Commonly Confused and Misused Words

In the midst of your writing it can be easy to mix up words or use the wrong word. Since your eyes are used to looking over your work it may be hard for you to spot these mistakes. Dellarte Press provides various editorial services that can help you find these errors, but this list of commonly confused words can also help you along the way.


Blond: used for male or female
Blonde: typically used just for females
*can also be a noun when it specifies a woman or girl with fair hair

Brunet: used for male or female
Brunette: typically used just for females
*can also be a noun when it specifies a woman or girl with brown hair

Complementary: supplying mutual needs or offsetting mutual lacks; completing
Complimentary: given free as a courtesy  

Definite: precise; exact; certain; having fixed limits
Definitive: reliable; thorough; authoritative

Discreet: shows prudence and modesty particularly in speech; respecting privacy
Discrete: apart or detached from others; distinct or individual parts 

Egoistic; preoccupied with self; gratifying one’s own desires
Egotistic: boastful; vain; indifferent to the well-being of others

Flagrant: shockingly noticeable; glaringly evident
Fragrant: having a pleasant scent or aroma; sweet-smelling

Grisly: gruesome; horrible; grim
Gristly: resembling or having cartilage
Grizzled: something that is gray or gray-streaked (usually refers to hair)
Grizzly: somewhat gray; n. a type of bear

Hardy: sturdy; strong; bold or daring
Hearty: completely devoted; jovial; nourishing and substantial 

Holey: adj., having holes or full of holes
Holly: n., a plant with glossy, spiny-toothed leaves and red berries; the state tree of Delaware
Holy: adj., something sacred; consecrated; saintly; pious
Wholly: adv., entirely; the whole amount

Insoluble: incapable of being dissolved
Insolvable: incapable of being solved or explained
Insolvent: incapable of paying debts; pertaining to bankruptcy 

Notable: adj., noteworthy; prominent; distinguished
Noted: adj., well-known; famous; celebrated
Noticeable: adj., worthy of deserving notice; capable of being seen
Notoriety: n., having a bad reputation; widely known
Notorious: adj., publicly or generally known for a particular trait

Opaque: impenetrable to light; cannot be seen through
Translucent: allowing some light to pass through, but not totally clear
Transparent: can be easily seen through; clear and recognizable

Peaceable: (applied to people); disposed to avoid strife or dissension; promoting calm
Peaceful: (applied to situations and activities) tranquil; not characterized by strife. Suspects surrender peacefully, not peaceably (unless they are antiwar demonstrators)

Personal: adj., for use by one person; private; individual
Personnel: n., employees; staff or an organization, business or service

Prone: lying face downward; prostrate
Supine: lying face upward

Sensual: refers to enjoyments derived from the senses, mostly to the gratification or indulgence of physical appetites
Sensuous: refers more favorably or literally to what is experienced through the senses

Stationary: adj., not moving, standing still; established in one place
Stationery: n., writing paper and writing materials

Viral: pertaining to a virus
Virile: having masculine strength; manly; capable of procreation


All together: all together; everyone grouped
Altogether: wholly; entirely; completely

Farther: used for literal distance
Further: used for figurative distance

Purposefully: aiming at a goal; having a purpose; determined
Purposely: intentionally; deliberately 


Emigrant: one who leaves a country
Immigrant: one who enters a country

Half brothers, half sisters: children with only one parent in common
Stepbrothers, stepsisters: children related by the remarriage of parents

Hoard: a supply or accumulation that is carefully hidden and guarded; v., to store
Horde: a large group; any nomadic group; can also be used for a group of animals

Imposter: one who levies a tax
Impostor: a person who practices deception under a different name or identity 

Inequity: unfairness; favoritism or bias
Iniquity: wickedness; a violation or right or duty

Jail: where suspects and people convicted of misdemeanors are kept; cities and counties have them
Prison: where felons are kept; states and the federal government have them

Masseur: man who gives massages; (preferred term: massage therapist)
Masseuse: woman who gives massages; (preferred term: massage therapist)

Medal: n., an award usually made out of medal to commemorate a person, action or event
Meddle: v., to interfere in a matter without right or invitation
Metal: n., any class of elements, including gold, iron, copper, etc.
Mettle: n., courage and fortitude; referring to someone’s character

New: something recently made, grown, built, found, invented or discovered
Novel: something new that is unexpected, strange or generally pleasing

Palate: the roof of the mouth
Palette: board on which paint is mixed; a range of colors
Pallet: a small, hard bed with a straw filled mattress; small platform for moving and storing cargo

Principal: n., someone who is a chief or head; first in rank; adj. most important
Principle: n., a fundamental, basic rule or guide

Salary: fixed compensation for a nonhourly worker
Wages: pay for an hourly worker

Tack: course of action or conduct; a short, sharp-pointed nail with a flat head
Tact: a keen sense or ability to know what to say so as not to offend in a delicate situation

Tenant: a person or group who live in a rented house
Tenet: an opinion, principle, doctrine, dogma, etc.

Vial: n., a small bottle usually made of glass for holding liquid
Vile: adj., evil; highly offensive, unpleasant, objectionable; foul
Viol: n., a kind of stringed instrument different from the violin

Vice: an immoral or evil habit or practice; a defect or shortcoming
Vise: a metal tool with two jaws used for gripping an object


Any one: any single member of a group of persons or things
Anyone: any person at all; anybody

Whose: possessive of who
Who’s: contraction for who is 


Accelerate: to move faster or speed up
Exhilarate: to enliven, invigorate, stimulate

Accept: to take or receive
Except: to leave out; exclude

Affect: to act on or produce a change in
Effect: to bring about, accomplish, result

Agree to: you agree to something
Agree with: you agree with someone

Assure: to make certain; give confidence to; people are assured
Ensure: to make secure or safe; events are ensured
Insure: to provide insurance; objects or lives are insured

Arouse: to stir to action; to stimulate
Rouse: to stir or waken from sleep

Demur: to make objections
Demure: adj., characterized by shyness; modesty; coy; somber

Elicit: v., to draw out or bring forth; evoke
Illicit: adj., not legally permitted or authorized; unlawful

Envelop: v., to surround; to enclose completely
Envelope: n., a flat paper container for a letter

Ever so often: frequently; describing something that happens often
Every so often: describes something that happens occasionally

Forbid: a personal command; you forbid to (I forbid you to go)
Prohibit: a more formal command; you prohibit from (You are prohibited from selling liquor)

Lead: present tense of lead; to guide; show the way
Led: past tense of lead 

Leave alone: to allow someone to stay by him or herself
Let alone: to refrain from annoying or disturbing

Let’s: contraction for let us
Lets: to allow or permit; to rent or lease rooms

Lightening: v., to give light to; to make less dark; illuminate 
Lightning: n., a flash of light in the sky occurring within a thundercloud

Quaver: pertains to the voice; to shake tremulously
Quiver: pertains to the body; to vibrate tremulously; n., a case for holding arrows

Stanch: v., to restrain; to stop a flow of blood or liquid
Staunch: adj. firm in opinion, adherence, loyalty; strong

Adapted from:
Working With Words: A Handbook for Media Writers and Editors, Sixth Edition. Brian S. Brooks, James L. Pinson, Jean Gaddy Wilson. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006.

With help from: 


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