Frequently Confused Words

Choosing the right word is important, but some words are easy to confuse. Words that sound alike can be spelled differently, and words that are not acceptable usage can be mistakenly used for appropriate words. As a writer, your job is to communicate clearly. Always check a dictionary if you are uncertain about a word's meaning. Keep in mind that the meaning of a word can sometimes change over time. This appendix lists some commonly confused words that frustrate writers.

  • a, an: Use the article a before words that begin with consonant sounds and words that begin with a “yew” sound: a bag, a plan, a historic treaty, a union, a one‐armed man (one is pronounced as if it begins with a w). Use an before words that begin with a vowel sound: an advertisement, an hour (the h is silent), an NBC executive (NBC sounds as if it begins with e).

  • a lot, alot: A lot is a colloquial, vague expression meaning very much or very many; avoid using the phrase a lot in writing. Alot is a misspelling of a lot.

  • a while, awhile: These words mean essentially the same thing, but there is a distinction. While means period of time, and therefore it is correct to write He left for a while. However, awhile means for a period of time, with the for as part of the definition. Therefore, it is correct to write He waited awhile but not He waited for awhile.

  • accept, except: Accept means to receive or to agree with: I accept the gift. I accept your proposal. Except as a preposition means leaving out or (as a verb) to exclude: Everyone except you is invited. He was excepted from the requirement.

  • adapt, adopt, adept: When you adapt something, you change it to suit a purpose, such as adapting a novel for a screenplay, or adapting yourself to a new environment. When you adopt something, you take it as is and make it your own. For example, the local chapter of a club may adopt its national organization's constitution. Adept means highly skilled, an expert. She is an adept mountain climber.

  • adverse, averse: Adverse means unfavorable. Adverse conditions make a trip unlikely. Averse means disinclined or reluctant. The staff members are averse to taking a salary cut.

  • advice, advise: Advice is a noun. Take my advice. Advise is a verb. I advise you not to go.

  • affect, effect: The most common mistake here is to confuse the verb affect with the noun effect. The verb affect means to influence, while the noun effect means result. The decision to strike affects us all because the effect of a strike at this time will be devastating. (If you can put the in front of it, the word is effect.) Less frequently, effect is used as a verb meaning to bring about, to accomplish. Harris effected a change in company policy. Still less frequently, and with the accent on the first syllable, affect is used as a noun meaning an emotion or mood as a factor in behavior or a stimulus arousing an emotion or mood. The use of affect as a noun is limited to the field of psychology.

  • aid, aide: Aid means assistance (noun) and to assist (verb). The word aide means a person who is an assistant. Her aide spoke to the press.

  • all ready, already: All ready means all prepared. I am all ready to go on the picnic. Already means by or before the given or implied time. I was already aware that the plan wouldn't work.

  • all right, alright: All right, meaning good or okay, is correct. His performance was all right. Alright is an incorrect spelling.

  • all together, altogether: All together means all at one time or in one place. When we rescued the five men, they were all together on the ledge. Altogether means completely, in all. Altogether, we rescued five men.

  • allude, refer, elude: To allude to something is to speak of it indirectly, without specifically mentioning it. When he said his father was unable to care for himself, he was probably alluding to the filthy house and empty refrigerator. To refer to something is to mention it directly. He referred to the filthy house and empty refrigerator as evidence that his father couldn't live alone. To elude is to escape or avoid capture. He eluded his pursuers for a week.

  • allusion, illusion, delusion: An allusion is an indirect reference. When she spoke of Robert's listening to the ghost of his father, it was an allusion to Hamlet's behavior in Shakespeare's play. An illusion is a false idea or unreal image. The security system created an illusion of safety. A delusion is a false belief, usually pathological. Suffering from the delusion that he was Superman, he tried to fly.

  • altar, alter: The noun altar is a platform used for sacred purposes, while the verb alter means to change. Reverend Wolfe asked them not to alter the altar.

  • alternate, alternative; alternately, alternatively: Alternate as an adjective means every other. They meet on alternate Mondays. Alternative means providing a choice between things. The alternative plan is to meet on alternate Tuesdays. As adverbs, alternately means one after the other, whereas alternatively means one or the other. The day was alternately sunny and stormy. He could have decided to stay home or, alternatively, to dress lightly but carry a raincoat and umbrella.

  • among, between: In general, use between for two items or people and among for more than two items or people. The money was to be divided between Sophie and Jonathan. The money was to be divided among Sophie, Jonathan, and Brian. Among suggests a looser relationship than between. Therefore, when three or more things are brought into a close, reciprocal relationship, such as they would be with a treaty, between is better than among. The treaty between Germany, France, and Italy was never ratified.

  • amount, number: Amount refers to a bulk or mass. No amount of money would be enough. Number refers to individual countable items. He took a large number of stamps not He took a large amount of stamps.

  • any one, anyone: Use any one when you are referring to one particular person or thing. Any one of the three girls is qualified. Otherwise, use anyone. Anyone can pick up a free copy.

  • any way, anyway, anyways: Use any way as an adjective‐noun pair. I can't think of any way we can lose. Anyway is an adverb meaning in any case. Our star player was sick, but we won the game anyway. Anyways is incorrect, substandard usage.

  • avenge, revenge: To avenge is to punish a wrong with the idea of seeing justice done. Revenge is harsher and/or less concerned with justice than with retaliating by inflicting harm. Her father avenged her death by working to have the man arrested, tried, and convicted. Her boyfriend took revenge by killing the man's wife.

  • average, mean, median: Statistically, the average of a group of numbers is the result of dividing their sum by the number of quantities in the group. (For example, the average of 3, 4, 6, and 7 is 20 divided by 4, or 5.) Average is also used outside statistics to mean ordinary or typical. The mean is the same as the average. (For example, the mean temperature of a day whose low is 30 degrees and whose high is 60 degrees is 45 degrees—30 plus 60 is 90, which equals 45 when divided by 2.) The median is the point in a series of ascending or descending numbers where half the numbers in the series are on one side and half on the other. (For example, in the series 5, 7, 9, 12, and 16, the median is 9.)

  • bad, badly: Bad is an adjective modifying or describing a state of being, usually of the subject. Use bad after the verbs feel or look. Badly is an adverb describing the quality of the verb. She felt bad that the driver of the car was injured badly.

  • beside, besides: Beside means next to, at the side of. Besides means in addition to. I don't want to spend my life living beside the dump. Besides its convenient office location, my new employer provides good health and retirement benefits.

  • biannual, biennial: Biannual means twice a year; biennial means every two years.

  • bimonthly, biweekly: Bimonthly can mean either every two months or twice a month. Biweekly can mean either every two weeks or twice a week. Because of these dual meanings, it is clearer to use terms such as twice a month or every two months instead.

  • bloc, block: Use block except when referring to a coalition of people or nations. Then the word is bloc. The gun‐control bloc (not block) defeated the amendment.

  • capital, capitol: Use capital when referring to the city that is the seat of a government. The capital of California is Sacramento. Use capitol when referring to the building where a legislature meets. When we arrived there, we toured the capitol and other government buildings.

  • censor, censure: To censor something is to edit, remove, or prohibit it because it is judged objectionable. To censure someone is to strongly condemn him or her as wrong. The vice principal censured the class president for her fiery speech, but he didn't censor the text of her speech.

  • cite, site, sight: Cite is a verb meaning to summon before a court of law, to mention by way of example, or to officially mention as meritorious. I am citing you for creating a public nuisance. The young officer was cited for bravery. Site is a noun meaning location or scene. We drove quickly to the site of the accident. Sight is also a noun, meaning the ability to see or something seen. From the hill, the stormy ocean was a beautiful sight.

  • compare to, compare with; contrast to, contrast with: To compare things means to describe their similarities, differences, or both. To contrast means to point out differences only. Use compare to when stating a likeness between things. The final scene in the novel can be compared to the final scene in the play, since both show a reconciliation of opposing forces. Use compare with when showing similarities, differences, or both. Compared with what was budgeted for prisons, the amount budgeted for crime prevention was small, but both amounts were increased from last year. Use contrast to when showing things with opposite characteristics. The Garcias' peaceful marriage is in contrast to the Nelsons' bitter relationship. Use contrast with when juxtaposing things to illustrate their differences. They contrasted Mr. Headley's plan for bringing in new businesses with Ms. Friedman's proposal.

  • complement, compliment: As a noun, complement means something that completes or perfects something else, and, as a verb, to accompany or complete something else. His creativity was the perfect complement to her determination. The dessert complemented the dinner. Compliment as a noun means something said in praise, and as a verb to praise. Her compliment about his dancing pleased him; he in turn complimented her on her gracefulness.

  • compose, comprise: Compose means to make up. Two senators from each state compose the U.S. Senate. Comprise means to include. The U.S. Senate comprises two senators from each state. The most common mistake is to use comprise for compose. Remember that the whole comprises the parts, not the other way around. Also, don't use the phrase “is comprised of.”

  • conscience, consciousness: Conscience is an inner voice, a sense of right and wrong; whereas consciousness is simply awareness, or the ability to think and feel. Consciousness of the woman's plight didn't seem to bother his conscience. The adjectival forms are conscientious, which means scrupulous, painstaking, or acting in accordance with conscience; and conscious, which means awake or aware.

  • contemptible, contemptuous: Contemptible means deserving contempt, while contemptuous means showing or feeling contempt. We were contemptuous of their feeble explanation for their contemptible behavior toward the animals.

  • continual, continuous: Something that is continual is repeated often. Something that is continuous goes on without interruption. I made continual requests for a seat change because of the baby's continuous crying.

  • council, counsel: Council, a noun, is a committee or an administrative body. Counsel as a noun is advice, an exchange of ideas, or a lawyer or group of lawyers. Her counsel advised her that she should first seek counsel from an expert and then approach the town council. Council is never a verb. Counsel as a verb means to give advice. She counseled him to increase his investments in the stock market.

  • denote, connote: Denote refers to the dictionary definition of a word. The noun “rose” denotes a particular flower. Connote means what a word may imply or suggest. For example, the noun rose can connote youth, beauty, the impermanence of beauty, freshness, etc. Connotations include all the suggestions and nuances that are beyond a word's dictionary definition.

  • device, devise: A device (noun) is an instrument, either something concrete like a can opener or something abstract like a plan. Devise, a verb, means to create or fashion a device. They devised an ingenious device for pitting olives.

  • different from, different than: When comparing two things, use different from: The movie is different from (not than) the book. My goals are different from (not than) yours. If different introduces a subordinate clause, use the subordinating conjunction than. The true story was different than I had believed.

  • dilemma, problem: Don't use dilemma to mean problem. A dilemma means a choice between two unattractive alternatives. Her dilemma was whether to put up with her neighbor's noise or to give up the inexpensive apartment. A problem doesn't necessarily involve such a choice. The problem of how to provide universal health care plagued us, not The dilemma of how to provide universal health care plagued us.

  • discreet, discrete: If you are discreet you are careful about what you do and say; you show prudence and good judgment. Discrete, however, means separate and distinct. It was discreet of the maid to divide the laundry into discrete piles, one of Rebecca's clothes and one of Toni's.

  • disinterested, uninterested: Disinterested means impartial, and uninterested means lacking interest. A jury that is disinterested is desirable; a jury that is uninterested is not, because the members may doze off during the trial.

  • e.g., i.e.,: The abbreviation e.g. (from the Latin exempli gratia) means for example. Do not confuse it with the abbreviation i.e. (from the Latin id est), which means that is (to say).Use e.g. when you are citing some but not all examples. He took camping equipment with him, e.g., a tent, a cooking stove, and a sleeping bag. Do not use etc. with e.g. because the idea of more examples than are being cited is already present in e.g. Use i.e. when you are presenting an equivalent of the preceding term. He will study the document, i.e., the committee's official confirmation. In a formal essay you should write out for example and that is rather than using the abbreviations.

  • emigrate, immigrate: When you leave a country, you emigrate from it. When you come into a country, you immigrate to it. His parents, who emigrated from Russia, immigrated to the United States.

  • eminent, imminent, emanate: Eminent means prominent, while imminent means about to happen. The eminent lawyer was in imminent danger of being shot. Emanate means to issue from a source. A ghostly light emanated from the cloud.

  • entitled, titled: Use entitled to mean the right to have or do something. The Doyles were entitled to the money. Do not use it to mean titled. The book is titled (not entitled) The Habitats of Wolves.

  • envelop, envelope: Envelop is a verb meaning to cover completely or surround. The fog enveloped the town. Envelope is a noun meaning something that covers, such as an envelope for a letter.

  • envy, jealousy: Although sometimes used synonymously, envy and jealousy have different meanings. Envy is the desire for something that someone else has, or a feeling of ill will over another's advantages. My envy of your success has made me bitter. Jealousy is a resentful suspicion that someone else has what rightfully belongs to the jealous person. Out of jealousy, he followed his wife. By favoring their daughter, they created jealousy in their son.

  • et al., etc.: The abbreviation et al. (Latin et alit) means and others. It, rather than etc., should be used to refer to additional people. The research paper was prepared by S. Robinson, F Lupu, I Alderson, et al. Use this abbreviation only in bibliographical entries or similar citations. The abbreviation etc. (Latin et cetera) also means and others, but it is used with things, not people. Don't forget to collect test papers, pencils, scratch pads, etc. If you use the phrase such as before a list of items, don't use etc. Gym equipment, such as basketballs, nets, and towels, will be provided not Gym equipment, such as basketballs, nets, towels, etc., will be provided.

  • every one, everyone: Every one means each one of a group of items or people. Every one of those people who came to the party early left drunk. Everyone means all, everybody. Everyone who left the party was drunk.

  • farther, further: Use farther in referring to physical distance. I walked farther than you. Otherwise, use further. I will question the suspect further.

  • faze, phase: Faze is a verb meaning to disturb or daunt; phase is a noun meaning a period or stage: This phase of her son's behavior didn't faze her. As a verb, phase (with in) means to introduce or carry out in stages. They phased in the new equipment at the plant.

  • fewer, less: Use fewer for individual countable items or people; use less for bulk, degree, or quantity. We expected fewer (not less) people to come. Climbing the mountain took less effort (not fewer) than we thought.

  • flair, flare: If you have a flair for something, you have a natural talent for it. Her flair for putting people at ease impressed us. A flare is a flame or bright light. Flare as a verb means to blaze brightly or burst out suddenly. Flair is never a verb.

  • flaunt, flout: Flaunt means to make a gaudy or defiant display of something. It is sometimes confused with flout, which means to scorn or mock. He flouted (not flaunted) convention by wearing jeans to the black‐tie dinner. She flaunted (not flouted) her new company car in front of her coworkers.

  • fortunate, fortuitous: Fortunate means lucky, having good fortune. Fortuitous means happening by chance. A fortuitous event isn't necessarily favorable. It was merely fortuitous that she was standing on the trail when the landslide began, but she was fortunate enough to escape injury.

  • forward, foreword: Forward means ahead, or at or toward the front. Foreword is an introduction at the beginning of a book.

  • fulsome, abundant: Don't use fulsome when you mean abundant (profuse or great quantity). Fulsome means excessive or offensive. Therefore, receiving fulsome praise for an action is not something to be happy about, while receiving abundant praise is.

  • gamut, gauntlet: Gamut means the entire range or extent. His reactions ran the gamut from rage to apathy. Don't confuse this word with gauntlet. Gauntlet has two meanings. First, it refers to a glove which in the days of chivalry was thrown to the ground to announce a challenge. Therefore, throwing down the gauntlet has become a figure of speech meaning to challenge. A fifty‐year‐old woman entered the race, thus throwing down the gauntlet to the younger runners. Second, gauntlet was also once a form of punishment in which a person ran between two rows of men who struck him. It has also become a figure of speech. In trying to promote her idea, she was forced to run the gauntlet between those who thought it was too ambitious and those who thought it wasn't ambitious enough.

  • grisly, grizzly: A crime is grisly (ghastly, terrifying); grizzly is a type of bear, or someone whose hair is partially gray. Meeting a grizzly bear in the woods could be a grisly experience.

  • hanged, hung: Although the usual past tense and past participle of hang is hung, hanged is still preferred when referring to people. We hung the paintings yesterday but They hanged the murderer last week.

  • historic, historical: If something is historic, it figures in history. If something is historical, it pertains to history. Betsy Ross's home is a historic building; the moon landing is a historic event. On the other hand, you may take a historical tour of Washington D.C., read a historical novel, or buy a book of historical maps.

  • implicit, tacit, explicit: Implicit means implied or unstated; however, it can also mean without reservation, which sometimes causes confusion. In a statement such as The consequences of the action were implicit in the letter, it is obvious that the meaning is implied. But the meaning is ambiguous in this statement: Their trust in the committee was implicit. Does implicit mean the trust was implied rather than stated, or does it mean the trust was beyond question? It would be clearer to say either Their trust in the committee was left implicit (unstated) or Their trust in the committee was absolute. Tacit means unspoken, not expressed openly, and is similar to one of the meanings of implicit. Tacit refers to speech rather than general expression. Although he didn't specifically address her, his speech gave her the tacit approval she needed to continue her project. Explicit, the opposite of implicit, means clearly stated. The professor was explicit in presenting the course requirements.

  • imply, infer: Imply means to suggest something indirectly. Infer means to conclude from facts or indications. If I imply by yawning that I'm tired, you might infer that I want you to leave. Think of implying as done by the actor, inferring as done by the receiver. The most common error is to use infer when imply is correct. To influence the buyer, the owner implied (not inferred) that the property would increase in value within a few months. All the reports implied (not inferred) that the death was a suicide.

  • incredible, incredulous: Incredible means unbelievable or so astonishing as to seem unbelievable, whereas incredulous means skeptical or unbelieving: We were incredulous as we listened to his incredible story about being abducted by aliens. Avoid the colloquial (imprecise) overuse of incredible to mean striking or very, as in That's an incredible dress you're wearing or I was incredibly sad.

  • inflammable, flammable: Inflammable and flammable both mean easily set on fire, will burn readily. Because people might think inflammable means not easily set on fire (as inactive means not active, incoherent means not coherent, etc.), those who deal with fires and fire safety argue that flammable should be used for warning signs and labels.

  • irregardless, regardless: Although irregardless is widely used, it is never correct. The word should be regardless. Regardless of what you think, the changes will be made.

  • its, it's: Its is the possessive of it: The tree lost its leaves. It's is a contraction of it is: It's too bad we can't come.

  • lay, lie: These verbs cause trouble for many people. If you mean recline, use lie. If you mean set, place, or put, use lay. An easy way to remember which one to use is to recognize that lie does not take an object and lay does: I lie down for a nap every day. The dog lies by the fire. I lay the paper on the table. Chickens lay eggs. The past tense and the past participles of lie are lay and lain. I lay down for a nap yesterday. I have lain down every afternoon this week. The past and past participle of lay are laid and laid. I laid the paper on the table yesterday. I have laid it in the same spot for years.

  • lead, led (verbs): Led is the past tense of lead. Last week he led the choir rehearsal; I usually lead the choir, but I was ill.

  • like, as: Both as and like can be used as prepositions. He sleeps like a baby. We see this as an alternative. But only as is a subordinating conjunction; so when you are introducing a clause, don't use like. The storm started after lunch, just as (not like) I said it would. Do not use like to refer to speaking, thinking, or a state of being. And I'm like, “It's okay with me.”

  • lightning, lightening: Lightning is a flash of light. Lightening means becoming lighter.

  • literally, figuratively: Literally means true to the meaning of the words, or precisely as stated. It is often misused to mean almost or definitely, as in I literally died when he chose me. If you literally died, you would be talking from beyond the grave. In the sentence I literally died when he chose me, died is being used not literally but figuratively, as a metaphor for the overwhelming reaction you experienced. To convey this emotion you could say, I almost died when he chose me. Use literally only when referring to the meaning precisely as stated. By blocking the door, he literally refused to let anyone leave the room. The literal subject of the poem is the flowers, but the poet is using them figuratively to represent the impermanence of beauty.

  • loath, loathe: Loath is an adjective meaning reluctant. Loathe is a verb meaning to despise. I am loath to admit that I loathe David.

  • lose, loose: Lose means to be unable to find. Loose, an adjective, means unrestrained or inexact. I often lose the loose change I keep in my pocket. The poem loses its power in such a loose translation. Loose is used less frequently as a verb. It means to set free or make less tight. She loosed the bird into the air. He loosed (more commonly, loosened) the victim's clothing.

  • much, many: Much is a noun meaning large in number, size, or quantity. We have much to get done before 5:00. Many is an adjective indicating a large, indefinite number. Many students wait to begin their research until the night before a paper is due.

  • nauseated, nauseous: When you're sick to your stomach, you're nauseated. The thing that made you sick—for example, rotten meat—is nauseous. Twirling the baby and throwing him up in the air makes him nauseated (not nauseous). The baby would be nauseous only if the sight of him made someone else feel nauseated.

  • oral, verbal, written: Oral means uttered, spoken. Verbal means of, in, or by means of words, whether the words are spoken or written. An oral agreement is an unwritten agreement. A verbal agreement can be either a spoken or written agreement. To avoid confusion, use oral or written instead of the ambiguous verbal. Reserve verbal for situations in which you are distinguishing communication in words from other types of communication, such as sign language and body movements.

  • passed, past: Passed is a verb. I passed the test. We passed the old barn on our way here. Past is either a noun, an adjective, or a preposition—but never a verb The past haunts us. His past sins caught up with him. We drove past the frozen lake.

  • people, person: Use people rather than persons to refer to a group of human beings. I wish more people appreciated his artwork. He picked four people (not four persons) for the management team. Use person to refer to one human being. She is a person of integrity. A group of people sharing a culture can be referred to as a people. The Lakota are a people of the plains.

  • personal, personnel: Personal means private or individual; personnel pertains to staff, workers, a company's employees. The human resources director must keep some personal contact information about all company personnel.

  • precede, proceed: Precede means to go before in time, place, rank, etc. His remarks preceded the musical program. Proceed means to move forward. Before we proceed, we should be sure of the rules. Since the meaning of proceed includes the idea of moving forward, don't use it as a fancy word for go, particularly in situations when the movement isn't forward. They went back (or returned) to the car, not They proceeded back to the car.

  • principal, principle: Principal as an adjective means first in importance. As a noun, principal means the head of a school. The principal reason that Mrs. Nelson was chosen to be principal of our school was her dedication. Principle is a noun meaning a fundamental truth or law upon which others are based, or a rule of conduct. The principal's principles were questioned by the parent group.

  • prone, supine: If you are prone, you are lying face downward. If you are supine, you are lying face upward.

  • prostate, prostrate: The prostate is a male gland. Prostrate, an adjective, means lying prone or overcome. He has recovered from prostate cancer but She was prostrate from the heat.

  • ravage, ravish: Ravage means to destroy violently or to devastate, while ravish means to abduct, to rape, or to transport with joy or delight. The troops ravaged (not ravished) all the cities they entered. The villain ravished (not ravaged) the beautiful maiden. The soprano's voice ravished (not ravaged) his ears and left him smiling.

  • rebut, refute: The common error is to use refute for rebut. When you rebut an opponent's argument, you speak or write against it. When you refute an argument, you actually disprove it. Whether you have refuted your opponent's argument is often a matter of opinion. Avoid using it loosely. The government spokesperson rebutted (not refuted) the argument that the war on drugs had been a disaster.

  • regretfully, regrettably: Regretfully means filled with regret. Don't use it in place of regrettably, which means in a manner that calls for regret. Regrettably (not regretfully), the militia was too late to save the small village. The soldiers watched regretfully as the buildings burned.

  • reticent, reluctant: Don't use reticent as a synonym for reluctant. Reticent means disinclined to speak, not just disinclined or unwilling (reluctant): The group was reticent about its reluctance to admit new members.

  • sit, set: Sit usually doesn't take an object: I sit down. Set usually takes an object. I set the book down. Don't use them interchangeably. Set (not Sit) that load down and sit (not set) down and talk to me. Sit can take an object when it means to cause to sit, to seat. I sat the toddler in the high chair and called the doctor. Set doesn't take an object when it means to become firm (Let the cement set overnight); to begin to move (We set forth yesterday); or to sink below the horizon (The sun sets).

  • some time, sometime, sometimes: Some time is a span of time: Some time passed before she came in. Sometime means at an unspecified time. He said we should get together sometime. Sometimes means at times. Sometimes I'm so nervous I can't sleep.

  • stationary, stationery: Stationary means still, at rest; stationery is paper. Think of writing letters (spelled with an e) on stationery (also spelled with an e).

  • tack, tact: One meaning of the noun tack is a course of action or policy, especially one differing from a preceding course. He decided to take a different tack. A common mistake is to use the noun tact in such contexts. Tact usually means sensitivity and skill in dealing with people, or diplomacy.

  • than, then: Don't use then (which means at that time) in comparisons. Use than: He is wiser than (not then) his father was then.

  • their, there, they're: Their is the possessive form of they; there usually refers to a place or is used in impersonal constructions (there is, there are); they're is a contraction of they are. Notice the correct uses of these words in the following sentence: There is no question that their friends live there and that they're willing to help.

  • themselves, theirselves: Themselves, which is an emphatic form of them, is correct, as in, The producers themselves left the movie theater. Theirselves is not acceptable usage.

  • to, too: To has several meanings, the first being toward. Too means also or more than enough. I walked to the river, which was too wild for me to swim in. My father thought so too.

  • tortuous, torturous: Tortuous means full of twists and turns: a tortuous mountain road, a tortuous plot. Torturous means severely painful, agonizing. Enduring the hot, dry trek across the Sahara was torturous.

  • toward, towards: American usage is toward; towards is used in Britain.

  • usage, use, utilize: Usage means established practice. Don't use it as a substitute for the noun use. Use (not Usage) of gloves is recommended. A common tendency is to replace the verb use with utilize and the noun use with utilization to make the verb sound more important. This inflation is not recommended. We want to use (not utilize) our assets wisely. Use (not Utilization) of old equipment has become a major problem.

  • waive, wave: The correct expression is to waive one's rights, not to wave one's rights. Waive means to relinquish; wave means move to and fro.

  • weather, whether: Weather is the state of the atmosphere; whether means if.

  • whose, who's: Whose is the possessive of who. Who's is a contraction of who is. Who's going to tell me whose jacket this is?

  • your, you're: Your is the possessive of you. You're is a contraction of you are: You're certain this is your jacket?