its” is a possessive pronoun.
- The magazine purchases its content from an on-line clearinghouse.
5) Accept, Except:
- “Accept” is a verb. (to take possession of)
- The writers in my class sometimes struggle to accept constructive criticism gracefully.
- “Except” is most often a preposition, meaning excluding.
- Everyone submitted an essay to the contest except you.
- “Except” is, on occasion, a verb meaning to exclude.
- Will they except those writers from the list of participants.
6) Affect, Effect:
- “Affect” is a verb meaning to influence.
- Good writing affects people in profound ways.
“Effect” is usually a noun meaning result.
* The effect of bad writing is also profound, but not in a good way.
“Effect” can also be used as a verb. It means to bring about.
* Talented investigative writers can effect dramatic change in their communities.
7) Than, Then:
“Than” is a conjunction used in a comparison.
* Do you think he is a better writer than you?
“Then” is an adverb indicating time (in the past.)
* I will edit your essay, but then I will expect you to do significant rewriting.
8.) Allusion, Illusion:
An “allusion” is an indirect reference to something.
* Using allusions effectively in your writing can be tricky for inexperienced writers.
An “illusion” is false impression.
* Using overblown words does not give the illusion of genius, but arrogance.
9) Allude, Elude:
“Allude” means to make an indirect reference to something.
* The writer alluded to mistakes made by the editor when explaining his rejection letter.
“Elude” means to escape or avoid detection.
* Not even the best writer can elude making an error at some point.
10) Elicit, Illicit:
“Elicit” is a verb meaning to bring out or draw forth.
* Her essay on prison reform elicited a strong reaction.
“Illicit” is an adjective meaning illegal or unlawful.
* The author’s illicit copying of her assistant’s work led to her downfall.
As with all errors, the best protection against their making it into print is proofreading. But given how easy they are to confuse, consider using the search command in your writing program to find them and then confirm that you have used the correct option.