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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Many of these words were listed in the Wikipedia article on commonly misused words. Others come from personal experience.
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.
This post is part of the series: Commonly Misused Words and Their Meanings
- Commonly Misused Words with Meanings and Examples of Correct Use: From A to D
- Commonly Misused Words with Meanings and Examples of Correct Use: From E to M
- Commonly Misused Words with Meanings and an Example of Correct Use: From N to Y