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10 confusing English words (and how to get them right)

Oh English, you tricky piece of work. Just when we think we’ve got you figured out, you go and break a spelling rule or insist on a bunch of pronunciation options for -ough. Dear readers, in this article we warmed you up with 10 tricky words, and that was only the beginning: Get ready to join the English spelling and grammar police to protect these 10 commonly misused and confused words from more suffering!

1. Misspell

Oh the irony! How is it that a word referring to incorrect spelling is so difficult to spell? It’s true that our first word looks a little overdressed with its double s and double l. Never spell it incorrectly again by remembering that Miss Pell never misspells.

2. Its vs. It’s

These two cause many of us to cry. As we know, it’s is the contraction of it is and its is the possessive form of it. Tempted to throw in a sneaky apostrophe? First, check if you could replace the word with his or hers. If you can, then its is for you!

3. A lot vs. Allot

What a difference a space makes. A lot describes quantity and as an added bonus, it can be used with both countable nouns (like people, chairs, or cups of coffee) and uncountable nouns (such as water, rice, money, or hair). Think: I have a lot of time. He’s got a lot of books. How much do we have? A lot. Allot, on the other hand, is a regular verb and means to distribute. As in: I allotted everyone 30 minutes to speak. All the students were allotted a study area. (And to up the ante: He allotted everyone a lot of time.)

4. Piece vs. Peace

Now, another thing that you can allot – and people are always grateful to receive – is dessert, which brings us to our next tricky word pair. Thankfully, this is easy as pie: Next time you’re debating piece or peace, remember to think of apiece of pie (that will bring world peace).

5. Advice vs. Advise

Advice – with an s-sound – is a suggestion for a course of action (My friend gave me some really great advice). Advise – with a z-sound – means suggest what to do, or give advice (He advised me to exercise first thing in the morning). Whew! But how’re we supposed to know which is which? Never forget again by remembering that advice is a noun, just like ice, whereas advise is a verb, just like is.

6. Lose vs. Loose

Did your team lose or loose the final? When you dropped 10kg, were your pants lose or loose? Does it even matter? Well, yes – that innocent looking o makes a world o’ difference. Imagine that both words started out the same, but at some point, lose lost an o. (Maybe because there was a moose on the loose?)

7. Diarrhoea

Wow, just trying to spell this word can make you feel queasy. It might not be a word you use every day, but it’s useful to know, and here’s an easy way (and an unfortunate mental picture) to remember it: You’d better dash in a real real hurry, or else accident! (If you want to save some time – because of the nature of the issue at hand – you can go with the American spelling: diarrhea.)

8. Disinterested vs. Uninterested

Two more easily confused words. An uninterested person is not interested in something, whereas a disinterested person does not take sides in an argument – ideally, like a good judge! To remember the difference? Think of a lawyer warning their client before going into court, “Don’t disrespect the judge. She’s disinterested.”

9. “-ie” or “-ei” when spelling

Students used to be told, I before E, except after C.” Simple enough, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, way too many words don’t follow that rule. So now, it’s best to remember, “I before E, except after C or when sounding like A, as in neighbor and weigh (and also for weird, which is really just weird).” That just about covers those sneaky exceptions!

10. Every day vs. Everyday

Everyday is an adjective meaning common or unexceptional. (Everyday people don’t dress head to toe in Gucci.) Every day refers to something that happens each day. (I drink three strong coffees every day.) To add to the confusion, things you do every day are everyday things. Got a headache yet? Don’t – there’s a simple way to distinguish the two: If each day works in your sentence, then it’s every day you want!

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