Commonly Confused Words
I was enjoying a fantasy adventure series a couple of years ago. The storyline was great, and it was well-written. Okay, it was MOSTLY well-written. I had to set the series down because of the glaring spelling and grammar errors that set my teeth on edge. The worst error was the choice of words. The writer often referred to events that happened previously, in the past. Unfortunately, she wrote “passed” instead of “past.” To make it worse, she overused the word as many as 5 or 6 times on a single page. So each time I encountered the word, I had to pause and puzzle out what she meant. It drove me crazy! In fact, it was so distracting that I eventually stopped reading (and buying) her books. She lost sales because she did not master her writing skills.
Since then, I have run into several e-book authors who made similar mistakes. As a reader, I have learned to avoid writers who make too many errors in grammar and/or word choice. I want to lose myself in the story, not focus on the words I am reading. As a writer, I know I’ve been guilty of overlooked errors no matter how carefully (or how often) I edit my books.
Here are a few of the commonly confused words that distract me as a reader. I’ve also included a few words that I still need to look up whenever I use them.
Farther/Further – “Farther” refers to physical distance, and “further” is a metaphorical distance. Sue had to drive “farther” to “further” her education.
Lay/Lie – “Lay” means to place while “lie” means to recline. This one is complicated because the past tense of “lay” is laid, and the past tense of “lie” is lay. ARGH!
Then/Than – “Then” is the next thing that happened. “Than” is the comparison of two things. I’d rather be a windshield “than” a bug. I wrote the chapter and “then” took a break for lunch.
Toward/Towards – “Toward” is standard American English. “Towards” is standard British English.
Imply/Infer – “Imply” means to hint at a meaning without saying it directly. “Infer” means to deduce what was implied.
Affect/Effect – “Affect” is usually a verb and refers to behavior. I was deeply “affected” by the moving performance. “Effect” is the result of something. If I wired it correctly, the “effect” of flipping the switch will turn on the lights. One way to remember this one is to substitute the words “alter” and “result.” If “alter” will fit, use “affect.” If “result” will work, use “effect.”
Accept/Except – “Accept” means to receive, while “except” is to exclude something. I “accepted” all of his advice “except” for the suggestion that I should give up.
Capital/Capitol – “Capital” refers to many things, such as money, upper-case letters, or the city that is the seat of government. “Capitol” is the building where the legislature meets. I went to the “capitol” building in our state “capital.”
Sit/Set – In general, “sit” means to rest on your butt. “Set” means to place something. I sit in a chair. I set the vase on the table. Then, there are the odd uses of the words. The sun set. The vase was sitting on the table. You set a good example. That just doesn’t sit well with me. There are so many easily confused words, it is not possible to list them all here.
Some even have the same spelling, such as read (present tense) and read (past tense) or rebel (a person) and rebel (an action). Remember, the reader is not interested in how easy it is to confuse words in the English language. They only want to read a good story without being distracted by glaring errors. If we keep them happy, they will keep buying our books. If not, we’ll wish we had taken a little extra time mastering the craft of writing.