Posted on 22 Comments

Words Commonly Confused and/or Misused (1)


A couple of years ago we posted a series of articles about words that are often used incorrectly. This is the beginning of another multi-part series on a similar subject but with even more confused and/or misused words than before. We’ll start the list of words in alphabetical order and expect to cover three or four letters per post.

So, here are some more frequently confused and/or misused words to add to your list.

accuracy, precision
“accuracy” is how close something is to the true value and to what degree it is free of error.
“precision” is the measure of the “fineness” of a value; usually measured in numeric terms.
His shooting was very accurate in tonight’s game.
The laser-cut the diamond to a precision of .005.

affect, effect
“affect” is usually used as a verb, to mean “influence”.
“effect” as a verb means to “cause” or “bring about” something. As a noun it means “impact” or “result”.
The cost of prescription drugs has seriously affected the cost of public healthcare.
His new strategy will certainly have an effect on the company’s bottom line.

allusion, illusion, delusion
“allusion” is an indirect reference to something.
“illusion” is when something appears to be real but isn’t.
“delusion” is a persistent belief in something that is contrary to fact or reality.
Her allusion to the manager’s wife was completely unfounded.
The mist hanging over the river created an optical illusion.
The delusion that all doctors are infallible still persists in some quarters.

alternate(ly), alternative(ly)
To “alternate”, means to do something in turns, one after another.
“alternative” refers to one or more choices or options.
When training, every two minutes we alternate between wind sprints and jogging.
Our only alternative at this point is to go back the way we came.
(“alternate” can sometimes be used as a noun; e.g. we took the alternate route).

amount, number
“amount” refers to a quantity of something.
“number” is when something can be counted.
A significant amount of snow fell last night.
A large number of snow plows are out on the road today.

anyone, any one
“anyone”, as one word, can only refer to people.
“any one”, as two words, is used when referring to things.
Anyone here is eligible for the draw.
He couldn’t blame her illness on any one factor.

appraise, apprise
“appraise” means to “assign a value” to something.
“apprise” means to “make aware of” something.
The mortgage broker appraised my house at well over $300,000.
You should apprise him of what happened last night at the embassy.

approve, approve of
“approve” means “to ratify” or “sanction” something.
“approve of” means “to accept something” or “to think well of” something.
Once they add the paragraph I requested, I intend to approve the agreement.
The Mayor enthusiastically approved of the two new appointees.

assume, presume
“assume” means to believe something based on a theory or hypothesis, without actual evidence.
“presume” means to believe that something is true unless it is proven to the contrary.
Let’s assume that he will do the right thing and appear at the preliminary hearing.
I presume this cutback will result in significant reductions to plant output.

assure, ensure, insure
“assure” means “to guarantee” or “be convinced” that something will happen.
“ensure” means “to make sure” that something will happen.
“insure” is used to describe covering something with insurance.
I can assure you that the increase will be more than the rate of inflation.
Fill your tank now to ensure that you can make the trip without having to stop.
I plan to insure my new car for both collision and public liability.

attentiveness, attention
“attentiveness” refers to the state of being attentive or considerate.
“attention” refers to the act of focusing or concentrating the mind on something.
The nurse’s exceptional attentiveness to her patients was noticed by her superiors.
We appreciate your attention to this pressing matter.

beside, besides
“beside” is a preposition that means “immediately adjacent” or “by the side of” something.
“besides” can mean “moreover” or “in addition to” something.
The man sat beside his daughter while they waited.
He’s not eligible for coverage. Besides he’ll be changing jobs next month in any case.

biannual, biennial, semi-annual
“biannual” means for something to occur “twice a year”.
“biennial” means for something to occur “every two years”; or to last for two years.
“semi-annual” means for something to occur “twice a year” or once “every six months”.
We conduct a mini-audit of the business on a biannual basis.
I believe that environmental conference is a biennial event.
We review our hardware inventory levels semi-annually.

characteristic, distinctive, typical
“characteristic” is a quality that distinguishes and identifies.
“distinctive” is a feature that sets a person or thing apart from others in its group.
“typical” is a characteristic specific to a group, type or species to which a person or thing belongs.
Novak always made his characteristic fist pump and bow after winning a match.
That designer has a distinctive style when working with recycled wood.
That long-winded letter was typical of a government bureaucratic.

cite, quote
To “cite” something is to refer to it or repeat it as proof of what was said.
To “quote” something is to repeat it, verbatim. (enclosed in quotation marks).
He cited numerous legal precedents while making his argument.
To quote John Lennon on that, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

common, mutual
“common” means belonging to many or to all.
“mutual” means “reciprocal”; feelings or actions felt or done by two or more parties with reference to the other parties in the group.
Miscommunication is a common problem among online users.
Their feelings for each other were mutual.

compare, contrast
“compare” should be used when referring to likenesses or similarities.
“contrast” is correctly used when pointing out differences.
Those numbers compare favorably with those of last quarter.
In contrast to my measured approach, his is to rush forward, full steam ahead.

compliment, complement
“compliment” is an expression of praise, admiration or flattery.
“complement” is when one person or thing is combined with another, they form a complete unit.
Frank complimented Sharon on her new hair style.
The addition of the new pergola really complements the patio.

comprise, constitute, compose
“comprise” means “to consist of” or “to be made up of” something.
“constitute” and “compose” are equivalent; and mean “to make up” or “account for” something.
A baseball game comprises nine innings.
The land mass of Canada constitutes more than 60% of North America.
Those ten provinces and three territories constitute the country of Canada.

continual, continuous
“continual” implies a close recurrence in time; a rapid succession of events or constant repetition.
“continuous” uninterrupted in time or sequence.
His partner’s continual complaining eventually drove him away from the business.
The continuous barrage of heavy metal music eventually broke him down.

council, counsel
“council” is a decision-making governing body, advisory board, or board of directors.
“counsel” refers to the provision of advice or guidance.
Last night, City Council rendered its decision on garbage pick-up days during the summer.
I sought him out in order to seek his counsel on these latest developments.

Okay, that’s enough for the first installment. As I mentioned above, I’ll be making additional posts like this one — three or four letters of the alphabet at a time — every few months over the next year or so.


22 thoughts on “Words Commonly Confused and/or Misused (1)

  1. Please address: Bad vs. Badly. This one drives me crazy. When someone says “I feel badly for him”… I cringe. He’s saying that his ability to feel with his hands/fingers are somehow not functioning correctly. Why don’t they say “I feel bad for him”? That describes a concern for him in terms of your “feelings”.

  2. Hi Shaun,

    Hoorah!! We’re on track again. It makes a difference using the correct email address, doesn’t it? Sorry I took so long to realize that I needed to up-date you.

    Never mind. Better late than never.

    Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll anxiously read your column. It sounds like much needed information. Will comment later.



  3. Hello. Thank you for this article – I found it so helpful and look forward to the next one. I’m going to print this and put it in my writing binder. Have a great day!

  4. Dear Shaun,
    I appreciate your information on Montreal situation and what’s going on with you now. The company I’m now working, Bakrie Pipes Industry Ltd, operates two websites, namely and ; I don’t know whether you can do any browsing the websites there.
    Once, this company processed an order of steel pipes for oil and gas, from the United States, but I think it’s temporary pending due to the world oil and gas situation.
    The situation of my country is good, Shaun, except just recently there was a friction between Indonesian Coast Guard and the one of China, in South China Sea waters belongs to Indonesia closer to Natuna Islands, in particular related to illegal fishing by China’s fishery boats. I wish such friction could be settled amicably.
    As a journalist I’m a member of “Indonesia Journalist Alliance” (AWI).What journalist organization do you belong to, Shaun? However, I haven’t finished my study yet, in the Faculty of Literature, of Open University of Indonesia, majoring in translation (English-Indonesia, vv). Therefore, I have been always interested in your blogs, to support my study. In the previous study, I have graduated as undergraduate of Law ( Law).Thanks Shaun, see you later.

  5. Great!! Useful indeed

  6. Thank you for the helpful information, as a writer who uses “Word” I found it wanted to replace English spelt words for American

    However it now has a thesaurus, which most times helps find alternative words

    Plus I have noticed Google now offer a direct search for checking words and meanings, which is done by hightlighing the word and right clicking

  7. WOW! these words honestly are some of my mistakes on writing..

    THANKS for having Shaun here 🙂

  8. Dear Shaun,

    I have made mistakes while using these words several times I must admit. I value your articles so much. Believe me, it has helped me so much and keeps on improving my skills.



  9. Great to hear from you again!
    I find the information you give very useful. Thanks! I sometimes use them wrong and didn’t notice the difference between them.

  10. Hi Shaun,
    I was following your blog fol long time and learned much more. You starting with the confusing words will help me and others in using words in their correct place.
    Thank you very much and will come again after studying these words.

  11. Hello Shaun,
    I found great interest in your article about words commonly confused or misused. Very helpful.
    Thank you too for telling what’s up in Montréal at the moment. I wish I could be there!
    Have a good day.

  12. Hi Shaun,
    Thanks again for the best and mostly needed Words.
    I used to have a hard time finding out when to use these words.
    Very helpful and needed!!!

  13. Hello Shaun,
    Thank you for sharing. I have been making mistakes with some of the words, but now I know which one is which.


  14. Hi Shaun,

    Many thanks for the update.I am about to leave my current job ( Petroleum Geologist), move to another continent and probably be teaching or consulting. I will for sure be following your blog as long as you continue.
    Please note my new email address.

  15. Dear Shaun,
    Thank you for your valuable information – I found it so helpful and look forward to the next one :)

  16. Dear Shaun

    All the way from India am I posting my views for the very first time, though I have been receiving all your blogs without fail from the time I signed up.

    Thank you for all your very valuable and informative articles which have rendered great help from both personal and professional aspects.

    Like always, this article on “Confused Words” has been of immense help to me, so much so that you are my ready reference whenever I find myself caught up with any ambiguity.

    Once again, thanks a lot. Looking forward anxiously to your next post.

    Saswati Chatterjee
    Kolkata, India

  17. Dear Shaun,

    Thank you for your support in upgrading you colleagues competency.

    I have been in your subcribtion for nearly three years.
    I am pleased with your social responsibility.

    Looking forward to your further support in my skill building.

  18. Dear shaun
    Many thanks for your valuable blog articles. They helps me a lot and are useful to improve my language skills. I kindly request you to continue to update me. Once again thanking for your updates. They not only help me, but many others also.
    Thanks and regards,
    – balaji

  19. Thank you for all your very valuable and informative articles which have rendered great help from both personal and professional aspects.

    Talk to You later

    Joko Kahhar

  20. Shaun,
    Thank you for your post on words used and misused. As a paraprofessional in a college writing center I am faced with questions about usage of similar ones and your examples will be helpful in explaining to students (especially international students) the meanings.

  21. Hello Shaun,
    Its great to hear from, and your valuable article
    We all benefit from your blog in our daily writing
    Skills. Thanks and good work.

  22. Dear Shaun,
    Your articles really help us to improve our language. Thanks a lot for your efforts to educate us.

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