10 Most Commonly Misused Words

The English language is admittedly a tricky one. There is so much room to make a technical error, as English is filled with exceptions, inexplicable rules, homonyms, synonyms, and unnecessarily hard spelling. Despite these unfortunate facts, it is more unfortunate when an individual makes these common mistakes. They can make or break getting a certain job, reflect sheer laziness, or make you sound downright ignorant. So, next time you write a cover letter, draft an email to your professor, or write a term paper, keep these common misused words and phrases in the back of your mind. 

1. Accept versus Except:

Accept is a verb meaning to receive while except is primarily a preposition meaning to exclude. For example, I accept all the suggestions except this one.

2. Capital versus Capitol:

Capital usually refers to a city or state that serves as the seat for a given government, while capitol refers to the building that a government meets in. Hartford is the capital of Connecticut while the dome of the United States Capitol may well be the most famous landmark in America’s capital, Washington D.C.

3. Elicit versus Illicit:

Elicit is a verb meaning to evoke while illicit is an adjective meaning unlawful. For example, the journalist was unable to elicit information from the lawyer about his client’s illicit drug deals.

4. Emigrate versus Immigrate:

Emigrate begins with the letter E, as does exit. When you emigrate, you exit a country. Immigrate begins with the letter I, as does in. When you immigrate, you go into a country.

5. Climatic versus Climactic:

Climactic comes from the word climax, meaning the peak point in a series or progression of events. Climatic comes from the word climate, referring to the weather. For example, the climactic period in the war was when the climatic condition of snow killed off many troops.

6. Principal versus Principle:

Principal is a noun meaning the head of an organization, usually a school. Principle is also a noun meaning a basic law or truth. For example, the principal taught me many important life principles.

7. Your versus You’re:

This should have been mastered upon learning to write in grade school. However if you're one still struggling with the difference, fear no more! The apostrophe in "you’re" simple makes it a contraction for two words: you are. For example, you’re beautiful or you are beautiful. Your refers to a person’s possessions, whether it be a feature, belonging, emotion, etc. For example, your eyes are beautiful.

8. Affect versus Effect:

Affect is usually a verb meaning to influence, while effect is usually a noun meaning a result or outcome. For example, inflation affects the value of the dollar, but the government’s action had no effect on the trade issue.

9. Its versus it’s:

Again, this is the difference between a contraction (it’s) and a (sort-of) possession. It’s means "it is"; for example it’s imperative you do the homework in order to succeed in the class. Its is used whenever you don’t mean to say it is; for example, the snake is known for its ability to shed its skin.

10. The infamous "there’s": there, they’re, their:

There refers to a location, their is a possessive word, and they’re is the contraction for "they are." For example, over there you can see that they’re playing on their playground.

I hope this short but useful list finds itself properly thumb-tacked to your desk, cubicle, or wall!

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Katherine Costello

College student, DC dweller and avid writer

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