Commonly Misused Words

English can be filled with pitfalls and traps, and there are some words and phrases that commonly get misused, by both native speakers and language learners alike.  We’re not talking about words that are gradually changing their meaning—like “literally”, which has begun to be accepted as also meaning “figuratively”—but words and phrases that are universally declared as wrong.  These are some common pitfalls and errors to avoid in your writing.  There are dozens of them, but here are three we see very frequently.

Accept, Except, Expect

Accept and except sound the same in many accents, but they have very different meanings.  Accept is a verb, it means “agree with” or “receive”.  Except is normally a preposition, and it means “apart from”, though it can also be used as a verb meaning “to take out”.  They are not interchangeable.  Expect is a verb “to believe something is likely”; usually, when we see that here, that’s a spellcheck error for “except”.

Right: “She accepted the offer”; “Everyone got to go home except me”.
Wrong: “I didn’t like the new group; I didn’t feel excepted”; “They all went swimming, accept for Katie.”

Affect and Effect

Affect and effect can be a little tricky.  Normally, affect is a verb, and effect is a noun.  Affect means “to influence something”, while effect is “the result of”—so, when you affect something, it has an effect.  Remembering that will keep you in the clear 90% of the time, but there are exceptions.  Effect can be used as a verb meaning “to bring about”, as in “The government hopes to effect change”.  Affect can be used as a noun, meaning “a feeling or emotion”, mostly in technical psychological works.  Normally, though, remembering that affect is a verb and effect is a noun will steer you straight.

Right: “Pesticides can affect your health”; “Pesticides can have a bad effect on your health.”
Wrong: “The rain effected our plans for the day”; “We begged for him to change his mind, but to no affect.”

Allusion, Illusion, Hallucination

We see this mistake often when writing about literature, and it’s another case of a couple words sounding similar.  Allusion means “a reference to” something, usually an indirect one.  Illusion means “false idea”; the two words have nothing in common other than their sound.  A similar problem is writers mixing up “illusion” and “hallucination”—technically, an illusion refers to a false picture of something that is there, while a hallucination means thinking you see something that actually isn’t there—if you look at your legs in a swimming pool and they seem short, that’s an illusion caused by light traveling through the water.  If you look at your legs in a swimming pool and they seem to be tentacles, that a hallucination based on something going on inside your own head.  If you look at your legs in a swimming pool and say they remind you of The Little Mermaid, that’s an allusion based on watching too many Disney movies.

These are just a few commonly mixed up words—Wordsmith Essays’ editors will help correct these, and many more.  Stop by our order page today to see what we can do for you.


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