Brita Addams, Dreamspinner Press, Guest Contributor

Confusing Pairs (And Triples) of Words – by Brita Addams

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As word crafters, authors are often faced with word choices that are confusing in their similarity either in spelling or meaning. Below is a list of words that are often used interchangeably. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but you’ll recognize them.

How do you stand on the correct use of these words?


A lot – to a considerable degree or extent
a place or position on a team
Allot – to apportion something
Alot – Not a word

A while – for a while; for a short time
Awhile – an adverb, meaning “for a time,” or literally, “for a while”

Accepter – to give an affirmative reply to
Acceptor – One who signs a time draft or bill of exchange.

Adverse – 1: acting against or in a contrary direction; hostile 2. opposed to one’s interests
Averse – having an active feeling of repugnance or distaste —usually used with to

Affect – to influence or change, as in, “The arrows affected Aardvark,” or “The rain affected Amy’s hairdo.” Affect can also mean, roughly, “to act in a way that you don’t feel,” as in, “She affected an air of superiority.”
Effect – 1. something that is produced by a cause or agent; result: 2. power or ability to influence or produce a result; efficacy: with no effect

All ready – completely prepared
Already – prior to a specified or implied past, present, or future time

All right – fairly good; acceptable or agreeable; suitable or appropriate
Alright – Not a word. It is a misspelling of “all right” (two words), which means “adequate,” “permissible,” or “satisfactory.”

All together – means “collectively”; everyone is doing something all at once or all in one place (1), as in “We sang the national anthem all together.” If you like, you can break up this two-word saying (2), as in “We all sang the national anthem together.”
Altogether – completely and fully; with everything added together; when everything is added up; in a general way; when everything is considered; collectively

Altar – a usually raised structure or place on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in worship
Alter – to make different without changing into something else

Ascent – the act of ascending; climb or upward movement
Assent – an act of agreeing to something especially after thoughtful consideration
Ban – to prohibit, forbid, or bar
Bann – An announcement, especially in a church, of an intended marriage

Baron – a title of honor, often hereditary. One of the lowest titles in various nobiliary systems of Europe.
Barren – incapable of producing offspring, seed, or fruit; sterile

Berth – a place to sleep on a ship, train, etc.; a place in the water near the shore where a ship stops and stays;
Birth – the time when a baby comes out from the body of its mother; the beginning or origin of something
Bodies – the entire physical structure of an animal or human being
Body’s – of one’s body – the body’s physical condition

Born – brought forth by or as if by birth
Borne – transported or transmitted by
Bourn or Bourne – A small stream; a brook. [Middle English, from Old English

Bread – Some you make a sandwich with
Bred – To produce offspring

Breath – 1. the intake and expulsion of air during respiration
Breathe – 1. to take in oxygen from (the surrounding medium, esp air) and give out carbon dioxide; respire

Bus – a road vehicle designed to carry passengers
Buss – an archaic or dialect word for kiss

Can’t – cannot
Cant – to talk or beg in a whining or singsong manner; Angular deviation from a vertical or horizontal plane or surface; an inclination or slope

Capital – the uppermost member of a column or pilaster crowning the shaft and taking the weight of the entablature
Capitol – a building in which a state legislative body meets; a group of buildings in which the functions of state government are carried out

Cession – The act of relinquishing one’s right. A surrender, relinquishment, or assignment of territory by one state or government to another
Session – the meeting of a court, legislature, judicial body, etc, for the execution of its function or the transaction of business

Cite – to write or say the words of (a book, author, etc.); to mention (something) especially as an example or to support an idea or opinion
Site – the place where something (such as a building) is, was, or will be located; a place where something important has happened; a place that is used for a particular activity
Sight – the sense through which a person or animal becomes aware of light, color, etc., by using the eyes : the ability to see; the act of seeing someone or something; a position in which someone or something can be seen

Council, counsel, and consul are not interchangeable.

Consul – an official appointed by a sovereign state to protect its commercial interests and aid its citizens in a foreign city
Council – an assembly or meeting for consultation, advice, or discussion
Counsel – advice given especially as a result of consultation; a policy or plan of action or behavior

Consulter – To seek advice or information of: consult an attorney
Consultor – one who gives counsel, i.e. a counselor

Curser – someone who swears
Cursor – a mark on a computer screen that shows the place where information is being entered or read

Discreet – having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech : prudent; especially: capable of preserving
Discrete – constituting a separate entity : individually distinct

Dual – relating to or denoting two
Duel – A duel is an arranged engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons in accordance with agreed-upon rules

Elicit – to draw or bring out or forth; educe; evoke: to elicit the truth; to elicit a response with a question.
Illicit – not permitted : unlawful

Emerge – to become manifest : become known
Immerge – to plunge, as into a fluid

Enter – 1. to go or come in; 2. to come or gain admission into a group: join —often used with into; 3. to make a beginning
Inter – to deposit a dead body in the earth or in a tomb

Epic – a long narrative poem recounting in elevated style the deeds of a legendary hero, especially one originating in oral folk tradition
Epoch – a point in time beginning a new or distinctive period

Faint – to pass out
Feint – something feigned; specifically: a mock blow or attack on or toward one part in order to distract attention

Fiancé – a man engaged to be married
Fiancée – a woman engaged to be married

Filet – a cut or slice of boneless meat or fish
Fillet – A narrow strip of ribbon or similar material, often worn as a headband. Also a strip or compact piece of boneless meat or fish

Flack – one who provides publicity; especially : press agent
Flak – complaints; criticism; negative feedback

Forbear – 1. to refrain or abstain from; desist from. 2. to keep back; withhold.
Forebear – A person from whom one is descended; an ancestor

Forego – to go before in place, time, or degree; precede. To precede, as in time or place
Forgo – to give up the enjoyment or advantage of : do without

Foreward – short introductory note in a published work
Forward – to or toward what is ahead or in front

Gamble – to play a game for money or property; to bet on an uncertain outcome
Gambol – a skipping or leaping about in play

Gel – a thick substance that is like jelly that is used in various products
Jell – to come to the consistency of jelly: congeal, set

Gest or Geste – a notable deed or exploit; A verse romance or tale. A prose romance
Jest – something done or said for amusement; joke

Gild – 1. to overlay with or as if with a thin covering of gold; 2. to give money to; to give an attractive but often deceptive appearance to
Guild – an organization, club, or fellowship

Gilt – having a golden color
Guilt – the fact or state of having done wrong or committed an offense

Hear – to receive a sound
Here – this place

Heard – having heard
Herd – a group, like cows

Jam – to cram or wedge into or against something: to jam paper into an incinerator; a food made by boiling fruit and sugar to a thick consistency
Jamb – either of the vertical sides of a doorway, arch, window, or other opening

Lessen – to shrink in size, number, or degree
Lesson – Something to be learned

Lightening – 1. to make lighter in weight: to lighten the load on a truck. 2. to lessen the load of or upon: to lighten a cargo ship.
Lightning – a brilliant electric spark discharge in the atmosphere, occurring within a thundercloud, between clouds, or between a cloud and the ground

Loath – unwilling to do something contrary to one’s ways of thinking : reluctant
Loathe – to dislike greatly and often with disgust or intolerance : detest

Mantel – a beam, stone, or arch serving as a lintel to support the masonry above a fireplace
Mantle – archaic a loose wrap or cloak

Meat – animal flesh used as food
Meet – to come into the presence of

Need – a requirement, necessary duty, or obligation
Knead – to work and press into a mass with or as if with the hands
Kneed – to hit or touch with the knee

Offence – Chiefly British. Variant of offense
Offense – a violation or breach of a law, custom, rule, etc

Presence – the state or fact of being present
Presents – Gifts

Rain – water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then precipitated —that is, become heavy enough to fall under gravity.
Reign – 1. the period during which a monarch is the official ruler of a country 2. a period during which a person or thing is dominant, influential
Rein – 1. to control or direct with or as if with reins. 2. to check or stop by or as if by a pull at the reins <reined in her horse

Sac – a soft-walled anatomical cavity usually having a narrow opening or none at all and often containing a special fluid – this is the correct word when referring to a man’s ball sac.
Sack – a large bag made of coarse cloth, thick paper, etc, used as a container

Shone – 1. to give forth or glow with light; shed or cast light. 2. to be bright with reflected light; glisten; sparkle
Shown – 1. to cause or allow to be seen; exhibit; display. 2. to present or perform as a public entertainment

Sloe – the small dark globose astringent fruit of the blackthorn; Sloe Gin Fizz
Slow – lacking readiness

Tack – a short sharp-pointed nail, usually with a flat and comparatively large head: 2. (Brit) a long loose temporary stitch used in dressmaking, etc; stable gear; especially: articles of harness (as saddle and bridle) for use on a saddle horse; to modify one’s policy or attitude abruptly (to take a different tack.)
Tact – sensitive mental or aesthetic perception

Tail – section at the rear end of an animal’s body; in general, the term refers to a distinct, flexible appendage to the torso
Tale – 1. a report, narrative, or story: 2. one of a group of short stories connected by an overall narrative framework

Tenant – a person who holds, occupies, or possesses land or property by any kind of right or title, especially from a landlord under a lease
Tenet – any opinion, principle, doctrine, dogma, etc., especially one held as true by members of a profession, group, or movement

Timber – Lumber
Timbre – the quality given to a sound by its overtones; the resonance by which the ear recognizes and identifies a voiced speech sound

Until – up to the time that : up to such time as
Till – 1. up to the time of; until: to fight till death. 2. before (used in negative constructions): He did not come till today. 3. near or at a specified time; 4. Plow the soil
‘Til – truncation of until

Vice – bad or immoral behavior or habits; a moral flaw or weakness; a minor bad habit
Vise – a tool that is usually attached to a table and that has two flat parts that can be opened and closed by a screw or lever in order to hold something (such as a piece of wood) very firmly

While – at the same time that: please light the fire while I’m cooking
Wile – 1. trickery, cunning, or craftiness: 2. (usually plural) an artful or seductive trick or ploy 3. to lure, beguile, or entice

Who’s – contraction of who is
Whose – 1. what person or persons?: Who did it? 2. of a person of what character, origin, position, importance, etc.

Whit – The least bit; an iota: doesn’t give a whit what was said; not a whit afraid.
Wit – a form of intelligent humor, the ability to say or write things that are clever and usually funny. A wit is a person skilled at making clever and funny remarks.

Wont – accustomed, used
Want – to desire

Wrack – 1: ruin, destruction. (Wrack and ruin) 2: a remnant of something destroyed
Rack – 1. a framework of bars, wires, or pegs on which articles are arranged or deposited: a clothes rack; a luggage rack; 2. a torture device consisting of a rectangular, usually wooden frame, slightly raised from the ground, with a roller at one or both ends. 3. a cause of anguish or pain; acute suffering; the action of straining or wrenching (To rack your brain.)

Wreak – 1. to inflict vengeance or to cause chaos; to wreak havoc on the enemy (Not wreck havoc) 2. to express, or gratify anger, hatred, etc.
Reek – 1. to emit smoke or vapor. 2. to give off or become permeated with a strong or offensive odor (a room reeking of incense)

Next month, I’ll have a list of phrases we use incorrectly.

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4 thoughts on “Confusing Pairs (And Triples) of Words – by Brita Addams

  1. Brita Addams says:

    Thank you Paul. This list as a lot of fun, inspired though by mistakes I see all the time. Hugs to you and yours as well.


  2. Jbst says:

    I used to look up all right and alright on the web, as to which one was the proper one. I’ve seen the second one used quite a bit in e books, and it seem the second one was accepted as the one to use from the web. Thanks for the clarification!


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