Your Guide to the Top 10 Most Commonly Confused English Words

Words that are commonly confused because they look or sound alike are called homonyms, from the Greek roots homo, meaning “same” and numos, meaning “name.” Homonyms can be divided into homophones (which sound alike) and homographs (which have the same spelling).

Below are some of the most commonly confused English homonyms, with definitions and examples.

Their/There/They’re

Their. A possessive pronoun, like “my” or “your.”

  • I like that restaurant because their pasta is delicious.
  • Their car isn’t as cool as mine.

There. Refers to a place.

  • I like that restaurant over there.
  • There is the car dealership we bought from.

They’re. A contraction of they are.

  • I like the waiters because they’re really friendly.
  • They’re going to be so jealous of my new ride.

Its/It’s

Its. A possessive pronoun, like “his” or “my.”

  • I like this car for its hybrid features.
  • Looks like the sunny weather is on its way back.

It’s. A contraction of it is.

  • I like this car because it’s eco-friendly.
  • It’s beautiful when the sun is out.

Your/You’re

Your. A possessive pronoun, like “her” or “my.”

  • I like your car.
  • Shall we have dinner at your house?

You’re. A contraction of you are.

  • You’re driving such a cool car!
  • You should cook because you’re so good at it.

To/Too/Two

To, definition 1. A preposition, like “toward” or “for.”

  • Let’s go to the store.
  • Who does this present go to?

To, definition 2. Part of infinitive verbs.

  • We wanted to go.
  • Apples are convenient to pack for a snack.

Too, definition 1. Also, as well.

  • I wanted pancakes too.
  • They were eating sausages, too.

Too, definition 2. Excessively, very.

  • He was driving too fast.
  • You’re too kind.

Two. The number 2.

  • I only ate two pancakes.
  • You had two times as many as I did.

Whose/Who’s

Whose. A possessive pronoun like “his” or “her.”

  • Whose car are we taking?
  • Did you say whose house we’re going to?

Who’s. A contraction of who is or who has.

  • Who’s driving?
  • Let’s ride with the person who’s the best driver.

(For more information, see this EditorNinja article on whose and who’s.)

Then/Than

Then. Refers to time.

  • Costs were lower back then.
  • We ate our appetizers first and then we ordered our entrees.

Than. Used to compare two things.

  • I would rather buy a house than rent an apartment.
  • The restaurant’s mac and cheese was even better than grandma’s! (Don’t tell.)

Here/Hear

Here. Refers to a place.

  • Here we are!
  • I thought I left my keys right here.

Hear. Hear refers to the physical sense of hearing.

  • I’d love to hear your thoughts.
  • I couldn’t hear you over the loud music.

Affect/Effect

Affect. A verb meaning to impact or to change.

  • Sugar affects my mood because it makes my blood sugar spike and then crash.
  • Cold weather affects our crops.

Effect. A noun referring to the outcome of a situation.

  • The sugar had a big effect on my mood.
  • The cold weather produced an undesirable effect.

(Read more about affect and effect in this article.)

Accept/Except

Accept. A verb that means to receive or to agree.

  • I accept the terms of the agreement.
  • She accepted my gift with much appreciation.

Except. Excluding, with the exclusion of, otherwise than, but for, save.

  • Everyone was there except me.
  • Those brothers look similar except that one is taller.

Complement/Compliment

Complement. As a noun, it refers to something that completes something else. As a verb, it means “to complete.”

  • This cold drink complements the spicy food.
  • Your tie is a good complement to your shirt.

Compliment. Praise, admiration.

  • Giving someone a compliment can make them feel good.
  • My friends complimented my new dress.

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