We’ve all been there. You’re about to use a word and you realize that it has a very similar sound/spelling/meaning to another word, and suddenly you are confused about which one is correct. These are commonly confused words for everyone. It’s easy to mistake some of these word pairs, especially because they are often spelled almost exactly the same. We’ve made a list of some of the most commonly confused words and how to differentiate between them.
Affect vs. Effect
This one rarely matters when you are speaking because they sound identical. When writing, however, you want to make sure you are conveying the right meaning. Here’s the lowdown:
Affect should be used as a verb to mean something is influenced or impacted by something else.
➔ Scary movies always affect me in the worst way. ➔ How he behaves doesn’t affect the way I see him. ➔ The traffic affects my morning commute.
Effect should be used as a noun to describe something that is a result or an outcome.
➔ The effect of the new start time was that everyone was more awake when they got to work.
➔ The new principal had a positive effect on school morale.
➔ The change in climate had a lasting effect on the bird’s habitat.
Allusion vs. Illusion
An allusion makes a reference to something without naming it explicitly. An illusion is something that is deceptive or perceived incorrectly. There isn’t a quick way to distinguish between these two words, but with practice and consideration you can remember the difference between them. It’s also just important to remember that they can’t be used interchangeably!
➔ The story was an allusion to a famous play.
➔ The main character gave the illusion of a devoted family-man.
➔ The outfit was an allusion to some of Vera Wang’s designs. ➔ The outfit gave the illusion of a slim physique.
Capital vs. Capitol
This word pair is extra confusing because they are often used in a similar context. Luckily, one of them has a very specific meaning, so it is possible to differentiate.
The easiest of the two, capitol refers to a government building. It’s exact definition is “a building occupied by a state legislature.”
➔ Important business is handled in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. ➔ Every state has capitol buildings for legislators.
*Always capitalize capitol when referring to a specific building.
The second option, capital , has a few different meanings. ➔ An uppercase letter.
➔ Something highly important
➔ The city that acts as an official seat of government for a given state or country. ➔ An amount of wealth or assets
Let’s put these words to use for some comparisons:
➔ The first letter in a sentence should always be a capital.
➔ The capital concern is participant safety.
➔ The capital of Missouri is Jefferson City.
➔ We don’t have enough capital to keep this business running.
Awhile vs. A while
To space or not to space? For this word pair, you just need to know what part of speech the word is acting as. A while works as a noun phrase to mean “a period of time.” Awhile works as an adverb to mean “for a time.” *Remember that adverbs modify verbs and noun phrases can be the object of a preposition.
➔ He played the guitar for a while. (noun phrase) ➔ He played the guitar awhile (adverb)
➔ It was a while before he sang again. (noun phrase) ➔ He waited awhile before singing again. (adverb)
Adverse vs. Averse
This word pair is extra tricky. Adverse means “unfavorable” or “hostile.” It is most often used to describe conditions but not people. Averse means “unwilling” or “disinclined.” It is almost always followed by the preposition “to,” and often used in relation to people.
➔ The storm caused adverse weather conditions throughout the day. (bad weather conditions)
➔ The conversation led to an adverse reaction from the board. (an unfavorable reaction)
➔ She wasn’t averse to taking chances. (opposed)
➔ The school was averse to hiring teachers with a criminal background. (unwilling)