Editing~The Most Dreadful Word in the English Language: Words Which People Often Confuse


As an author, I come across words all the time, which people frequently confuse. Do I sometimes make errors in these choices? Heck, yes. Do I attempt to eliminate the errors prior to a book’s release? ABSOLUTELY! Among those are

Affect = a verb meaning to influence
Effect = a noun meaning result
Effect = a verb meaning to cause an action
The explosive sound affected the crowd’s behavior.
The Cavs fans had little effect on the Miami Heat’s play.
The administration has effected how we see ourselves as students.

Agree To = used when referring to things
Agree With = used when referring to people
We agreed to the changes in policy.
We agreed with the experts in the field.

Amount = an indefinite quantity (cannot be counted)
Number = a quantity which can be counted
The amount of news consumed by individuals each day varies.
The number of people at the malls on Black Friday increased.

Amuse means to entertain or to hold someone’s attention. Bemuse means to bewilder, to confuse or to become lost in thought.

Backward is ALWAYS used; never use Backwards.
She stumbled backward into the arms of the man she loved.

Envelop = means to surround
Envelope = the paper wrapper for a letter

Ensure = to guarantee or to make certain
Insure = to purchase protection for life, health, etc.
Even an expensive stereo system cannot ensure good quality sound.
I will insure the package’s contents when I ship it.

Lead = a soft, heavy material
Lead = to guide, show the way, to be in command of
Led = past tense of the verb “lead”

Passed = is a verb
Past = is never a verb (can be a preposition, a noun, or an adjective)
He passed his test.
I walked past the cemetery on my way here.
In my past, I have done things of which I am not proud.
In the past year, my career has changed dramatically.

Intra meaans within or inside of, where Inter refers to between or with each other.

Interesting means to arouse curiosity or to excite attention; Intriguing means to beguile or puzzle.

Do not use where when the words in which are needed. Use where if you mean to point out a direction or a location, and in which when the reference is not to a direction or location.  For example: The teacher handed out an outline in which (not where) he listed the course requirements.

Poor = lack of financial stability
Pore = (verb) meaning to study or read; (noun) meaning small openings in the skin
Pour = to flow in a continuous stream

Precede = means to go before
The man preceded his wife in death
Proceed = means to continue
He could not proceed with the experiment

respectfully = in an honorable manner
respectively = listing person or things in order
Matthew MacFadyen has played Mr. Darcy and Aramis is Pride & Prejudice and The Three Musketeersrespectively.

Last = means “final”
The last week of the Winter Olympics features my favorite sport: ice skating.
Past = means “previous”
The past two weeks crawled by.

Emerge = to rise from obscurity
Sarah Palin emerged as a legitimate candidate, with whom people would align themselves after the 2008 elections.
Immerge = disappear into or plunge into
Alvin Green immerged quickly into the ranks of obscure candidates.

altogether = wholly; entirely
It is altogether too hot for December.
all together = every person or thing in the same place at the same time
We were all together at Christmas time.

all ready = everyone or everything is prepared or available for use
The PRHS players are all ready for the state championship game.
already = previously (in time)
We have already completed the last draft of the manuscript.

all right = giving permission; better than before
He said he felt all right after his bout with the flu.
It was all right with Mom that we stayed until the end of the game.
Alright is not a word!!!

So, what words and phrases confuse you? Do you have some such as “lie” and “lay,” which forever plague you?


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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7 Responses to Editing~The Most Dreadful Word in the English Language: Words Which People Often Confuse

  1. Sonia says:

    This post is really interesting, especially for me that I’m still studying english. A little note: MacFadyen played Athos and not Aramis in The Three Musketeers. 🙂 Sonia

    • I am a big Matthew Macfadyen fan, Sonia. The original media which came out of the production had “Aramis” for Macfadyen’s character. This was a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor for my Macfadyen friends. I did not think anyone else would notice.

  2. carolcork says:

    Regina, that’s really enlightening. I always have a problem with affect and effect.

    • I taught English for 40 years, and I must pause on affect and effect and lie and lay. I think we hear and see it wrong so often that the incorrect form begins to look right.

  3. NancyS.Goodman says:

    Great post Regina. I have seen confusion with lighted and lit. “He lighted a candle” and “He lit a candle” Both used interchagably

    • The Associated Press Style Book, from which I learned much of my grammar skills, considers both “lighted” and “lit” as the past tense of “to light.”

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