Commonly Confused Words

Even articulate speakers—folks with a college education—confuse the following words on occasion. How many of the following would you get right on a test?

  1. Affect = To change or make a difference to
    Effect = A result; to bring about a result
  2. Amoral = Not concerned with right or wrong
    Immoral = Not following accepted moral standards
  3. Bated = In great suspense (“with bated breath”)
    Baited = With bait attached or inserted
  4. Born = Having started life
    Borne = Carried
  5. Bough = Branch of a tree
    Bow  = To bend the head; front of a ship
  6. Breach = To break through, break a rule; a gap in something
    Breech = Back part of a gun barrel, a person’s buttocks
  7. Canvas = Type of strong cloth
    Canvass = To seek people’s votes
  8. Censure = To criticize strongly
    Censor = To ban parts of a communication; a person who does this
  9. Chord = Group of musical notes
    Cord = Length of string; cord-like body part
  10. Climactic = Forming a climax
    Climatic = Relating to climate
  11. Discreet = Careful not to attract attention
    Discrete = Separate and distinct
  12. Disinterested = Impartial
    Uninterested = Not interested
  13. Ensure = To make certain that something will happen
    Insure = To provide compensation for death or property damage
  14. Pour = To flow or cause to flow
    Pore = Tiny opening; to study something closely
  15. Practice = The use of an idea or method; the business of a doctor, dentist, etc.
    Practise = To do something repeatedly to gain skill
  16. Principal = Most important; the head of a school
    Principle = Fundamental rule or belief
  17. Stationary = Not moving
    Stationery = Writing materials
  18. Storey = Level of a building
    Story = Tale or account
  19. Tortuous = Full of twists, complex
    Torturous = Full of pain or suffering
  20. Wreath = A ring-shaped arrangement of flowers, etc.
    Wreathe = To surround or encircle

Here are examples of the correct use:

  1. I was affected by his speech.
    The audience felt the same effect.
  2. He had an amoral attitude toward sex.
    His promiscuity was immoral.
  3. We awaited his response with bated breath.
    We had baited him with a generous offer.
  4. I was born on February 13, 1932.
    I was borne in my mother’s arms to the waiting car.
  5. A bough snapped off the tree.
    I bowed down so it wouldn’t hit me.
  6. She threatened to sue for breach of promise.
    Her baby was a breech.
  7. The sails were made of canvas.
    We canvassed the crew for their preferences.
  8. The crime drew public censure.
    The prisoner’s letters were censored.
  9. He played a resounding G chord.
    The cord on his black gown came undone.
  10. The climactic scene occurred in the film’s last scene.
    It played on the theme of climate change.
  11. She told her secret in a discreet whisper.
    There were two discrete parts to it.
  12. It’s important for a judge to be disinterested in the financial outcome.
    But she should not be uninterested in the testimony.
  13. They tried to ensure a happy outcome.
    They were relieved that they had insured their car.
  14. She poured cream into her tea.
    While she pored over the newspaper, she drank her tea.
  15. His dental practice was growing fast.
    He had practised installing crowns.
  16. Our school is getting a new principal.
    Her main principle is improving students’ FCAT scores.
  17. The bulldozer remained in a stationery
    The operator was writing a letter on his personal stationary.
  18. Her apartment is on the eighth storey.
    She has many stories about parties held there.
  19. The correct path through the maze was tortuous.
    The pain she endured after a fall was torturous.
  20. They hung a wreath on their front door.
    It made their faces wreathe in smiles.

If you score 18-20, you’re exceptional; 16-17, above average; 14-15, average; below 14, take a grammar class!

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