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Commonly Misused Words with Meanings and an Example of Correct Use: From N to Y

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

Words in English can sound very similar and have spellings that are very similar but mean something different. Here are the meanings for the words. They are used together in a sentence to help you distinguish them in the future. From naval to their-there-they're, learn the difference.

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    naval / navel

    naval - to do with the navy

    navel - an umbilical or connection to a source, a small scar

    The Admiral closely examined the lint from his navel while the naval battle raged around his ship.

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    prescribe / proscribe

    prescribe - to recommend, or dictate behavior or to order the use of a substance

    proscribe - to forbid, to eliminate from use, to outlaw

    There is an ongoing debate between those who want to proscribe marijuana forever and those who wish to prescribe it for medicinal purposes for cancer patients.

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    reign / rein / rain

    reign - to rule as a monarch

    rein - the straps used to control an animal's movement

    rain - water falling from clouds

    The reign of the beauty queen was cut abruptly short when she lost her grip on the rein controlling her matched team of horses after they slipped in the rain drenched grass.

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    set / sit

    set - to put down, to put in a specific position

    sit - to be seated

    The finicky man wiped the park bench with his handkerchief and set his unfolded newspaper over the slats before he would sit there.

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    site / cite

    site - a place, a location

    cite - to reference or acknowledge a source

    The site of the library at Alexandra is no longer anything but an unremarkable burn scar, but many historians still cite it as the greatest collection of lost knowledge in the world, ancient or modern.

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    then / than

    then - to refer to another point in time, a later time

    than - to compare things

    If the fate of man is to aspire to perfection but never achieve it, then those who never try are no more than dead leaves at the roots of trees reaching toward the sky.

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    their / they're / there

    their - associated with or belonging to

    there - where something is

    they're - contraction of they are

    Many politicians find they're very concerned with the opinions of their home constituents when press conferences are held there.

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    venal / venial

    venal - to be corrupt, to be able to be bought, to bribe

    venial - a forgivable sin

    When the venal guard took the bribe to give the thieves access to the bank vault, he told himself that it was only a venial sin because no one was hurt.

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    whose / who's

    whose - to whom does it belong (interrogative possessive determiner)

    who's - contraction for who is, who has

    Who's the careless person whose giant sloth took up residence in the White House rose garden?

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    won't / wont

    won't - contraction of will not

    wont - used to doing, habit

    Her wont was to spend hours each day on her dress and make-up, and she won't let anyone else into the bathroom until she was done.

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    your / you're / yore

    your - belonging to, a possession

    you're - contraction of you are

    yore - long ago, in the past

    You're the sum of your actions, and they speak louder than your words of yore.

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    You can download a sheet with the meanings of commonly misused words N - Y.

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

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    Additional Words

    If you have some words which regularly confuse you when you try to use them, or you feel 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