Commonly Confused Words

English is chock full of words which sound nearly alike but which have different meanings. Using the wrong word can cause your sentence to take on a wild interpretation that you didn't intend. Here are words to watch out for.

Your vs You're
You only ever use "you're" if you could substitute "you are" in the exact same spot. "You're" means You Are and nothing else. Your means "belonging to you" as in a possession.

You're going to visit the doctor to have your stomach examined.

Its vs It's
The exact same rule applies here. You only ever use "it's" if you could substitute "it is" in that spot. "Its" means belonging to it.

It's hard to drag a puppy away from its bone.

Affect vs Effect
This can be a tricky one even for experienced writers. A simple rule of thumb which covers most cases is that affect acts as a verb, while effect acts as a noun.

The beady eyes of the audience affected Lisa's ability to give her speech. Turning the volume knob down had little effect.

A way to test this is to try substituting in "improved" - a verb. It works in the first sentence, but not the second. Then try substituting in "result" - a noun. This doesn't work in the first sentence - but it does in the second.

Lie vs Lay
Lie (present tense) always involves something with a brain. I can go lie down. My kitty can lie on the couch. The past tense of lie is lay, which is why things get a bit confusing.

Lay (present tense) involves objects. I lay the pillow on the bed. I lay the blanket over my kitten. The past tense of lay is laid.

I want to lie down for a while.
Yesterday I lay down for a while.
I lay the book down on the table.
Yesterday I laid the book down on the table.

Than vs Then
Than is a comparison word. She is bigger than an ant. He is smaller than a planet. Then is a time based word. I want to first eat some pudding, then go dancing.

Mark is faster than a speeding bullet.
Sue is going to brush her teeth and then go to bed.

Accept vs Except
Accept means to allow something to happen or to get something. I accepted that life has hurdles in it. Except means "other than". I dropped all the pennies except for the sticky one.

I accepted all of the gifts from the shower except for the damaged carriage, which I sent back.

Let me know if there are other words you have challenges with!

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