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Seven tricky pairs of confusing words

  • February 16, 2011
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Returning to our two-part series on confusing words, we will tackle a few of the remaining homonyms and common conundrums, which are prone to being misused. While misused words can lead to considerable confusion, the reasons behind such mistakes are often quite understandable. This list provides a concise look at the rules and reasons behind each word and its proper usage.

Loose vs. lose

Understanding when to use loose vs lose is easy when you keep the definition in mind. To loose something means to release it, but to lose something means to misplace it.

Your vs. you’re

Your vs you’re is a lot like its and it’s. Your is the possessive form of you, even though it would seem that a possessive should have an apostrophe, it doesn’t. The word you’re is a contraction for you are.

Than vs. then

To clarify the confusing words than vs then, consider only definition. Then expresses a time. For example, “We cleaned the house and then we went to the movies.” Then means what was done next or right after the first action. Than is a statement of comparison, and is often used in phrases like, less than, taller than, more than, or shorter than. Remember that when comparing use than, and when speaking of order of time use then.

Accept vs. except

When deciding to use accept vs except the definition is the key difference. Accept means to willingly receive or take in. Consider the sentences “Susan accepted the gift.” or “They accepted Tom as their friend.” Except refers to excluding. “Everyone received a gift, except John.” In some ways except is the opposite of accept. It may help to remember the accept includes with open arms, but to except is to exclude.

Off vs. of


Off vs of is a fairly easy concept, but a frequent typo. Off means the opposite of on, and is used in phrases like “off shore,” or “keep off the grass.” Of is a very common preposition with many uses and meanings. It can mean from, even made from, it can also indicate motive or cause in general it means there is a direct connection between the word before and after it.

Here vs. hear

To determine which word to use, here vs hear, one only needs to consider the definition. Here refers to location, usually the current location of the speaker. Hear refers to the auditory senses. It is easy to see the difference, and then it is only a matter of remembering which spelling is which.

Aid vs. aide

With aid vs aide it is a matter of which part of speech one is using aid is a verb, meaning to help or assist, and aide is a helper or assistant and thus aide is a noun. An aide is a person, who aids assists and helps another person. Some confusion however is with inanimate objects, which aid. Inanimate objects, which assist people, are called aids. For example, “hearing aids,” or “kitchen aid.” AIDS also sounds like aids and aides, but it is a disease, which isn’t helpful at all. This modern word is an acronym for Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Examples of confusing word pairs like than vs then show how subtle and sensitive the English language is. A single apostrophe or misplaced letter can drastically change the meaning of a word or an entire phrase. These confusing words are just the tip of the iceberg. The English language contains a plethora of homophones that continue to amuse and confuse writers everywhere. Hopefully this two-part series has helped undo some of the confusion surrounding these common word pairs.

You are welcome to share your favorite or least favorite confusing words in the comments.
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