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Frequently Misused Words

Common Word Mix-Ups
Here is a list of English words that are frequently misused. We have included the definition and examples to help you choose the right word for your writing.


Accept: a transitive verb meaning to agree or receive willingly, to allow
Except: a preposition meaning to exclude, to leave out

Correct:  I will accept the job offer.
Incorrect:  Accept for the color, I like the new car features.

Correct: I like all the ideas except the last one.
Incorrect: He will except our proposal.


Advise: a verb meaning to recommend or give an opinion
Advice: a noun meaning recommendation

Correct:  The professor’s job was to advise her concerning class choices to complete her major.
Incorrect:   I didn’t take his advise when choosing my class schedule.

Correct:  My advice is eat your green vegetables daily.
Incorrect: I advice you to drink water to be healthy.


Affect: a verb meaning to influence
Effect:  often used as a noun meaning the result of an action; sometimes used a a verb meaning to bring about or to accomplish

Correct:  Your attitude will affect your performance in school.
Incorrect:  The expresso coffee had the affect of making me hyper.

Correct:  Lack of sleep had a negative effect on my test scores.
Incorrect: Will the cold weather effect your activities?

All together/Altogether

All together: means all in a group
Altogether: an adverb meaning completely or in all

Correct: The team traveled all together to the tournament.
Incorrect:  He was all together correct about the outcome of the game.

Correct:  Sam Shorty scored 20 points altogether in the basketball game.
Incorrect: The team is altogether on the bus.

Beside/ Besides

Beside: a preposition meaning next to
Besides: a preposition meaning in addition to or an adverb meaning moreover

Correct: Are you comfortable sitting beside a bear?
Incorrect: Beside the bear, the boar is also a ferocious creature.

Correct: Besides bees, hornets also sting.
Incorrect: The boys sits besides the girl.


Capital:  a noun referring to a city or an uppercase letter
Capitol: also a noun but referring to a building where government offices are located

Correct: It is proper to begin the name of the capital city with a capital letter.
Correct: The Capitol has a white stone front with pillars.

Device/ devise

Device: a noun meaning an object or machine that was invented to fulfill a particular purpose
Devise: a verb meaning to invent, to design, to construct

Correct: A cell phone is a useful device.
Incorrect: He will device a plan to complete his homework and go to the party.
Correct: She will devise a system to deliver clean water.
Incorrect: The instruction video explained how to unlock your devise.


Cite: a verb meaning to quote
Site: a noun referring to a particular location
Sight: can be a noun or verb relating to the ability to see

Correct: Be sure to cite your sources when you write a paper.
Incorrect: The instructor wants you to site your resources on your paper.
Correct: The site for the town was on the hill top.
Incorrect: She choose a beautiful sight for her new house.
Correct: His sight was perfect; he could see details without the aid of glasses or contact lenses.
 (used as a noun)
Correct: Through the telescoped the students was able to sight the planet Venus.
(used as a verb)


Complement: a verb or noun referring to the act of completing or bringing to perfection
Compliment: a verb or noun meaning to praise or flatter

Correct: The cheese cake complemented the lunch. (used as a verb)
Correct: They sold the pasture land along with its complement of livestock. (used as a noun)
Correct: The instructor complimented the student on her presentation. (used as a verb)
Correct: He received a compliment for his diligent work on the project. (used as a noun)


Lose: a verb (v.t.) meaning to be unable to find or (v.i.) meaning to be defeated
Loose: an adjective meaning not tight

Correct: Put your keys in a safe place so you will not lose them.
Correct: The team did not want to lose the game.
Correct: The students wore loose pants making his boxers visible.
Correct: A loose ball may cause the team to lose the game.


Past: can be used as a preposition meaning beyond; noun, or adjective meaning time before, time gone by
Passed: past tense form of the verb pass. Pass means to give something to someone, to go by or around something, or to approve by a group through voting

Correct: It is past midnight. (used as a preposition)
Correct: The past is completed and can’t be changed. He was a lazy student in the past, failing his classes. (used as a noun)
Correct: His past mistakes don’t have to be repeated. (used as an adjective)

Correct: He passed the ball to his team mate.
Correct: The driver passed the truck on the right.
Correct: The parliament passed the new law.


Principal: an adjective meaning first in order of importance; a noun meaning leader of a school, or an amount of money invested, lent, or borrowed
Principle: a noun meaning a moral law or general truth

Correct: The principal export of Saudi Arabia is oil.
Correct: The principal of Washington School is Mrs. George.
Correct: When you invest your money you hope to gain interest on your principal.
Correct: Treat others as you want to be treated is a good guiding principle.


Stationary: an adjective meaning motionless, in one place
Stationery: a noun referring to writing materials such as paper and envelopes

Correct: The stationary bike is good for exercising in front of the TV.
Correct: Hallmark has beautiful stationery to make your personal letters attractive.


It’s: a contraction meaning “it is”
Its: a possessive personal pronoun meaning belonging to it

Correct: It’s time to pull out the winter coats. (It is time to pull out the winter coats.)
Correct: The bear already has on its winter coat. (the winter coat belongs to it)


Their: a possessive personal pronoun related to they/them
There: an adverb meaning at or in that place
They’re: s contraction meaning “they are”

Correct: They’re walking to campus because their car is no longer there where they left it.
(They are walking to campus because the car belonging to them is no longer in the place where they left it.)
Incorrect: The students didn’t know there not allowed to park on the street.
Incorrect: There car was towed away.


Whose: the possessive form of who
Who’s: a contraction meaning “who is”

Correct: Who’s the guy whose black boots are tracking mud on the floor?
(Who is the guy?  The black boots belong to who? The boots are tracking mud on the floor.)
Incorrect: Whose going to clean up the floor?
Incorrect: The person who’s shoes made the mess.

Your/ you’re

Your: a possessive pronoun meaning belonging to you
You’re: a contraction meaning “you are”

Correct: You’re looking great in your UMC sweatshirt!
            (You are looking great in the UMC sweatshirt belonging to you.)
Incorrect: Your cute too! You’re jacket is very attractive on you.

Authors: Shou-ching Chao, Ph.D. and Lynne Mickelson, Writing Center Consultant
Sources for definitions: Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition and
Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary

Work Cited:
Agnes, M., & Guralnik, D.B.(Eds). (2002). Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth
            Edition.Cleveland: Wiley.

Bollard, J.K., & Plier, J. (Eds.). (2009). Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary. New York: Cambridge University Press.