Updated June 2023
At Writer’s Relief, our proofreading staff keeps a sharp eye out for commonly misused words and phrases, and we’ve compiled a list of the trickiest top 20 misused words for easy reference. Learn the differences between these words to improve your writing!
Accept or Except
accept: to receive; to answer positively
except: not including; everything but
Anxious or Eager
eager: excited/looking forward to
Affect or Effect
affect: to pretend; to influence
effect: a result
Assure or Ensure or Insure
assure: to make certain (such as with a person)
ensure: to make sure (such as with a thing)
insure: to provide or obtain insurance
Beside or Besides
beside: at the side of
besides: in addition to
Between or Among
between: two items that are related
among: three or more things related
**Note: According to Gregg Reference Manual, “Ordinarily, use between when referring to two persons or things and among when referring to more than two persons or things.
And: Use between with more than two persons or things when they are being considered in pairs as well as in a group.”
Choice or Choose or Chose
choice: a decision or an option
choose: to make a decision
chose: past tense of choose
Compliment or Complement
compliment: to praise
complement: something that completes
Farther or Further
farther: literal or physical distance
further: to a greater extent
Fewer or Less
fewer: comparative with plural items
less: items that are singular
Imply or Infer
imply: to suggest
infer: to deduce
Its or It’s
its: possessive form of it
it’s: contraction for it is or it has
Lay or Lie
lay: to place, which is always followed by an object
lie: to recline
**For present tense only. Tip: If you can replace the word in question with put, then use lay. For more on this issue, read When To Use Lie Or Lay.
Nauseated or Nauseous
nauseated: not feeling well
Set or Sit
In general, set refers to an object (“Set the materials down on the table”) and sit does not (“She sat for an hour, waiting for the bus”).
That Or Which
–“Which” is frequently used to introduce a nonrestrictive clause, a phrase that isn’t necessary or supplies additional information and is usually set off by commas.
For example: The burned CD, which she received from a friend, wasn’t as great of quality as the original from a music store.
–“That” is used for introducing restrictive clauses that refer to things, phrases that ARE essential to the meaning of the rest of the sentence.
For example: The CD that consists of all of the band’s top-ten singles is her favorite.
That vs. Who or Whom
In most cases, “who/whom” is the standard form when referring to human beings, especially in regard to an individual person. “That” is used when referring back to a class, species, or type. “Which” should never be used in reference to humans.
A correct example with “who”: She goes to the hairstylist who is the best.
A correct example with “that”: He is the type of hairstylist that should charge more because he is the best.
Their or There or They’re
their: possessive form of they
there: in or at that place
they’re: contraction for they are
Whose or Who’s
whose: possessive form of which, who
who’s: contraction for who is
Your or You’re
your: possessive form of you; belonging to you
you’re: contraction for you are
Fiction writers, take note: When reviewing your final drafts, pay particular attention to tricky words such as these. If you still have doubts about correct word choice and usage, Writer’s Relief proofreaders will be happy to help. We’ll make sure your creative writing is error-free and your word choices are appropriate. For more on this, read Commonly Confused Words, List Of Confusing Words And Homonyms, or Odds and Ends–More Confusing Words.
After you’ve written several thousand more words (and edited, proofread, and rewritten to perfection), the next most important element of getting your completed story, poem, or novel published is submitting to the right markets! The research experts at Writer’s Relief can help you pinpoint the best literary agents or journals for your work. Learn more about our services and submit your work to our Review Board today!