Commonly Confused Words
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Following is a list of commonly confused words and phrases and some explanations and hints to help you keep them straight. Additionally, be sure to check out the TWEAK newsletters on the PTB website, as the “Tool Box” section frequently addresses similar issues.
Accept / Except
To accept something is to acknowledge it, or to receive something, such as a gift. Except has a meaning similar to “but,” or a case that is different from the rest.
Correct: After the initial shock of Edward leaving, Bella accepted her fate of loneliness.
Correct: Edward, I can’t accept this gift; you spent too much money!
Correct: Most vampires drink human blood, except for the Cullens.
Affect / Effect
This is a very common mistake that a lot of people have trouble with. Generally speaking, affect is a verb and effect is a noun. For most fiction writers, if you follow this rule, you shouldn’t run into too much trouble. Affect can be used as a noun, but this is almost exclusively used in psychology/social psychology. Effect can also be used as a verb when it means “to bring something about”, such as “to effect change”, or to accomplish something.
Correct: Edward did not understand how greatly his leaving would affect Bella.
Correct: Edward’s leaving had detrimental effects to Bella’s health.
Correct: Becoming a vampire would effect new changes in Bella’s life.
Allusion / Illusion
An allusion is when you make a reference to something. An illusion is something that is imagined or not real.
Correct: One of the things I liked about the Twilight series was the allusions to other literary works.
Correct: While riding the motorcycles, Bella thought she saw Edward, but it was simply an illusion.
Altar / Alter
An altar is the table-like structure usually found in churches. To alter something is to change it.
Correct: Edward was worried that Bella would leave him at the altar.
Correct: The Cullens had to alter their lifestyle after Bella started hanging around the house.
Assure / Ensure / Insure
To assure someone is to erase their doubt. To ensure something is to guarantee it. To insure someone means you cover them with insurance, such as health or life insurance. This is the way the words are used in the U.S., though British meanings are slightly different (I believe you can assure someone with life insurance there).
Correct: Bella assured Edward that she wanted him and not just immortality.
Correct: Edward wanted to ensure Bella’s safety, especially as a human.
Correct: After becoming a vampire, there was no need for Bella to insure herself.
Bare / Bear
As a noun, bare is similar to naked, or plain. As a verb, bare means to reveal something. Bear as a noun is the animal, and as a verb means to endure.
Correct: On Isle Esme, Bella found Edward bare in the ocean.
Correct: At Bella Italia, the time had come for Edward to bare his secrets.
Correct: Emmett’s favorite animal to hunt is the grizzly bear.
Correct: Carlisle has to bear the burden of knowing he brought others into his lifestyle.
Blond / Blonde
This difference comes from the word’s French origins. “Blond” describes a man, and “blonde” describes a woman. According to my dictionary, British English usually retains the difference, but it’s become more popular in American English to use the gender neutral “blond.” If you’re referring to an inanimate object (such as wood), use the neutral form of “blond.”
Correct: Mike Newton was like a blond puppy dog.
Correct: Jessica Stanley was not a typical blonde.
Breath / Breathe
This is another difference between the noun and verb forms- “breath” is a noun, while “breathe” is a verb.
Correct: When Jasper first caught sight of Alice, his breath caught in his throat.
Correct: The pain that Bella felt after Edward left made it difficult for her to breathe. (Even my MS Word for some reason is trying to correct this example!)
Bring / Take
You bring something to the place where you are, and you take something to another place.
Correct: Carlisle was surprised to see Rosalie bring Emmett home with her.
Correct: Bella took two suitcases with her to visit Renee in Jacksonville.
Canon / Cannon
A cannon is a weapon, while canon (in the sense of the Twilight series) is the original text that is accepted as genuine.
Correct: Jasper remembers how to fire a cannon from his time in the Civil War.
Correct: Bella is familiar with the entire canon of Shakespeare.
Cite / Sight / Site
To cite something is to quote. Sight is either a noun or a verb relating to seeing something. Site is a place, though it can also be short for “website”.
Correct: For her English essay, Bella needed to cite several scholarly journals.
Correct: Jacob thought that Bella was quite a sight to see on her wedding day.
Correct: Bella begged Edward to take her to Chicago, the site of his childhood.
Complement / Compliment
Complement means to add something to, such as wine complementing a meal. Compliment is to give someone praise.
Correct: Emmett’s laid-back nature complements Rosalie’s disposition.
Correct: Even Charlie had to compliment Bella’s new vampire appearance.
Conscience / Conscious
Your conscience is that Jiminy Cricket in your head that tells you whether something is right or wrong. To be conscious is to be aware.
Correct: Charlie couldn’t, in good conscience, allow Bella to go to Edward’s without his parents there.
Correct: It takes newborn vampires almost three days to regain consciousness after they are changed.
Couldn’t care less / Could care less
The correct phrase is “couldn’t care less”. Usually, you’re referring to something that you don’t care about, so you’re saying that it isn’t possible to care less than you already do.
Source: Grammar Girl (scroll to the end)
Could of / Could have
“Could have” is always correct. The contraction form of this is “could’ve”, which sounds a lot like “could of”, though “could of” is never correct. The same goes for “would of” and “should of”.
Correct: Edward could’ve told Bella the truth about why he was leaving.
Defiantly / Definitely
Defiantly means while showing disobedience. Definitely means to be sure of something, without doubt.
Correct: Edward defiantly decided to force the Volturi’s hand by appearing in the sunlight.
Correct: After their time apart, Edward knew he definitely could not live without Bella.
Desert / Dessert
A desert is a dry area of land, while dessert is what you have after dinner. A trick to remember this (thanks to Storm) is that “dessert” has two “s” because you always want more of it.
Correct: The Egyptian coven spends a lot of time in the desert.
Correct: Bella made Charlie apple pie for dessert.
Dreamed / Dreamt
This is a British vs. American difference. “Dreamt” is usually British, while “dreamed” is American. The same goes for burned/burnt and spilled/spilt.
Elicit / Illicit
To elicit means to draw out, while illicit means something illegal or taboo.
Correct: Edward purposely liked to embarrass Bella to elicit a blush from her.
Correct: One of the few illicit actions for vampires is to appear in the sunlight.
Farther / Further
Farther refers to a physical distance (think “far”) while further is an abstract or figurative distance.
Correct: By the time they landed in Brazil, Bella wondered how much farther they had to travel.
Correct: Having Renesmee forced Bella to decide not to further her education right away.
Source: Grammar Girl
Faux / Foe
Faux comes from the French for “false” but in English usually means fake. A foe is an enemy or opponent.
Correct: Bella wore a strand of faux pearls at graduation.
Correct: James considered Edward to be an admirable foe.
Heal / Heel
To heal someone is to cure them or to make them better. Heel is a part of your foot or part of a woman’s shoe.
Correct: Jacob helped to heal some of the emotional wounds that Edward left.
Correct: Alice was always trying to dress Bella in heels.
Hear / Here
Hear refers to the sense of sound. Here is the place where you are.
Correct: Vampires can hear infinitely better than humans.
Correct: Come over here, Bella, and see yourself in the mirror.
Hole / Whole
A hole is an open space, while whole refers to an entire entity.
Correct: After Edward left, Bella felt a hole in her chest.
Correct: There was nowhere on the whole planet that Edward could run to escape Bella.
Hour / Our
Hour refers to time, while our shows possession.
Correct: Bella wondered how many hours she had spent with Jacob; time seemed to pass quicker in his presence.
Correct: While walking back to the house, Bella was taken aback when Edward said “our child.”
It’s / Its
The apostrophe is used when this word is the contraction for “it is”. When the word is showing possession, there is no apostrophe.
Correct: Since it’s sunny today, Jasper is looking forward to skipping school.
Correct: One of the things Edward loathed about Bella’s truck was its inability to exceed the speed limit.
Know / No
To know something is to have information about it. “No” is a negative assertion.
Correct: Alice didn’t know what the wolves’ futures held.
Correct: There was no convincing Edward to change his mind about leaving Bella.
Lead / Led
Lead is a metal, while led is the past tense of lead (pronounced LEED, when it means to show someone the way.)
Correct: While watching Bella sleep, Edward could hear the lead pipes rattling throughout the house.
Correct: Alice led Edward and Bella out to the forest to show them the renovated cottage.
Lie / Lay
Simply speaking, the difference here is that lay requires a direct object while lie does not.
Correct: Carlisle instructed Bella to lie down on the couch.
Correct: Carlisle instructed Edward to lay Bella down on the couch.
This is slightly confusing, though, as “lay” is also the past tense of “lie”. For a helpful chart of lie/lay in all tenses, check out Grammar Girl’s article on the subject.
Lose / Loose
To lose something is to misplace it. Loose refers to something being too big or not tight.
Correct: Before she realized she had been paid a visit by newborn vampires, Bella wondered how she could lose so many articles of clothing.
Correct: After Edward left and Bella became depressed, most of her clothing became too loose.
Palate / Palette / Pallet
Palate refers to an individual’s tastes and preferences. Palette is the tool that an artist uses. A pallet is a straw mattress.
Correct: Bella tried to convince Charlie to give up on eating at the Forks Diner and expand his palate.
Correct: Alice had a palette of potential wedding theme colors to show Bella.
Correct: Although he couldn’t sleep, Edward spent a large amount of his time in Brazil lying on a pallet on the floor.
Passed / Past
Passed means to travel by, or to move from one stage to another. Past refers to something that has already happened.
Correct: Edward passed by the school on his way to Bella’s house.
Correct: Bella moved to 12th grade after she passed her finals.
Correct: Edward was ashamed of many of his past transgressions.
Peak / Peek / Pique
A peak is the topmost part of something. A peek is a glance or quick view. As a noun, pique is a feeling of irritation or resentment. As a verb, “be piqued” can mean to feel irritated, or “to pique” can mean to inspire curiosity.
Correct: At the peak of their power, the Volturi were widely feared.
Correct: Although Edward purchased the Ferrari for Bella well in advance of her transformation, she didn’t even sneak a peek under the cover.
Correct: Edward’s sudden interest in a human girl piqued the Cullens’ curiosity.
Peal / Peel
Peal is something that bells do, while peel is what you do to vegetables.
Correct: With every peal from the bells in the clock tower, Bella ran harder to find Edward.
Correct: Edward would often help Bella prepare dinner for Charlie by peeling carrots and potatoes.
Precede / Proceed
To precede something is to come before, while proceed means to continue further.
Correct: Alice preceded Bella down the aisle at the wedding.
Correct: After receiving Renee and Charlie’s blessings, Bella and Edward could continue to proceed with their wedding planning.
Principal / Principle
A principal is either the person in charge or the most important. I always remember being told that “the principal is your pal.” A principle is a rule or standard.
Correct: While waiting out the rest of Biology in the nurse’s office, Bella could see the principal come and go.
Correct: Despite it being the 21st century, Edward still held to many of his Victorian principles.
Quiet / Quite / Quit
Quiet refers to a lack of noise. Quite means absolutely or certain. To quit something is to give it up.
Correct: Edward relished in the quiet that not being able to hear Bella’s thoughts brought him.
Correct: Alice was quite frustrated at losing her ability when the wolves were involved.
Correct: Bella knew that she would have to quit her job at Newton’s after the wedding.
Rain / Reign / Rein
Rain is what falls during a storm. Reign refers to the rule of a king or queen. Reins are used when riding horses, but “rein in” can also mean to curtail. This makes the correct phrase “free rein”- to allow someone to direct or control the situation.
Correct: The Cullens enjoyed days when it rained because it allowed them to pass as human.
Correct: The Volturi’s reign spanned thousands of years.
Correct: Bella gave Alice free rein to plan the wedding.
Retch / Wretch
To retch is to vomit. A wretch is an unfortunate or despicable person.
Correct: Once Bella started retching, it was harder to ignore her pregnancy symptoms.
Correct: Edward had to stop himself from hurting the wretch of a man who almost attacked Bella in Port Angeles.
Right / Rite / Write
Right refers to something that is correct or something that is guaranteed, as in your right to vote. A rite is a ritual or a ceremony. To write involves putting words to paper (or screen.)
Correct: Although Bella’s original theories turned out not to be right, she did eventually figure out Edward’s secret.
Correct: Despite Bella’s protests, Edward insisted that attending prom was a rite of passage.
Correct: When Edward was away hunting, Bella had plenty of time to write her school essays.
Role / Roll
A role is a part played by someone, whether in a play or in real life. A roll is either an action where something moves end over end or a food item such as a dinner roll.
Correct: Esme assumed a mothering role to the other Cullens.
Correct: Edward watched Bella’s lemonade cap roll off the cafeteria table.
Sweet / Suite
Sweet is an adjective that means pleasant or sugary. A suite is two or more rooms joined together.
Correct: One of the reasons Bella became friends with Angela was her sweet disposition; she never said a bad word about anybody.
Correct: While in Phoenix, Jasper, Alice, and Bella stayed in a suite of rooms so Bella could sleep in the bedroom while Alice and Jasper stayed in the living area.
Taut / Taunt
Taut means that something is pulled tightly. Taunt is to provoke someone.
Correct: While decorating for the wedding, Alice requested that the strings of lights be pulled taut so that they wouldn’t catch on anything.
Correct: James wanted to taunt Edward with the tape of Bella’s death.
Than / Then
Than is a comparison term when talking about the differences between two things. Then refers to a sequence of events.
Correct: Edward’s ability to control his thirst was more controlled than Jasper’s.
Correct: Edward promised Bella that he would marry her then make her a vampire.
Their / There / They’re
“Their” is the possessive pronoun for a group of people. “There” refers to a position, such as “over there”. “They’re” is the contraction for “they are.”
Correct: Emmett and Rosalie were unabashed about their sex life.
Correct: “Look, Bella,” Alice said. “The clock tower is right there. Edward should be underneath of it in a few minutes!”
Correct: Alice and Jasper said they’re going for a walk.
Though / Thought
Though means except or however. A thought is an idea, or the past tense of “to think.”
Correct: Edward wasn’t sure how he felt about Bella carrying their child, though he changed his mind when he heard the baby’s thoughts.
To / Too / Two
To is a preposition that has a variety of meanings. Too means in addition, or a higher degree. Two is the number 2 written out.
Correct: All of the Cullens gave birthday presents to Bella.
Correct: Nessie watched Bella break boulders and wanted to be able to do that, too.
Correct: After Bella became pregnant, her old clothes were too small.
Correct: Bella’s shift at Newton’s ended at two o’clock.
Toward / Towards
Both of these are correct, though “toward” seems to be favored in American English and “towards” in British English. I also read on one website that “towards” could refer more to a direction and “toward” as “with respect to.”
Your / You’re
“Your” is a possessive pronoun, while “you’re” is the contraction for “you are.”
Correct: How was your honeymoon, Bella?
Correct: Didn’t you say you’re going to Dartmouth in the fall?
Waist / Waste
Waist refers to a body part, while to waste something is to not take full advantage of it.
Correct: At prom, Edward steadied Bella with his hands on her waist.
Correct: Carlisle felt that his vampire talents would be put to waste if he didn’t use them to doctor other people.
Wary / Weary
To be wary of something is to be cautious of it. To be weary is to be tired.
Correct: Bella was wary to accept that Edward was back in her life.
Correct: Bella was weary of the hole in her chest left by Edward.
Wear / Where
Wear refers to clothing or a facial expression. It could also mean damage from use. Where is the question that asks about a place.
Correct: Bella had to borrow a dress from Alice to wear to prom.
Correct: Although Bella’s truck sustained a lot of wear and tear over the years, it was still in decent condition.
Correct: After Volterra, Bella wanted to know where Edward had spent the past few months.
Weather / Whether
Weather concerns what is going on outside, such as rain or sun. Whether is a conjunction that presents two alternatives.
Correct: One of the main reasons for the Cullens to move to Forks was the consistently overcast weather.
Correct: Bella had to choose whether to remain human or become a vampire.
Were / We’re
Were is a form of the verb “to be.” We’re is the contraction for “we are.”
Correct: There were several bedrooms in the house on Isle Esme.
Correct: “We’re both sick with the stomach flu,” Angela announced to Bella.
Whilst means the same as while, except whilst is purely British. This is never heard in American English.
Whose / Who’s
This is similar to the difference between it’s and its. Whose is a possessive pronoun while who’s is the contraction for “who is.”
Correct: “Whose jacket is this in my car?” Jessica wondered.
Correct: Who’s going to drive Bella to Phoenix?
Yay / Yea / Yeah
Yay is an exclamation of excitement (it rhymes with “hay” or “nay”.) Yea (pronounced the same as “yay”) is an archaic term for “yes”, but it is hardly used anymore (unless you’re writing about Carlisle’s human life or another older time period). Yeah is an informal way of saying “yes.”
Correct: “Yay! Bella, I’m so happy that you asked me to be your maid of honor.”
Correct: When Bella asked the Cullens to vote about accepting her as a member of the family, there were five “yeas” and two “nays.”
Correct: “Yeah, I can definitely fix these motorcycles for you, Bella,” Jake said.
For a longer, more advanced list, check out the Notorious Confusables list.
Thanks to all of the PTB betas who made suggestions for this list, especially Diana who gave me the Fiction Factor link. I also pulled suggestions from the Fiction Factor site. Unless otherwise cited, all of this work is my own with some consultation to the Oxford American Dictionary widget on my MacBook.