Commonly Confused Words (Try the Test-Yourself Quiz on Commonly Confused Words)

____Affect, Effect. Affect is a verb; it means "to have an impact or influence upon." Example: "The moon affects the timing of the tides." Effect is generally a noun. Example: "I have that effect on people." Two exceptions are as follows:

____Accede/Exceed. Accede means "to agree to, to yield to"; it is often used as follows: "He acceded to her request." Exceed means "to go beyond" in the sense of passing beyond limits. Example: "The sheriff gave her a ticket for exceeding the speed limit." Memory Tip: Exceed is related to excessive.

____Accept/Except. Accept means "to receive willingly." Example: "He accepted her invitation." Except means "to exclude." Example: "She invited everyone except her cat."

____Compliment/complement. To compliment means "to praise." Example: "The president of the club complimented the committee on its work." To complement (with an "e") means to complete or enhance. Example: "The new pillows complemented the decor of the room." Tip: Think about the "complementary angles" you learned about in geometry; they "completed" one another to make up a 90° angle.

____Conscious/conscience/consciousness. Conscious is an adjective; it means "aware." Example: "He was conscious of the wind at his back." Conscience is a noun; it means "the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one's own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good." Example: "My conscience bothered me when I slipped into the movie theater without paying." Consciousness means "the state of being conscious" or "the totality of conscious states of an individual."

____Disinterested/Uninterested. Too often, people use "disinterested" to mean "uninterested." Disinterested means "impartial'; uninterested means "having no interest." Example: A judge is--or should be--"disinterested"; a cat is "uninterested" in the outcome of a baseball game.

____Everyday, Every day. Everyday (spelled as one word) is an adjective: "The dishes were intended for everyday use." Every day (spelled as two words) functions as an adverb: "I washed my hair every day."

____It's and Its. It's is a contraction meaning "it is." Example: "It's a beautiful day outside." Its is a possessive form meaning "belonging to it." Example : "The groundhog returned to its den on February 2."

____Lead, led. Lead as a noun is the metal; lead is also the present tense of the verb "to lead." The past tense is led. Example: The guide will lead treasure seekers to buried treasure. Yesterday he led another group to the same spot.

____Lie/lay. Lie is an intransitive verb (a verb that takes no direct object); it means "to recline." Lay is a transitive verb (a verb that must have a direct object); it means "to put" or "to place." Confusion arises because lay is also the past tense form of lie. There's also the intransitive verb "to lie," which means "to tell an untruth."

See the table below for some help.

Present tense
Past tense
Past participle
Present Participle
Examples of the verb "to lie" ("to recline")
Example: Today the cat lies on the couch. Yesterday the cat lay on the couch Many times the cat has lain on the couch. As I came into the room, the cat was lying on the couch.
Examples of the verb "to lay" ("to put or place") (Note: This verb always takes a direct object, in this case "book.")
Today I walk into the room and lay the book on the table. Yesterday I came into the room and laid the book on the table. Many times I have come into the room and laid the book on the table. As I came into the room and was laying the book on the table, a door slammed.
Examples of the verb "to lie" ("to tell an untruth")
Today he lies about the missing key. Yesterday he lied about the missing key. Many times he has lied about the missing key. Accusing of lying about the missing key, he lied again.

____Lose/loose. Lose is the verb form: We did not want to lose our way. Loose is generally an adjective meaning free or unconfined: We appreciated the freedom of loose clothing. Occasionally loose is used as a verb meaning "to set free or unleash": Zeus loosed his powers of destruction on an uncaring world.

____ Simple, simplistic. "Simplistic" is not a more impressive way of saying "simple." "Simplistic" is a pejorative term meaning "overly simple," and it conveys a criticism of the idea being expressed: for example, "Her ideas were simplistic" means that her ideas are too simple, possibly to the point of being stupid.

____Their, there, they're. "Their" is possessive; it means "belonging to them." Example: The hit men got into their car and drove away. "There" refers to a place: When I got there, no one was around. "They're" is a contraction meaning "they are." Example: They're unlikely to shoot innocent bystanders.

____Then, than. "Then" is a measurement of time: "We went to the movies, and then we came home." "Than" indicates comparison: "He ran more quickly than I did."

____To/too/two. To is either the first part of an infinitive phrase ("to laugh") or a preposition ("to the mountain"). Too is an intensifier used before adverbs and adjectives: "We were laughing too hard to speak" and "The dog was too submissive to be a guard dog." Two is the number 2.

____Verbal, Oral. Many people use the term "verbal communication" to mean "communication transmitted by speech." "Verbal" communication is communication in words; the words can be written as well as spoken. "Oral" communication refers to speech.

____Your, You're. "Your" is the possessive form of "you": "Give me your money or your life." "You're" is a contraction for "you are": "You're the millionth customer and deserve a prize."