Editors usually have a lot of work when it comes to proofreading, because writers pay attention to the overall tone and style, and sometimes neglect the spelling and punctuation. Editors are always criticizing their writers for forgetting to put commas and for confusing homophones or words with similar meanings. Here are 15 commonly confused words that editors are tired of explaining to their writers.
1. Principle vs Principal
As they are homophones, they are easily confused and therefore very often misused. A “Principal”, generally speaking, can be defined as the most important person in some kind of organization or a group (commonly used when referring to head of a school or university). On the other hand, “principle” is a general idea, belief, doctrine or an accepted rule of action.
So if you say that you are a man or a woman of principle, it means that you have certain beliefs and you tend to stand your ground. If you use principal in this sentence (with an article of course, definite or indefinite), well, it may mean that your spouse is the head of a school.
2. Anyway vs Any Way
Should I write anyway or any way? It depends on what you want to say. The synonyms for anyway are regardless, anyhow, in any case, and it is also used as a linking word. For example: I don’t care, I will do it anyway.
If you divide this compound noun, it will have a completely different meaning. We need to help them any way we can. Any way – by any means necessary or in any manner. Anyway, I believe that this will help you in any way.
3. Serial vs cereal
Yesterday, around five o’clock, the police department arrested a man that was suspected to be a cereal killer. Wait a minute – cereal killer? Yes, there are approximately 20 billion jokes on the internet about cereal killer. You start your day with a bowl of cereal. Serial, on the other hand, is something that consist of a series.
4. Cite vs site
Another set of homophones that can be easily misused. “Site” is a location and if you cite somebody, you are using their words or making a reference to somebody or something.
He cited Aristotle, while standing in front of a beautiful site near Parthenon.
5. Complement vs compliment
Give my compliments to the chef. I would also like to say that this wine you suggested is a real complement to this delicious food.
A compliment is way of expressing admiration or praise, whereas a complement is a noun derived from the verb complete.
Man: You complete me.
Woman: So I am a complement to you? Is that even a compliment?
6. Beside vs besides
This is probably one of the trickiest pairs – an editor’s nightmare. But, let’s get it clear once and for all. Beside is a preposition, while besides can be used both as a preposition and as an adverb. The meaning of beside is next to, or close to: Put that pen beside the notebook; You can sit beside me. In both of these sentences you can use next to instead of beside.
Besides as a preposition means apart from – Besides me, did you tell that to anyone else? As an adverb, it means moreover, furthermore, also… Besides, it is also good for your health.
7. All together vs altogether
Altogether, I think we should definitely go there. And, we should go there all together. In order to make it perfectly clear, let’s rephrase this sentence.
All in all, I think we should definitely go there. And everyone should go there.
Altogether is an adverb and it means all in all, everything included or everything considered, completely or wholly. If you want to say everyone or all of us, the phrase you are looking for is all together.
8. Allusion vs illusion
This is proof that just one letter makes a big difference. If you make an allusion, you are indirectly referring to something or someone. Example: The first sentence in his new book is actually an allusion to his previous book.
If you, on the other hand, make illusions, I envy you (I’ve always wanted to become an illusionist). Example: His newest illusion is somehow an allusion to the famous David Copperfield.
9. Elicit vs illicit
In order not to confuse these two words, you should try to remember that elicit is a verb, whereas illicit is an adjective. The former one means to evoke or to call forth, while the latter has the meaning of illegal.
It is a common belief that the color blue can elicit feelings of depression. Selling the alcohol to minors is illicit. Your behavior can elicit some illicit actions.
10. Affect vs effect
How many times have you found yourself in a situation where you are not sure which one of these you should use? Don’t worry, you are most certainly not the only one. Both of these words can be used as verbs as well as nouns, and maybe this is where the confusion is born. The most common way to distinguish these two is when you are using affect as a verb and effect as a noun. But, wait for it, because there is more than that.
Affect, as a verb, means to produce or to act on. For example: Bad weather affected the number of visitors on the music festival. Although it is mostly used as a verb, to have an impact on something or someone, it can also be used as a noun. In that case, affect is used to express feelings, emotions or facial expressions (usually in the terminology of psychology).
Effect, as a noun, usually represents a result as in – You can try to do it, but I am confident that it will have no effect. If used as a verb, it means to produce something as an effect. The synonyms are make something happen or bring about.
11. Advise vs advice
Unlike the previous set, these two are actually very simple to remember and to understand. Advise is a verb and it means to offer an opinion or, simply said, to give advice. Advice is a noun and it represents the offered opinion or recommendation in order to successfully conduct certain actions.
She strongly advised me not to give any advice to him.
12. Disinterested vs uninterested
Let’s say you are a student and the exercise you are doing is adding negative prefixes. At one point, you are confused about the word interested. Is it disinterested or uninterested? Actually, if you just need to add suffixes, both are perfectly fine. However, the meaning isn’t the same.
If somebody is uninterested, he or she is bored. They have no interest whatsoever. Imagine the situation where you and your friend are strongly arguing about something. Unable to find a solution, or better yet, a compromise, you seek help from a friend of yours. If he is uninterested, you need to find another person to help or try to sort it out between yourselves. If, on the other hand, your friend is disinterested, he might help you because he is unbiased in this situation.
13. Lose vs loose
If you lose something, it means that you fail to keep it or you simply didn’t win. Lose is a verb, and it is commonly confused with loose. Loose is an adjective (but it can also be a verb) and it is used to described something that isn’t tight or isn’t bound together.
Mom where are my trousers? I have no idea, you probably lost them. Never mind I’ve found them. But they seem too loose. I think I need a belt.
14. Farther vs further
The everlasting dilemma – when to use farther and when further? Both of these are comparatives of far, but the meaning is slightly different. Farther is used to describe greater distances, a degree or a more advanced point. But so is further. So where is that difference then? Farther is used for physical distances, like farther down the road or farther to the left, whereas further is used for figurative ones.
15. Literarily vs figuratively
Completely two different words and for some strange reason, people tend to mix them up. Literarily describes the situation exactly as happened. If you want to use a metaphor, you will say figuratively.
I was literarily speechless. – You didn’t know what to say and you remain silent.
Figuratively speaking, we are in the same boat as you. – It’s just a metaphor and you aren’t really in any kind of a boat. Just a figure of speech. Therefore the expression figuratively.