This image is from one of Dr. Bailey's books: The Practical Writer (7th edition) Misused Words

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List of commonly misused words

affect / effect

  • affect is usually a verb (your decision to take a new job will affect your life)
  • effect is usually a noun (your decision to take a new job will have an effect on your life)
  • but effect can be a verb in one bureaucratic instance (you effected a change by taking a new job)

a lot / alot

  • a lot is correct
  • alot is a misspelling

all right / alright

  • all right is correct
  • alright is a (very common) misspelling

between / among

  • between refers to two items (let's keep this information between the two of us)
  • among refers to more than two items (let's keep this information among the three of us)—though this use is becoming archaic as between takes its place

compliment / complement

  • compliment means saying something nice (she paid me a big compliment)
  • complement means to go along nicely with (her hat complemented her outfit)

fewer / less

  • fewer has to do with things you can count (there are fewer bananas in the basket today)
  • less has to do with things you can't count—but instead can measure amounts of (there is less sugar in the bowl)

flammable / inflammable

  • flammable means easy to catch on fire
  • inflammable means the same thing—easy to catch on fire! Be careful!!

imply / infer

  • imply is something the speaker does (she implied we'd be meeting soon)
  • infer is something the listener does (I inferred from what she said that we'd be meeting soon)

it's / its /its'

  • it's means it is (it's a nice day)
  • its is possessive—lots of personal pronouns make the possessive without an apostrophe, such as his and hers (The printer dominated the room because its color was electric blue!)
  • its' is always a misspelling

site / cite / sight

  • site is a location (like a web site)
  • cite means to refer to (to cite a web site or to cite a reference in a book)
  • sight is what you see with your eyes

stationary / stationery

  • stationary means still
  • stationery is the paper your write on

than / then

  • than compares things (my dad is stronger than your dad)
  • then usually refers to time (then I went to the restaurant)

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Copyright 2007 by Edward P. Bailey
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