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Commonly Confused Words

Commonly Confused Words

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Author: Martina Shabram
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In this lesson, students will learn how and why certain words are often confused with each other by looking at several examples of such words.

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Source: [image of police lineup, public domain, http://bit.ly/1OJZBdH]

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Hello, students. My name is Dr Martinez Shabram. And I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts. So let's get started.

What are we going to learn today? This lesson is an exploration of some of the most often misused, confused, and misunderstood words in the English language. We'll run through a list of some of these easily confused words and practice selecting the correct choice in our own writing.

You probably know that there are some words in this language that are easy to mix up. We call these commonly confused words, which are words that sound alike, but have different meanings and different spellings. And because there are some words that we use frequently but have similar sound or spellings, these words can end up on the list of most commonly confused words.

Now there are a lot of words that get confused in English. So we're just going to cover the worst of the worst, the most common culprit of so many incorrect sentences. If you get used to spotting those words, you'll be better able to catch errors while you proofread your writing.

Affect and effect. Affect is most often a verb, meaning to change or influence something, such as in the sentence, this headache affects my ability to read. Effect on the other hand is most often a noun, meaning result, such as in the sentence, the effect of this headache is that I can't read.

So here's the sentence. Is the word used correctly? No. Look at how the word is working in the sentence. In this sentence, the hurricane is doing something to those homes. So we know that this should be an action word, a verb, and therefore that we're looking for affect with an A.

Here we go again. What's your verdict? If we look at what function the word is playing, we can again see which work we need here. In this sentence, there is something that is visible everywhere. So we need a thing. Nouns describe persons, places, and things. So we want the noun form, effect with an E.

It's an its. When we say it's with an apostrophe, we're indicating a contraction, it is, such as in the sentence, the thermometer shows that it's cold in the house. We could write this, it is cold in the house. So that tells us that we're using the apostrophe there to indicate the combination of these two words.

When we say its without a apostrophe, however, we're indicating a possessive pronoun, such as in this sentence, its temperature was low. So what do you think about this sentence? What are we trying to say here? OK, we're trying to imply that we need to get to the monkey house at the zoo, that it is time to go. So that its should have an apostrophe to show that we are contracting it and is.

Now how about this sentence? Let's uncontract that its. Does it make sense to say, it is new name is? No. So this should be its without the apostrophe. The name belongs to it.

So one good trick here is to replace any instance of its with it is. If the sentence still make sense, then you have the contraction and should use the apostrophe. If not, then you have a possessive pronoun it and should lose that apostrophe.

You're and your. Here is another apostrophe confusion. You're is the contraction of you are, such as, you are going to the beach today. Your, on the other hand, indicates the possessive pronoun again, such as in the sentence, your trip to the beach starts today.

So just like in our last example, the trick to remember this is to think about the contraction. If you are make sense in your sentence, then you've got the contraction form. If it doesn't, just go for your. So let's try. It wouldn't make sense to say, you are time at the beach. We need the possessive version.

Now again, what do you notice here? In this case, using the wrong form of the word actually makes the sentence pretty confusing. We end up with the implication that this sentence is about your tan, and the whole meaning falls part. Your tan after all that time of the beach is what? So we might guess here that what is actually intended is you are, making the sentence have a much clearer meaning.

Then, than. Now, then is usually an adverb meant to show the passage of time or the order of things, such as, the snow stopped, so then I went out to shovel. Than, on the other hand, makes a comparison between things, such as, my driveway seemed to have more snow than my neighbor's driveway.

So here we have a sentence. What do you think? I see here that this than is comparing things. So does that make sense in this context? No. This is the timeline. First, we develop pictures, then we frame them.

So what about this sentence? Again, we can see some multiple meanings come up here. This could mean, I'd rather go first to the frame store and then do the Photoshop. But based on the whole construction and context, we might guess that this speaker would rather go to the shop he's closer to then he would the Photoshop. So we can imply now that this author intends than.

So now we have a triple offender, there, their, and they're. There is an adverb. It's about location. The backpack is over there. It can also be used as a placeholder, such as, there is no one with the backpack now.

Their is a possessive pronoun, again. So it's about ownership. Their backpack is on the grass. And they're is a contraction for they are. They are going to the grass now. So here the trick is again to start by uncontracting the word.

Do you mean they are? If so, use that contraction. If not, ask yourself, does the next word belong to someone? If so, then you have possession and want their. If not, then you've got the adverb working for you. So check that your sentence denotes space.

Here's a sentence for us to correct. The first they're let's uncontract it. They are is. That doesn't make sense. So which version there or their should we use? Are we describing possession? Well, you can't own is. So this shouldn't be possessive. And that means that we need there, indicating some kind of location.

OK. Next spot, there telephone. Well, we can see that telephone is an object. Are we describing ownership? The phone belongs to them. So we need their.

Last one, could I substitute they are in this spot? They are probably not home. Yes, that makes sense. This doesn't indicate possession or place. So we have the contraction form here.

Another triple header, two, too, to. Two is the written form of the numeral two. So it indicates the amount of two. If you were trying to say that there are two bears in our tint, you want two with a W. Too, on the other hand, indicates excess or addition, such as if I were trying to say, there are too many bears here. And the basic to is a preposition indicating movement.

So we could say, I need to get to my car and escape these bears. So let's take a look at these in a sentence. We'll start at the end this time, too leave. Can we have multiple or additional leaving? No. So instead, this is probably telling some cooks to leave the kitchen. So we want that prepositional to.

Then we have too many. When we usually use numerals that way saying, I have three many cookies? No. So the many is telling us that this is about excess. We need T-O-O.

Are we indicating movement, excess, or numbers? This seems like it's telling us that the correct amount of cooks for this kitchen is two. So we want the numeral form with a W.

Last one, cite, sight, and site. Cite with a C is a verb, meaning to quote as an authority, such as in the sentence, I will cite Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech in my paper. Sight it is a noun referring to something that is seen, such as in this sentence, the March on Washington would have been an amazing sight to see.

Finally, site, spelled I-T-E is the now describing a particular location, such as, I would like to go to the site of the March someday. So let's practice these. What are we trying to do here? We're trying to find a location. We're not looking for a bibliography. So we want to site, S-I-T-E.

When in doubt look at the part of speech. If we can remember that cite with a C is a verb, then we can tell that it doesn't make sense in this context. Here, we're describing another noun, a beautiful thing. Site is a noun, but are those decorations a location? No, they're objects, like streamers and balloons. So we're looking at these decorations, and therefore they should be sight, G-H-T.

OK, here we're using a verb. I'll do something. I'll credit the hostess. Therefore, we want the verb version, cite with a C.

So what did we learn today? Well we worked through a list of the worst of the worst of commonly confused words. Well, students, I hope you have as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Notes on "Commonly Confused Words"

(00:00 – 00:09) Introduction

(00:10 – 00:25) What are we going to learn today?

(00:26 – 01:00) Commonly Confused Words

(01:01 – 01:55) Affect vs. Effect

(01:56 – 03:11) It’s vs. Its

(03:12 – 04:13) You’re vs. Your

(04:14 – 05:12) Than vs. Then

(05:13 – 06:41) Their vs. There vs. They’re

(06:42 – 07:48) Two vs. To vs. Too

(07:49 – 09:02) Cite vs. Sight vs. Site

(09:03 – 09:13) Recap and Goodbye

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Commonly Confused Words

    Words that sound alike, but have different meanings and different spellings.