Confused Diction Errors


Confused diction errors result when a writer uses one word in the place of a word which resembles the correct choice.  The solution is to verify the meaning of the words you choose, especially when you are aware of similar words which mean something quite different.  

Not all confused diction errors can be addressed here.  However, the Writing Center has a fairly comprehensive collection of reference books, which, although they cannot be removed from the Writing Center, can be used during hours of operation.

Remember: A spell checker only checks for errors in spelling, not for the incorrect usage of a word.

Some of the most commonly misused words include the following:

A, An

  • An is used in place of “a” when it precedes a vowel sound, not just a vowel. Ex. It’s an honor to meet you. The (“h” is silent,) but not with UFO, because it’s pronounced “yoo eff oh.” Remember, it’s the sound, not the actual letter.

Affect and Effect

  • Affect is a verb. Ex. Bad weather could affect the crops.
  • Effect is more commonly used as a noun, but when used as a verb, means to achieve or realize. Ex. That is a common effect of bad weather.

Desert and Dessert

  • Desert means to abandon. Ex. Please don’t desert me at the beach again. It can also be a noun. Ex. Please don’t leave me in the Sahara desert, for I shall die of thirst.
  • Dessert is the sweet course at the end of the meal.
  • Remember: You only want to be in the desert once, but you want dessert twice (one S in desert, two in dessert).

Farther and Further

  • Farther is a physical distance. Ex. I can walk farther than you can. 
  • Further is non-physical. Ex. I promise to give it some further thought.

Fourth and Forth

  • Forth means to go forward. Ex. Go forth, young men.
  • Fourth means after third. Ex. That is the fourth time she’s been late.

Isle and Aisle

  • Isle refers to an island.
  • Aisle is a passage between two rows.

Its and It’s

  • Its shows possession.
  • It’s is a contraction of “it is.”

Their, There, and They’re

  • Their shows possession.
  • There denotes a place.
  • They’re is a contraction of “they are.”

Two, Too and To

  • Two is a number that shows quantity.
  • To is used as preposition. It is used at the beginning of a prepositional phrase. Ex. Now, to the best candidate for mayor, I give the key to the city.
  • Too is an adverb. It denotes something that is excessive. Ex. That is way too expensive! Ten-years old is way too young to see a PG movie. It can also indicate and addition. Ex. Carl can go too. “Too” can sometimes take the place of “also.”

Your and You’re

  • Your shows possession.  
  • You’re is a contraction of “you are.” 

Other commonly misused words:

  • accede, exceed          
  • accept, except          
  • adapt, adept, adopt     
  • averse, adverse         
  • ascent, assent          
  • aloud, allowed         
  • a line, align           
  • allude, elude        
  • allusion, illusion    
  • annual, annul        
  • any one, anyone    
  • appraise, apprise     
  • assistance, assistants   
  • assure, insure, ensure   
  • auger, augur         
  • baited, bated, abated 
  • bare, bear        
  • bazaar, bizarre
  • beside, besides     
  • biannual, biennial    
  • blond, blonde            
  • bore, boar, boor
  • bored, board         
  • borne, born        
  • bought, brought    
  • brake, break        
  • by, buy, bye        
  • canvass, canvas      
  • capitol, capital     
  • censor, sensor       
  • cloths, clothes    
  • collaborate, corroborate 
  • compliment, complement 
  • continual, continuous  
  • co-operation, corporation  
  • creek, creak
  • credible, creditable
  • criteria, criterion
  • devise, device
  • discreet, discrete
  • draft, drought
  • elicit, illicit
  • eminent, imminent
  • fair, faire, fare
  • faze, phase
  • forward, foreword
  • foul, fowl
  • gorilla, guerilla
  • hail, hale
  • hair, hare
  • hanged, hung
  • herd, heard
  • here, hear
  • horde, hoard
  • home, hone                                      
  • immemorial, immortal
  • intolerable, intolerant
  • irregardless, regardless
  • later, latter
  • lay, laid
  • lay, lie
  • led, lead
  • loan, lend
  • lessen, lesson
  • liable, libel
  • lightening, lightning
  • meet, meat, mete
  • mute, moot
  • know, no
  • overdo, overdue
  • passed, past
  • peace, piece
  • peer, pier
  • plane, plain
  • patients, patience
  • peek, pique, peak
  • pour, pore
  • presence, presents
  • principle, principal
  • profit, prophet
  • quiet, quite
  • rain, reign, rein
  • raise, raze
  • realty, reality
  • reference, reverence
  • regimen, regiments
  • residents, residence
  • respectfully, respectively
  • retch, wretch
  • right, rite, right
  • rode, road
  • role, roll
  • sale, sail
  • scene, seen
  • seam, seem
  • sell, cell
  • severe, sever
  • serf, surf
  • sheer, shear
  • shore, sure
  • site, cite, sight
  • soul, sole
  • stationery, stationary
  • statue, statute, stature
  • strait, straight
  • taught, taunt, taut
  • tenet, tenant
  • throes, throws
  • vane, vein, vain
  • verses, versus
  • vicious, viscous