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Academic Assistance Center > Writing Center > Student Resources > Misused Words
Frequently Misused Words

Words or phrases are often misused because they are spelt wrong, are not used in the right context, or are used in a wrong collocation. Below is a list of most frequently misused words from students' papers. For a more complete list of examples of misused words, please visit Common Errors in English.

Accept/except
Accept: a transitive verb meaning to take or to receive.
Except: a preposition meaning leaving out.

Wrong: The other party chose not to except the proposal they had been offered.
Correct: The other party chose not to accept the proposal they had been offered.

Advice/advise
Advice: a noun meaning opinion or opinion offered.
Advise: a verb referring to the act of giving an opinion to.

Wrong: My professor offered advise on how to revise my paper.
Correct: My professor offered advice on how to revise my paper.

Affect/effect
Affect: a verb meaning to influence.
Effect: often used as a noun meaning result though sometimes used as a verb meaning to bring about.

Wrong: His injury in the leg did not effect his mobility.
Correct: His injury in the leg did not affect his mobility.

All together/altogether
All together: meaning all in a group.
Altogether: an adverb meaning completely or in all.

Wrong: This prolific writer wrote thirteen novels all together.
Correct: This prolific writer wrote thirteen novels altogether.

Wrong: We are altogether.
Correct: We are all together.

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

Wrong: Tom was sitting besides me when we were watching the basketball game.
Correct: Tom was sitting beside me when we were watching the basketball game.

Wrong: Beside the house, the tornado also destroyed the pavilion next to it.
Correct: Besides the house, the tornado also destroyed the pavilion next to it.

Capital/capitol
Capital: a noun referring to a city.
Capitol: also a noun but referring to a building where

Device/devise
Device: used as a noun.
Devise: used as a verb.

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

Complement/compliment
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.

Wrong: The teacher complemented his students on their excellent term projects.
Correct: The teacher complimented his students on their excellent term projects.

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

Wrong: People are certain that this candidate will loose the election.
Correct: People are certain that this candidate will lose the election.

Past/passed
Past: can be used as a preposition, noun, or adjective.
Passed: past tense form for the verb pass.

Wrong: Peter past the road test without any deductions.
Correct: Peter passed the road test without any deductions.

Principal/principle
Principal: either as a noun or an adjective meaning first in power.
Principle: a noun meaning a general truth or law.

Wrong: Mrs. Thompson is the principle of the new elementary school.
Correct: Mrs. Thompson is the principal of the new elementary school.

Stationary/stationery
Stationary: an adjective meaning motionless.
Stationery: a noun referring to writing materials such as paper and envelopes.

It’s/its
It’s: This is the contracted form of it and is.
Its: possessive case of the third person pronoun it.

Wrong: The cathedral is among it’s tallest buildings in the small town of Durham.
Correct: The cathedral is among its tallest buildings in the small town of Durham.

Wrong: Its really difficult to drive on ice.
Correct: It’s really difficult to drive on ice.

Their/there/they’re
Their: the possessive case for the pronoun they.
There: an adverb meaning at or in that place.
They’re: the contracted form of they and are.

Wrong: The students parked there cars on the south side of the building.
Correct: The students parked their cars on the south side of the building.

Wrong: The visitors do not know that there not allowed to smoke inside the building.
Correct: The visitors do not know that they’re not allowed to smoke inside the building.

Whose/who’s
Whose: possessive case of who as in “whose book is this?”
Who’s: contracted form of who and is as in “who’s this guy?”

Your/you’re
Your: the possessive case for the pronoun you.
You’re: the contracted form of you and are.

Wrong: Your likely to miss the bus if you leave too late.
Correct: You’re likely to miss the bus if you leave too late.

By Shou-ching Chao, Ph.D.