Common Misused Words

Common Misused Words: The path that leads from oral language to written language can get a little rocky at times.

We can sometimes make a mess when we attempt to transform spoken words to written words.

This can often be because we may not always know and understand grammar rules.

Understanding the rules of grammar can help us to identify the most common misused words and make our writing more easy to read and interesting to the reader. Grammar is not too difficult to learn and is well worth the effort.

This web page lists a number of the most common misused words, that once known and remembered will help you to tighten up your writing.

Common Misused Words


Accept: a verb meaning to take or receive.
'I accept that your decision is the correct one.'

Except: also a verb, but means to exclude or leave out. 'I want them all, except the red one.'


Affect: a verb which means to influence or to change.
'The hot sun had an affect on me. I sat in the shade.'

Effect: a verb that means an effect, result or consequence.
'The sun's rays caused a curious side effect.'


Allusion: a noun which means a passing or casual reference.
'She didn't say it directly, but alluded that she was disappointed.'

Illusion: a noun which means something that gives a false impression of reality. 'The magician performed the illusion, and made himself disappear.'

Elude: a verb that means to avoid or escape by speed and cleverness. 'The jewel thief has once again eluded the police.'

Any way/Anyway

Any way: any way is correct when the adjective any qualifies the noun way. 'Isn't there any way we can go?'

Anyway: an adverb that means nonetheless or regardless. 'I don't care. I didn't want to go anyway.'


Beside: a preposition that means at the side of or near.
'I stood beside the front door.'

Besides: an adverb which means moreover or furthermore. 'I wanted to go. Besides, I deserved it.'


Capital: a noun. The city that is the official seat of government. 'London is the capital of England.'

Capitol: a noun. A building occupied by the state legislature. 'They work in the capitol building.'


Complement: something that completes or makes perfect. 'The dessert wine made a perfect complement to the pudding.'

Compliment: an expression of praise. 'The bride was complimented on the beauty of her dress.'


Climactic: a climax, coming to an end. 'The climactic scene in Hamlet is very tragic.'

Climatic: an adjective that relates to the climate of our planet. 'The climatic conditions were worsening.'


Dessert: a noun. A sweet or pudding that serves as the final course in a meal. 'We're having ice-cream for dessert.'

Desert: a noun. An arid region that has little to no rainfall or vegetation. 'The Sahara is a massive desert.'

Desert: a verb. To leave without intending to return. 'The soldier deserted from the army.'


Elicit: a verb which means to bring out or evoke. 'The psychologist stayed silent in order to elicit a response from his patient.'

Illicit: an adjective which means something that is not legal or authorized. 'The thief had on him an illicit substance.'


Its: pronoun. The possessive form of it. 'The car has lost its motor.'

It's: Is a contraction of it is. It is a fine sunny day,' becomes 'It's a fine sunny day.'


Principle: an accepted rule of action or conduct. 'Our teacher has good principles and doesn't like dishonesty.'

Principal: the head or director of a school. 'The school principal was very strict.'


Than: conjunction. Used to introduce the second part of an unequal comparison. 'He is much faster than me.'

Then: adverb. Means at that time. 'The car started and then it stopped.'


There: adverb. In or at that place. 'He's over there.'

Their: pronoun. A possessive pronoun, of they. 'It's their new house.'

They're: contraction of they are. 'They are over there,' becomes 'They're over there.'


To: preposition. Used for expressing direction toward a point. 'We went to the back of the bus.'

Too: adverb. Means in addition to or furthermore. 'My brother and I want to go too.'

Two: a cardinal number 1 plus 1. 'I want two pieces of toast for breakfast.'


Your: a pronoun. A possessive form of you. 'It's your jacket. You wear it.'

You're: A contraction of you are. 'You are welcome to play,' becomes 'You're welcome to play.'

This selection is a sample of the most common misused words. For a more comprehensive list of common misused words please consult a grammar book.


Gowers, E. (1986) The Complete Plain Words, Penguin Books

Content Updated 8/11

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