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Commonly Misused Words with Meanings and Examples of Correct Use: From A to D

written by: Rebecca Scudder • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

Many words in English sound very similar or have spellings that are very close but have different meanings. Here are the meanings of the words. They are used in a memorable sentence to help you learn them. Start with accept and go to discreet, covering affect and council on the way.

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    Commonly Misused words

    For both the ESL student and the native speaker of English, there are words which constantly perplex and confuse people who are trying to use them correctly. Bright Hub offers a brief lexicon of these words to help you learn and remember the difference. In the first part of the series, we go from accept to discreet.

    A download is available with the meanings of the words in the article.

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    accept / except

    accept - agree, go along with

    except - excluded, apart from

    We watched the Queen accept all the gifts with a smile except for the baby hedgehog, but she stammered her thanks.

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    advice / advise

    advice - a recommendation for behavior or actions, often unasked for

    advise - to offer advice, to counsel

    Although he asked his uncle to advise him on the problems in his love life, occurring because he had three girlfriends he had promised to take to the dance, he rejected the advice to confess their existence to one another and to hope one would still be willing to attend with him.

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    affect / effect

    affect - to influence

    effect - result or to cause

    The affect of the bribe on the porter had the immediate effect of finding our missing luggage.

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    appraise / apprise

    appraise - to assess the value

    apprise - to teach, make known

    After they asked the gemologist to appraise the huge diamond, he went with a stunned expression to apprise the children it was real.

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    assure / ensure / insure

    assure - to express confidence

    ensure - to make sure of

    insure - to guarantee, to promise to make good, to provide insurance

    The mafia visited all the local stores to assure the owners that paying protection money to insure their property meant that the mafia would ensure there were no suspicious accidents.

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    can't / cant

    can't – contraction of cannot

    cant - slang or jargon

    The confused interpreter reported, “I can't understand the cant the gang member uses."

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    complementary / complimentary

    complementary - to go well together

    complimentary- to praise

    She was very complimentary to the chef about the complementary flavors in the sauce for the chicken.

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    contingent / contingency

    contingent - a group, a typical group

    contingency - a possibility, a chance that something might happen

    The contingent of former boy scouts had a solution for every contingency.

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    council / counsel

    council - an advisory body, a group chosen to represent

    counsel - advice about an issue, to offer guidance

    The council of Wizards gathered for a meeting which lasted five months, and then offered the counsel, "Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger." *

    * J R R Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring)

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    diffuse / defuse

    diffuse - to spread throughout, generally randomly

    defuse - to remove danger, as in a bomb, or to make something less risky or dangerous

    The children began to diffuse throughout the crowd and managed to defuse the hungry mob with portions of the bread they gave the protesters.

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    disassemble / dissemble

    disassemble - to take apart

    dissemble - to prevaricate, refuse to reveal the truth

    The clever attorney coolly began to disassemble the testimony of the lying witness, despite his frantic attempt to dissemble about the circumstances behind the car crash.

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    discreet / discrete

    discreet - to not be obvious

    discrete - to be in separate parts

    The discreet explosives expert had the bomb in discrete pieces before the crowd realized they had been in danger.

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    You can download a sheet with the meanings of commonly misused words A -D.

    Many of these words were listed in the Wikipedia article on commonly misused words. Others come from personal experience.

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    Additional words

    If you have some words which regularly confuse you when you try to use them or you think should be included, let me know in comments, and I will include them in a future article.

Commonly Misused Words and Their Meanings

English is a language with many homonyms, as well as words that look similar but have entirely different meanings. In this series we look at a number of the words that are regularly misused because people are confused about which word they should use. We give meanings and examples in a sentence.
  1. Commonly Misused Words with Meanings and Examples of Correct Use: From A to D
  2. Commonly Misused Words with Meanings and Examples of Correct Use: From E to M
  3. Commonly Misused Words with Meanings and an Example of Correct Use: From N to Y