Common Mistakes and Confusing Words in English

advice vs advise | accept vs except | affect vs effect | a lot/alot/allot
all ready vs already | all right vs alright | alone vs lonely
altogether vs all together | any vs some | apart vs a part
been vs gone | beside vs besides | bored vs boring | bought vs brought
borrow vs lend | by vs until
check vs control | come over vs overcome | complement vs compliment
concentrate vs concentrated | council vs counsel
councillor vs counsellor
data vs datum | decent vs descent | discreet vs discrete
don't have to vs mustn't
| downside vs underside
effect vs affect | either vs as well / too
every day vs everyday | excited vs exciting
expand vs expend | experience vs experience(s)
fewer vs less
| for vs since (time) | good vs well | gone vs been
hard vs hardly | hear vs listen | heroin vs heroine | he's vs his
holiday vs the weekend | homework vs housework
"How do you do?" vs "How are you?"

I vs me | interested vs interesting
lay vs lie
| lay down vs lie down | less vs fewer
look after vs look for | look at vs watch | look forward(s) | look forward to
look over vs overlook | loose vs lose
me vs I | me vs my | most vs the most | most vs mostly | nor vs or
overtake vs takeover / take over
personal vs personnel | practice vs practise
precede vs proceed | principal vs principle
| remember vs remind
said vs told | see vs watch | shortage vs shortness | so vs such
some vs any | stationary vs stationery
take care vs take care of | that/which/who | to/too/two| there/their/they're
trainer vs trainee | travel/trip/voyage/journey
used to vs used to do
wander vs wonder | what vs which | who vs whom

accept vs except

Accept is a verb, which means to agree to take something .

For example: "I always accept good advice."

Except is a preposition or conjunction, which means not including.

For example: "I teach every day except Sunday(s)."


advice vs advise

Advice is a noun, which means an opinion that someone offers you about what you should do or how you should act in a particular situation.

For example: "I need someone to give me some advice."

Advise is a verb, which means to give information and suggest types of action.

For example: "I advise everybody to be nice to their teacher."

!Often in English the noun form ends in and the verb form ends in ...ise.


affect vs effect

Affect and effect are two words that are commonly confused.

affect is usually a verb (action) - effect is usually a noun (thing)

Hint: If it's something you're going to do, use "affect." If it's something you've already done, use "effect."

To affect something or someone.

Meaning: to influence, act upon, or change something or someone.

For example: The noise outside affected my performance.

To have an effect on something or someone

!Note: effect is followed by the preposition on and preceded by an article (an, the)

Meaning: to have an impact on something or someone.

For example: His smile had a strange effect on me.

!Effect can also mean "the end result".

For example: The drug has many adverse side effects.


all right vs alright

All right has multiple meanings. It can mean ok, acceptable, unhurt.

The single word spelling alright has never been accepted as standard.

However in a search on Google you'll get around 68,700,000 hits for alright and 163,000,000 for "all right". So, it might become a respected alternative spelling. Personally I have no problem with it, but what do other people think:-

Kingsley Amis The King's English 1997: "I still feel that to inscribe alright is gross, crass, coarse and to be avoided, and I now say so. Its interdiction is as pure an example as possible of a rule without a reason, and in my case may well show nothing but how tenacious a hold early training can take."
Bill Bryson Troublesome Words 1997: "A good case could be made for shortening all right to alright. ... English, however, is a fickle tongue and alright continues to be looked on as illiterate and unacceptable and consequently it ought never to appear in serious writing."
Robert Burchfield The New Fowler's Modern English Usage 1997: "Alright ... is the demotic form. It is preferred, to judge from the evidence I have assembled, by popular sources like the British magazines The Face ... New Musical Express and Sounds, the American magazine Black World, the Australian journal Southerly, the Socialist Worker, by popular singers ... and hardly ever by writers of standing ... It is commonplace in private correspondence, especially in that of the moderately educated young. Almost all other printed works in Britain and abroad use the more traditional form ... "  
(At which point in there did you first get the urge to smack him?)
Graham King The Times Writer's Guide 2001: If we accept already, altogether and almost, why not alright? Although it carries with it the whiff of grammatical illegitimacy it is and has been in common use for a century ..."


alone / lonely

Alone, can be used as an adjective or adverb. Either use means without other people or on your own.

For example: "He likes living alone."
"I think we're alone now." = There are just the two of us here.

Lonely is an adjective which means you are unhappy because you are not with other people.

For example: "The house feels lonely now that all the children have left home."

!Note - Just because you're alone, doesn't mean you're lonely.


a lot / alot / allot

A lot, meaning a large amount or number of people or things, can be used to modify a noun.

For example:-

"I need a lot of time to develop this web site."

It can also be used as an adverb, meaning very much or very often.

For example:-

"I look a lot like my sister."

It has become a common term in speech; and is increasingly used in writing.

Alot does not exist! There is no such word in the English language. If you write it this way - imagine me shouting at you - "No Such Word!"

Allot is a verb, which means to give (especially a share of something) for a particular purpose:-

For example: "We were allotted a desk each."


all ready vs already

All ready means "completely ready".

For example: "Are you all ready for the test?"

Alreadyis an adverb that means before the present time or earlier than the time expected.

For example: "I asked him to come to the cinema but he'd already seen the film."

"Are you buying Christmas cards already? It's only September!"


altogether vs
all together

All together (adv) means "together in a single group."

For example: The waiter asked if we were all together.

Altogether (adv) means "completely" or "in total ".

For example: She wrote less and less often, and eventually she stopped altogether.

!To be in the altogether is an old-fashioned term for being naked!


any vs some

Any and some are both determiners. They are used to talk about indefinite quantities or numbers, when the exact quantity or number is not important. As a general rule we use some for positive statements, and any for questions and negative statements,

For example:-

I asked the barman if he could get me some sparkling water. I said, "Excuse me, have you got any sparkling water?" Unfortunately they didn't have any.

!Note - You will sometimes see some in questions and any in positive statements. When making an offer, or a request, in order to encourage the person we are speaking to to say "Yes", you can use some in a question:

For example: Would you mind fetching some gummy bears while you're at the shops?

You can also use any in a positive statement if it comes after a word whose meaning is negative or limiting:

For example:-
A. She gave me some bad advice.
B. Really? She rarely gives any bad advice.


apart vs
a part

Apart (adv) separated by distance or time.

For example: I always feel so lonely when we're apart.

A part (noun) a piece of something that forms the whole of something.

For example: They made me feel like I was a part of the family.


been vs gone

been is the past participle of be

gone is the past participle of go

Been is used to describe completed visits. So if you have been to England twice, you have travelled there and back twice. If you have gone to England, you have not yet returned.

! Now you've been and gone and done it!


beside vs besides

Thanks to Dheepa Arun

beside is a preposition of place that means at the side of or next to.

For example: The house was beside the Thames.

besides is an adverb or preposition. It means in addition to or also.

For example: Besides water, we carried some fruit. = "In addition to water, we carried some fruit."


bored vs boring

bored is an adjective that describes when someone feels tired and unhappy because something is not interesting or because they have nothing to do.

For example: She was so bored that she fell asleep.

boring is an adjective that means something is not interesting or exciting.

For example: The lesson was so boring that she fell asleep.

!Note Most verbs which express emotions, such as to bore , may use either the present or the past participle as an adjective, but the meaning of the participles is often different.


borrow vs lend

To lend:

Meaning: to hand out usually for a certain length of time.

Banks lend money.

Libraries lend books.

For example: "My mother lent me some money, and I must pay her back soon."

To borrow:

Meaning: to take with permission usually for a certain length of time.

You can borrow money from a bank to buy a house or a car.

You can borrow books for up to 4 weeks from libraries in England.

For example: "I borrowed some money off my mother, and I must pay her back soon."

! For a happy life - Never a borrower nor a lender be.


bought vs brought

bought past tense of the verb to buy
For example: "I bought a newspaper at the newsagents. "

brought past tense of the verb to bring
For example: "She brought her homework to the lesson."

!There is an 'r' in brought and an 'r' in bring = they belong together.


by vs until

Both until and by indicate “any time before, but not later than.”

Until tells us how long a situation continues. If something happens until a particular time, you stop doing it at that time.

For example:

They lived in a small house until September 2003.
(They stopped living there in September.)

I will be away until Wednesday.
(I will be back on Wednesday.)

We also use until in negative sentences.

For example:

Details will not be available until January.
(January is the earliest you can expect to receive the details.)

If something happens by a particular time, it happens at or before that time. It is often used to indicate a deadline.

For example:

You have to finish by August 31.
(August 31 is the last day you can finish; you may finish before this date.)

We also use by when asking questions.

For example:

Will the details be available by December?
(This asks if they will be ready no later than December.)


check (v)
control (v)

To check means to examine. To make certain that something or someone is correct, safe or suitable by examining it or them quickly.

For example: "You should always check your oil, water and tyres before taking your car on a long trip."

To control means to order, limit, instruct or rule something, or someone's actions or behaviour.

For example: "If you can't control your dog, put it on a lead!"

What you shouldn't do is use the verb control in association with people and the work they do.

For example: "I check my students' homework, but I can't control what they do!"


In Business English there is often a lot of confusion because of the term control in accounting.

In most organizations the controller is the top managerial and financial accountant. The controller supervises the accounting department and assists management in interpreting and utilizing managerial accounting information.


come over (v) vs overcome (n)

Come over is a phrasal verb, that can mean several things.

To move from one place to another, or move towards someone.

For example: "Come over here."

To seem to be a particular type of person.

For example: "Politicians often come over as arrogant."

To be influenced suddenly and unexpectedly by a strange feeling.

For example: "Don't stand up too quickly or you may come over dizzy."

Overcome is a verb, which means to defeat or succeed in controlling or dealing with something.

For example: "Using technology can help many people overcome any disabilities they might have."