There are many words in the English language that cause problems for writers of all skill levels. Some of the more common ones are listed below.

  • accept, except

    • Accept means to agree to or to receive. Except means to exclude or to leave out.
  • advice, advise

    • Advice is an opinion about what should be done about a problem or situation. Advise is a verb, meaning to give advice to.
  • affect, effect

    • Affect is a verb meaning to influence. An effect is a result, outcome, or consequence of an action or event.
  • a lot, allot

    • A lot is a two-word phrase meaning a great deal or a large amount. It is never "alot." Allot means to give out or to allow to have.
  • assure, ensure, insure

    • Assure means to make a promise or commitment. Ensure is to make certain or to make secure. Insure means to provide or obtain insurance.
  • a while, awhile

    • The two-word phrase a while is a noun and functions as a subject or an object in a sentence. Awhile is an adverb meaning for a short time. Awhile is never preceded by a preposition; in that case use the two-word form. For example, you can stay awhile or you can stay for a while.
  • complement, compliment

    • As a noun, complement is something that completes or makes up a whole, or brings to perfection. As a verb, complement means to complete. Compliment means to praise and as a noun, it is an expression of praise.

      Examples: Documentation complements a software application. The supervisor complimented her employees on their work.

  • everyday, every day

    • The single word everyday is an adjective and means "daily" or "normal." The two-word phrase every day is an adverbial phrase and is used only to modify verbs.

      Examples: Writing is an everyday occurrence. I wrote something every day last week.

  • fewer, less

    • Use fewer for nouns that can be counted: fewer words, fewer ideas, fewer people. Use less for collective nouns: less money, less hair, less work.
  • good, well

    • Good is an adjective and well is an adverb.

      Examples: The employees did a good job. ("good" modifies the noun "job") The employees did their job well. ("well" modifies the verb "did")

  • its, it's

    • Its is the possessive form of the pronoun "it." It's is a contraction of "it is" or "it has."

      Examples: The dog ate its food. It's a good day to write.

  • principal, principle

    • Principal is generally used as an adjective and means "chief," "leading," or "primary." Principle is a noun only. In a technical writing context, principle is typically used to describe a basic or fundamental mode of behavior of a system or machine.

      Examples: The automobile is the principal means of transportation in North America. You must understand a machine's principle of operation before writing the manual.

  • rational, rationale

    • Rational is an adjective and is used to indicate that something is based on reason or is logical. Rationale is a fundamental reason or basis.

      Examples: The team made a rational decision. The rationale for the team's decision was explained to the manager.

  • than, then

    • The most common mistake made with these words is to use then in place of than. Only use then when describing something that comes next in order. Use than in comparisons.

      Examples: Working with XML can be more useful than working with HTML. I wrote the standards then uploaded them to the web site.

  • their, there, they're

    • Their and there are frequently used incorrectly, despite having distinctly different meanings. Their is used to indicate possession or ownership, and there is used to indicate position or to introduce a clause or sentence. They're is simply the contraction of "they are."

      Examples: The writers left their pens at home. There are writers over there. They're discussing their lack of pens.

  • to, too, two

    • The most common error here is to use to in place of too. Too means "also," "in addition," or "more than enough." Use to in all other cases. Two is the number "2."

      Examples: I went to the store too. There are too many writers in the room. There are two writers in the room.

  • your, you're

    • Your is used to indicate possession or ownership and you're is the contraction of "you are."

      Examples: You're driving your car to the store.


DocumentationTeam/StyleGuide/CommonlyConfusedWords (last edited 2010-03-24 11:45:29 by mvngu)