Confusion about similar words abounds, especially when they sound alike. Writers sometimes use one word when they really mean another. Have any of these tripped you up?
Accept, except – These are often misused and confused. Accept means to receive or agree to. Should I accept the gift even though I know it’s really expensive? Except means to exclude. Everyone was invited to the party except Bob.
Aid, aide – Aid is assistance. Aid can also be a verb. Pakistan desperately needs aid to recover from massive flooding. Aide is only a noun and it’s a person who serves as an assistant. As a teachers’ aide, Lori helps students learn to read.
Allude, elude – Allude is an indirect reference to something. The CEO alluded to his company’s acquisition plans. Elude means to escape or avoid detection. The robber eluded police for several days.
Capital, capitol – These are a little tougher. Capital is the city where a seat of government is located. Cheyenne is the capital of Wyoming. Capital also refers to money. The struggling business needs a large infusion of capital to survive. Capitol is the building in which the U.S. Congress or state legislatures meet. Capitalize U.S. Capitol and the Capitol when referring to the building in Washington, D.C., and when writing about state capitols. The meeting was held on Capitol Hill in the west wing of the Capitol. The Virginia Capitol is in Richmond.
Complement, compliment – My personal favorites because so many people confuse them. Complement is a noun and a verb that indicates completeness or the process of supplementing something. Her new shoes complement her dress. Compliment denotes praise. I complimented her on her new dress and shoes.
Conscience, conscious – Conscience is a noun for the sense of moral goodness. She could not, in good conscience, keep the wallet that she found in the park. Conscious is an adjective that means being aware. I am conscious of the fact that he lied to me.
Ensure, insure – Use ensure to mean guarantee. We will pack everything ourselves to ensure that nothing breaks when we move. Use insure for references to insurance. The policy insures his life.
Hangar, hanger – I use these so rarely, I always have to look them up when I do. A hangar is a building. The airplane hangar is just to the left of the terminal. A hanger is used for clothes. I need to trade my wire hangers for wooden ones.
Medal, meddle, metal, mettle – Double your trouble! A medal, often made of metal, is a prize for winning something or doing something brave. She won a silver medal in the marathon. Meddle is to interfere in something that is none of your business. Her nosy neighbor liked to meddle in her private life. Metal is a shiny substance that conducts electricity and heat. The artist makes hanging garden decorations from refurbished metal. Mettle is strength of spirit or temperament. She showed a lot of mettle in finishing the race.
Premier, premiere – As a noun, a premier is a prime minister or a leader of a country. Jean Charest is Premier of Quebec. As an adjective, premiere means first in rank or position. President Obama holds the premiere place in U.S. government. Premiere is also a noun and means a first performance. The premiere of The Lion King will be next Monday.
Reign, rein – Reign is the period a ruler is on the throne. The king began his reign in 1952. A leather strap for controlling a horse is a rein. I asked Susan to rein in her horse. She took the reins and headed back to the barn.
Sight, site – Sight is the act of seeing. It also relates to something that is seen. My mom and I went sightseeing in Ireland last year. We set our sights on traveling across the entire country, but we ran out of time. Site is about a place. The developer selected the ideal site for the new shopping center.
Stationary, stationery – Stationary means to stand still. The soldier remained stationary in his position. Writing paper is stationery. Now that so many homes and businesses have computers, few people take the time to write letters by hand on stationery.
I could go on because there are many other confusing word combinations, but I’m more interested in any that you get stuck on. Send them my way.