Confusing Words and Homonyms

The English language contains many groups of words which can have more than one meaning, even though they may be spelt and/or pronounced the same. These words can be the source of some confusion for learners. For example, you may read a word which you recognise from its spelling but which in the context may not be used in the sense that you are familiar with. Equally, you may hear a word that sounds familiar but which is used by the speaker in a way that is unfamiliar to you.

An important aspect of vocabulary learning, therefore, is to be aware of these kinds of words and to familiarise yourself with the ones that are in common use, especially in academic contexts

Confusable words.

English is full of words, which sound the same or similar yet have different meaning and are easily confused. A computer spell checker will not highlight a word that is spelled correctly but used incorrectly. If you are uncertain about the correct spelling of a particular word, the only way to be certain is to look the word up in a dictionary and check the definition so you know you are using the correct word. Below are some commonly confused words with their definitions and examples of their use.

Whether - is used in indirect questions to introduce one alternative.

Weather - is a noun meaning the state of the atmosphere at a given time and place.

I'm not sure whether he is from Bolton or from Blackpool.

I am certain that the weather is going to be fantastic tomorrow.

Affect - is a verb meaning to have an influence on

Effect - is a noun meaning a cause of change brought about by an agent.

Poor grammar may affect your essay marks.

Poor grammar had a huge effect on his academic achievements.

Uninterested means to find something boring or dull.

Disinterested means impartial.

I am uninterested in this book; it is totally boring.

The judge and jury are personally disinterested in the outcome of the case.

Loose - is an adjective meaning not fastened, contained or restrained.

Lose - is a verb and has many meanings such as not to win, to mislay etc

That roof tile is loose and might fall at any minute.

You must not lose that cheque.

Cite - is a verb meaning to quote as an authority or example.

Sight - is a noun meaning the ability to see or something that is seen.

Site - is a noun meaning a place or setting of something.

In a good essay, it is important to cite expert opinion.

In his old age he had poor sight.

This would be a good site for a new golf course.

Allowed - this is the past participle of the verb to allow and means given permission.

Aloud - this is an adjective and means using a (loud) voice.

You are not allowed to go to the cinema this evening.

He was asked to read the poem aloud.

Comprise - is a verb meaning to consist of or be composed of.

Compose - to make up the constituent parts of.

The USA comprises 50 states.

The USA is composed of 50 states.

Accept - is a verb and has many meanings among which are to receive something.

Except - is a preposition meaning 'with the exclusion of'.

I would like you to accept this gift.

All his friends came to the party except Jim who was in hospital.

Elicit - is a verb meaning to bring or draw out/gather information.

Illicit - is an adjective meaning not sanctioned by custom or law.

I tried to elicit information from my interviewees.

The football manager was involved in an illicit affair.

Imply - To express or indicate indirectly.

Infer - To conclude from evidence or premises.

Somebody will imply something and the recipient of the implication will infer from it.

She tried to imply that I could not understand the question.

From what he said, I was able to infer that he did not understand the situation.

Incredible - so implausible as to elicit disbelief/astonishing

Incredulous - sceptical of disbelieving.

The golden tower was utterly incredible.

When I first saw the tower I was utterly incredulous.

Passed - this is the past tense of the verb to pass.

Past - the time before the present, no longer current.

He passed the ball to the striker.

He hoped that the unfortunate incident was now firmly in the past.

Historic -means having importance in or influence on history.

Historical - means 'of or relating to the character of history.'

It was a wet day when Cook set off on his historic voyage.

The archaeological find was of major historical significance.

Assert - to express or maintain positively/affirm.

Ensure - to make sure or certain.

Assure - to give confidence/remove doubt.

He was very keen to assert his innocence.

I wanted to ensure that the car would be ready on time.

The mechanic was able to assure me that my car would be ready on time.

Complement - to complete, make whole or bring to perfection.

Compliment - an expression of praise, admiration or congratulation.

The wine complemented the fish perfectly.

The guests complimented her on the lovely meal.

Precede - to come before in time or rank.

Proceed - to go forward or onwards.

The abstract should precede the main body of the report.

I instructed him to proceed with the research.

Advice - is the noun

Advise - is the verb.

She gave me some good advice about the problem of noisy neighbours.

I asked him to advise me about my noisy neighbours.

Your - means belonging to you.

You're - is the contracted form of 'you are'.

Are these smelly things your shoes?

You're going to have to get rid of these shoes, they're beyond repair.

Loath - reluctant or unwilling

Loathe - to hate or detest.

I am loath to finish this report; I am uninterested in the subject.

I loathe this room; the wallpaper will have to be changed.

Climactic - relating to or resulting in a climax.

Climatic - relating to the climate.

The war was described as a climactic event.

While planning the voyage, he paid close attention to the climatic conditions.

Dependent - relying on or requiring the aid of another.

Dependant - one who relies on another especially for financial support.

I am dependent on my supervisor for some good advice.

He wanted to emigrate with his wife and all his dependants.

Council - an assembly or collection of persons.

Counsel - (to give) advice, opinions or advice.

He was elected to represent his class on the school council.

I would counsel you to pay the fine and draw a line under the matter.

Prophesy - to reveal by divine inspiration.

Prophecy - an inspired utterance of a prophet.

The mystic used to sit beneath the waterfall and prophesy.

He would sit next to the waterfall and deliver his prophecy.

Stationary - not moving.

Stationery - office supplies.

The broken down car was stationary.

Finding he had run out of pencils, Mr Bush ordered more stationery.

Economic - of or relating to the economy.

Economical - thrifty and prudent in management.

The country was experiencing a period of sustained economic growth.

The minister was accused of being somewhat economical with the truth.

More confusing words and their rules

a v. an

Rule: Use “a” when the first letter of the word following has the sound of a consonant. Keep in mind that some vowels sound like consonants when they’re sounded out as individual letters.

Examples:

  • a finger
  • a hotel
  • a U-turn (pronounced Yoo-turn)

Rule: Use “an” when the first letter of the word following has the sound of a vowel. Remember that some consonants sound like vowels when they’re spoken as individual letters.

Examples:

  • an FBI case (“F” is pronounced “ef” here)
  • an honor (“H” is silent here)
  • an unusual idea

Deciding whether to use “a” or “an” before abbreviations can be trickier. The abbreviation forFrequently Asked Questions (FAQ)” causes confusion because it can be pronounced as a word (fak), or one letter at a time (F-A-Q). Using the guidelines above, one would say "a FAQ" when it is pronounced as one word, and "an FAQ" when it is pronounced one letter at a time.

Examples:

  • an FBI agent (“F” is pronounced “ef” here)
  • a FICA tax decrease
  • an HMO plan (“H” is pronounced “aych” here)
  • a HUD program
  • an NAACP convention (“N” is pronounced “en” here)
  • a NASA study

accept

except

to agree

but, with the exception that

ad

add

advertisement

to perform addition

ades

aides

AIDS

aids

fruit drinks

people who help; assistants

acronym for Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome

helps, assists

adverse

 

averse

unfortunate; strongly opposed (refers to things, not people)

Examples: an adverse reaction to the medication

                  adverse weather conditions

having repugnance (refers to people)

Example: He is averse to a military draft.

advice (noun)

advise (verb)

recommendation

the act of giving a recommendation

affect v. effect

Rule 1. Use “effect” when you mean “bring about” or “brought about,” “ cause” or “caused.

Example: He effected a commotion in the crowd.  

Meaning: He caused a commotion in the crowd.

Rule 2. Use “effect” when you mean “result.”  

Example: What effect did that speech have?

Rule 3. Also use “effect” whenever any of these words precede it: a, an, any, the, take, into, no
Note: These words may be separated from “effect” by an adjective.  

Examples:  That book had a long-lasting effect on my thinking.

                   Has the medicine produced any noticeable effects?

Rule 4. Use the verb “affect” when you mean “to influence” rather than “to cause.”  

Example: How do the budget cuts affect your staffing?

Rule 5. “Affect” is used as a noun to mean “emotional expression.

Example: She showed little affect when told she had won the lottery.

ail

ale

to be ill; to cause pain or distress

beer

air

err

heir

what we breathe

make a mistake

one who inherits something

aisle

I’ll

isle

passageway

contraction for “I will”

a small island

all

awl

entire, everything

a tool

allot

a lot

to parcel out

always two words meaning “many”

allowed

aloud

gave permission to

said out loud; spoken

all ready

already

means all are ready.

Example: We are all ready to go.

refers to time

Example: Is it summer already?

all together

 

altogether

refers to a group, all of us or all of them together

Example: It is wonderful to be all together to celebrate your birthday.

entirely

Example: It is not altogether his fault.

altar

alter

pedestal, usually religious

to modify

Example: Please don't alter your plans until we have the final schedule approved.

allude

elude

illude

to refer indirectly

Example: He alluded to his past as a spy.

avoid capture

Example: The fugitive eluded the police for a month.

mislead

Example: Her memory illuded her.

allusion

illusion

an indirect mention of something

false perception

ambiguous

ambivalent

to have more than one meaning

Example: The law was ambiguous.

to have mixed feelings

Example: She is ambivalent about her wedding dress.

amicable

amiable

friendly (refers to things, not people)

friendly (refers to people)

Example: The amiable couple had an amicable divorce.

among

between

involves three or more

Example: Who among us has not lied?

involves just two

Example: She couldn’t decide between Chinese and Thai food.

amount

number

used for things not countable

Example: We couldn't handle that amount of ill will.

used for things that can be counted

Example: The number of accidents increased by ten percent.

ant

aunt

a bug

the sister of a parent

ante

auntie

a bet placed before playing

affectionate term for a parent’s sister

anxious

eager

to have anxiety or worry

Example: She is anxious about taking the test.

excited

Example: She is eager to get a puppy.

any more

anymore

something additional or further

Example: It didn’t rain any more this year than last year.

any longer, nowadays

Example: Harry doesn’t travel anymore.

appraise

apprise

to put a value on something

to notify

arc

ark

arch, crescent, half moon

a vessel or a refuge

ascent (noun)

assent (noun or verb)

consent

movement upward

enthusiastic agreement; to agree

agreement

assistance (noun)

assistants (noun)

help

people who help

assumption

presumption

an idea not based on evidence

an idea based on evidence

assure

ensure

insure

to promise or say with confidence

to make sure something will/won't happen

to issue an insurance policy

ate

eight

past tense of "eat"

the number after "seven"

aural

oral

having to do with hearing

having to do with the mouth

averse (see adverse)  

awed

odd

in a state of amazement

unusual; opposite of “even” when referring to numbers

a while

awhile

follows in or for

adverb answering how long

Example: He has known her for quite awhile.

aye

eye

I

yes

organ one sees with

pronoun

bald

bawled

having no hair

cried

ball

bawl

a sphere

to cry or wail loudly

band

banned

a group, sometimes a group of musicians

forbidden

bare

bear

naked, unconcealed, plain

the animal

base

bass

the bottom: vulgar

low vocal or instrumental range (pronounced like "lace"); a type of fish ( pronounced like "lass")

based

baste

be dependent or supported

to moisten; to criticize or lash out at

bases (noun, verb)

basis (noun)

headquarters (plural of base); builds on

foundation; belief

be

bee

to exist or live

insect

beach

beech

sandy area with water

type of tree with smooth, gray bark

beat

beet

to strike violently; to flutter or flap; to pound as with a drum; to defeat; to stir vigorously

an edible root

beau

bough (noun)

bow (noun)

bow (noun, verb)

boyfriend

branch of a tree (pronounced like "cow")

part of a set with arrows (pronounced like "owe")

boat front, a male's form of curtsy, bending at the waist; comply (pronounced like "cow")

been

bin

form of “be” used with “has” or “have”

container

bell

belle

chime or alarm; a signal

beautiful or charming woman

berth

birth

a boat dock; bedroom or bed

being born; beginning

better

bettor

of higher quality

someone who places bets

between (see among)  

biannual

biennial

semiannual

twice a year

every two years

twice a year (same as biannual)

bite

byte

to use one’s teeth to tear food

computer term for eight bits of information

billed

build

charged a fee

construct

blew

blue

past tense of “blow”

the color

bloc

block

a group united for a particular purpose

city street; a cube-shaped object

boar

bore

male pig

someone or something not interesting

board

bored

piece of wood; a group of people

uninterested

boarder

border

someone who pays for room and food

perimeter; boundary

bode

bowed

predict

bent (pronounced like "owed")

bold

bowled

daring

to have gone bowling; knocked over

bolder

boulder

more daring

a large rock

boos

booze

sounds made by disapproving audience

alcohol

bough (see beau)  
bow (see beau)  

boy

buoy

male child

a naval beacon or marker

brake

break

stop

separate into pieces

bread

bred

a food; slang for “money”

past tense of “breed”; raised

brewed

brood (verb, noun)

fermented

mull over; a cluster or family

brews

bruise

ferments

a black-and-blue mark, contusion

bridal

bridle

relating to brides

a harness, usually for a horse

bring

take

you bring something towards

you take something away

broach

brooch

to raise a topic

a bauble; a piece of jewelry

brows

browse

the hairs in the arch above the eyes

search for, peruse

but

butt (noun/verb)

except

bottom; joke object; to ram

buy

by

bye

purchase, acquire

near, next to

short for “goodbye”

cache

cash

hidden stash

money

calendar

colander

chart of days and months

sieve to drain off liquids

can

may

able to

permission to

cannon

canon

large, mounted gun

rule, commandment

canvas

canvass

awning cloth, tarp

to poll; a poll

capital

capitol

assets; essential; main city

statehouse

carat

caret

carrot

karat

unit of weight in gemstones

a proofreading mark to show insertion (^)

edible root

a unit for measuring the fineness of gold

cast (noun, verb)

caste

group of actors; to throw

a social class, a rigid system of social distinctions

cay

key

quay (pronounced “key”)

a small, low island (also spelled “key”)

a small, low island; instrument for opening locks

wharf, dock, pier

cede

seed

to surrender

reproductive germ

cell

sell

prison room; basic structural unit of an organism

to exchange for money

censor (verb, noun)

censure

sensor

disallow; person who disallows

Example: The soldier's letters were censored before mailing.

to disapprove of; criticize strongly

Example: The children were censured by the principal.

a device that measures heat, light, etc. and transmits a signal to a control or measuring instrument

cent

scent

sent

a penny

a smell, aroma

transmitted

cereal

serial

breakfast food

a series or array

chance

chants

accident(al)

chorus, melody

chased

chaste

went after

pure, virginal

chews

choose

how one eats food with teeth

to pick

childish

childlike

immature

innocent

Chile

chili

chilly

a country in South America

a type of pepper; a dish with peppers in it

cold, brisk

choral

coral

a cappella, singing without instruments

material that makes up reefs; orange color

chorale

corral

a hymn, a choir

horse pen

chord

cord

cored

three or more musical tones sounded simultaneously; line segment joining two points on a curve

a rope or strand of flexible material

removed the center of something

chute

shoot (verb, noun)

an inclined shaft

to discharge from a weapon; a stem

cite

sight

site

to assert; to quote from; to subpoena

vision, the power to see

a location or position

classic

classical

important; fundamental

having to do with Greek or Roman antiquity; pertaining to 18th-19th century music

clause

claws

in grammar, a group of words containing a subject and verb; part of a contract

an animal’s nails

click

clique

a sound

a group

climactic

climatic

having to do with the climax

having to do with the climate

close (verb, adjective)

clothes

to shut (pronounced like "rose"); nearby (pronounced like "dose")

apparel

coarse

course

rough, lacking in fineness of texture; crude

a class; a path

colander (see calendar)  

colonel

kernel

an officer in the military

a seed

complement

compliment

completing part of an order

praise

confidant

confident

someone confided in

certain, sure

connote

 

denote

to suggest, infer

Example: A roaring fire in the fireplace connotes a cozy winter night.

to be a sign of

Example: Certain clouds denote rain on the way.

consent (see assent)  

continual

 

continuous

repeated but with breaks in between; chronic

Example: The continual problem of our car not starting forced us to sell it.

without interruption in an unbroken stream of time or space

Example: The continuous dripping of the faucet drove me crazy.

core

corps

corpse

center or crucial part

trained group

dead body

cosign

cosine

to sign along with

a trigonometry term

council

counsel (verb, noun)

a group of people meeting for a purpose

advise; advice, an attorney

creak

creek

sound

a stream

crews

cruise

many groups

a trip or vacation by sea

criteria

criterion

plural of criterion

a standard for evaluating or testing something

cue

queue

a hint; a stimulus

a line of people waiting

currant

current

type of small berry

up to date

curser

cursor

someone who swears or wishes misfortune on another

a blinking symbol indicating position on a computer screen

dam

damn

a barrier obstructing the flow of liquid

a swear word or curse

dammed

damned

blocked from flowing

doomed

days

daze

24-hour periods of time

to stun or overwhelm

dear

deer

affectionate term

the animal

denote (see connote)  

desert (noun, verb)

dessert

a desolate area; to abandon

extra “s” for sugary treat

desperate

disparate

lost all hope, in despair

entirely dissimilar

device (noun)

devise (verb)

an invention

to invent

dew

do

due

condensation in the morning

to take action

owed by a certain date

die

dye

to cease to live; the singular of dice

to stain or color using an agent

discreet

discrete

careful, confidential

individual, distinct

discussed

disgust

talked over

repulsion

does

does

female deer (plural) (pronounced like "hose")

a form of "to do" (pronounced like "fuzz")

doughs

doze

unbaked loaves of bread

to sleep

dual

duel

two-fold

fight

eager (see anxious)  
effect (see affect)  

e.g.

 

i.e.

for example

Example: My living expenses have increased, e.g., rent, food, and utilities.

that is, in other words

Example: My living expenses have drained my finances, i.e., I have less money in the bank at the end of every month.

eight (see ate)  

elicit

illicit

evoke, extract, draw out

illegal

elude (see allude)  

elusive

illusive

difficult to describe, evasive

Example: The point of the novel is elusive to me.

plausible or possible; deceptive

Example: She had the illusive dream of finding happiness by traveling. (plausible, possible) 
Example: She had an illusive idea that she was qualified for the job. (deceptive, delusional)

emigrate

immigrate

to exit one country in order to live in another country

to enter a new country to live

empathy

sympathy

to understand another's feelings

to feel compassion or sadness for another

ensure (see assure)  

epic

epoch

saga

a period of time, an age

err (see air)  

every day

everyday

each day

Example: I learn something new every day.

ordinary

Example: These are my everyday clothes.

except (see accept)  
eye (see aye)  

facts

fax

objective data

short for “facsimile”; technology that sends images by phone

faint

feint

to go unconscious

pretense

fair (adjective, noun)

fare

impartial; an exhibition

payment or expense for travel

fairy

ferry

imaginary being possessing magical powers

type of boat

farther

further

Refers to physical distance

Example: We had to walk farther than the map indicated.

Refers to nonphysical distance

Examples: We need to discuss this further.
                  Nothing could be further from the truth.

faux

foe

fake, imitation

enemy, opponent

faze

phase

to perturb or fluster

a period or situation

feat

feet

an extraordinary act or accomplishment

twelve inch increments; appendages at end of legs

feted

fetid

celebrated, honored

noxious, gross

fewer

less

refers to a number that can be counted (fewer days off)

refers to an uncountable amount (less rain, less fear)

find

fined

discover

penalized

fir

fur

type of tree

hairy coat of an animal

flair

flare

style

erupt

flea

flee

insect

to run away

flew

flu

flue

past tense of “fly,” to have moved through the air with wings

a virus

part of a chimney

floe

flow

sheet of floating ice

pour, proceed, spew

flour

flower

grain

the bloom of a plant

for

fore

four

the preposition

ahead

the number after “three”

forego

forgo

to go in front of, precede

to do without

foreword

forward

introduction to a book written by someone other than the author

opposite of “backward”

fort

forte

a military fortification

someone’s strong point, talent

forth

fourth

forward

number after “third”

foul

fowl

offensive, disgusting

certain birds

frees

freeze

frieze

releases

to make cold

a decorative band on the wall

further (see farther)  

gait

gate

a manner of walking or stepping, stride

Example: trotting, galloping, limping

barrier

gilt

guilt

gold-covered

blame

gone

 

went

used with “has” or “have”

Examples: Ella has gone to the store.

                  Barry and Ella have gone to the beach.

past tense of "go"

Examples: Ella went to the store.

                  Barry and Ellen went to the beach.

gored

gourd

stabbed with a horn or tusk

hard-shelled fruit

gorilla

guerrilla

largest of apes

soldier using surprise raids, irregular tactics

graft

graphed

attach; acquisition of money dishonestly

diagrammed

grate

great

a cover or partition of parallel or crossed bars

excellent

grill

grille

method of cooking; barbecuing

an openwork barrier for a gate

groan

grown

a low, mournful sound of pain or grief

to have increased in size

guessed

guest

conjectured, offered an opinion

company, honoree

guise

guys

appearance or assumed appearance

men

hair

hare

what grows on one’s head and body

rabbit

hall

haul

passageway or large room

to pull, drag, or lower

halve

have

divide into two

to possess

hangar

hanger

shed or shelter for housing airplanes

something to hang a garment on in the closet

haut or haute

hoe

high class, fancy as in haute couture (pronounced “oh” or “oht”)

flat-bladed gardening tool

have v. of “should’ve,” “could’ve,” and “would’ve” are contractions for “should have,” “could have,” and “would have.” No such wording as “should of,” “could of,” “would of”

hay

hey

dried grass

interjection used to call attention

heal

heel

to alleviate or cure

back part of the foot; scoundrel

healthful

healthy

something that promotes health

Example: Organic food is thought to be healthful.

to have good health

hear

here

to listen; to give an official hearing

in this spot

heard

herd

listened

a flock of animals

heir (see air)  

heroin

heroine

a narcotic derived from morphine

female admired for courage or ability

hi

high

a greeting, informal "hello"

elevated

higher

hire

more elevated

to pay for services

him

hymn

pronoun referring to male person or animal

song in praise of religious deity

hoard

horde

stockpile, amass

a large group, crowd

hoarse

horse

cracked voice

animal

hoes

hose

flat-bladed gardening tools

a flexible tube for conveying liquid

hole

whole

an opening

entire, complete

holy

wholly

religious

entirely, completely

hostel

hostile

boarding house or inexpensive lodging

antagonistic

hour

our

sixty minutes

possessive pronoun

I (see aye)  

idle

idol

idyll

not active; unemployed

someone admired

interlude, breathing space; romance, fairy tale

i.e. (see e.g.)  
I'll (see aisle)  
illicit (see elicit)  
illude (see allude)  
illusion (see allusion)  
illusive (see elusive)  
immigrate (see emigrate)  

imply

infer

to indicate without being explicit

to conclude from evidence

in

inn

preposition; inside

small hotel

inc.

ink

abbreviation for “incorporated”

fluid in pens

incite

insight

to prompt to action

understanding, comprehension

incredible

incredulous

astonishing

Example: Her gymnastic moves were incredible.

skeptical

Example: Citizens are incredulous about the reason for the increase in the price of gas.

ingenious

ingenuous

clever

naive or simple

innocence

innocents

to be without guilt

people who are without guilt

insure (see assure)  

irregardless

regardless

no such word exists

in spite of, without regard

isle (see aisle)  

it's

its

contraction for “it is”

Example: It’s for a good cause.

possessive pronoun

Example: The cat hurt its paw.

jewel

joule

gem

in physics, a unit of work or energy

karat (see carat)  
kernel (see colonel)  
key (see cay)  

knead

kneed

need

work with bread dough

hit with one’s knee

to require

knew

new

past tense of “know,” to have understood

opposite of “old”

knight

night

a soldier in the Middle Ages

period between sunset and sunrise

knot

not

interlacing of cord or rope

used to express negation

know

no

understand, comprehend

a negative to express dissent

knows

nose

understands

part of the body one smells with

lacks

lax

is deficient in

slack, easy-going

ladder

latter

the thing with rungs that you climb

the second of two

Example: If given a choice between vanilla and chocolate ice cream, I'll take the latter.

lain

lane

past participle of "lie" as in "lie down" (see chart below)

narrow road or passage

lay v. lie

Lay v. Lie Chart

 

Present

Past

Participle (a form of have)

To recline

lie, lying

lay

has/have/had lain

To put or place
(verb followed by an object)  

lay, laying

laid

has/have/had laid

To tell a falsehood

lie, lying

lied

has/have/had lied

Examples in Present Tense:

I like to lie down for a nap at 2:00 p.m.
I am lying down for a nap today.
The hens lay eggs.
The hen is laying eggs.
I am tempted to lie about my age.
I am not lying about my age.

Examples in Past Tense:

I lay down for a nap yesterday at 2:00 p.m.
The hen laid two eggs yesterday.
He lied on the witness stand.

Examples with a Participle (“has” “have”):

I have lain down for a nap every day this week.
The hen has laid two eggs every day this week.
He has lied each day on the witness stand.

lead

led

a metal element (pronounced like "red"); present tense of “led” (pronounced like "seed")

guided, past tense of “to lead”

leak

leek

unintended discharge of liquid or gas

type of onion

lean (adjective, verb)

lien

not fatty; to incline

a claim on property to secure debt payment

leased

least

rented

smallest in size or amount

less (see fewer)  

lessen

lesson

to make less

a unit to be learned or studied

lie

lye

a falsehood; present tense of “lie down” (See Lay v. Lie chart above)

a caustic substance

lightening

lightning

to make lighter

a brilliant electric spark in the sky

loan

lone

something lent for temporary use

only, solitary

loose

lose

opposite of “tight”

opposite of “win”; misplace

Mach

mock (adjective, verb)

ratio with the speed of sound: Mach 1 = the speed of sound          Mach 2 = twice the speed of sound

artificial; ridicule

made

maid

created

cleaning lady

mail

male

correspondence

masculine; opposite of “female”

main

mane

primary, chief, leading

long hair on the back of a horse or lion

maize

maze

corn

labyrinth

mall

maul

plaza, focal point

abuse, claw

manner

manor

behavior

palatial residence

marquee

marquis

canopy, shelter; projection over a theater entrance

aristocrat, nobleman

marry

merry

to wed

cheerful

marshal (verb, noun)

martial

assemble; a judge

militant, aggressive

may (see can)  

meat

meet (verb, noun)

mete

animal flesh used for food

to connect, touch; an event

administer, allot

medal

meddle

metal

mettle

decoration, badge

to interfere unwantedly

earth element

boldness

mind (noun, verb)

mined

intelligence; obey

excavated to extract ores

miner

minor (noun, adjective)

one who excavates to extract ores

someone under legal age; small

missed

mist

failed to hit

fog, fine spray

moan

mown

lament; sound of suffering

cut grass

mode

mowed

method, manner

to have cut grass

mood

mooed

an emotional state

what the cow said

moose

mousse

an animal

type of dessert

morning

mourning

start of the day, between night and afternoon

sorrow over someone’s death

muscle

mussel

fibrous tissue

edible marine bivalve

mustard

mustered

yellow condiment

assembled, gathered

naval

navel

pertaining to ships

belly button, umbilicus

need (see knead)  
new (see knew)  
night (see knight)  
no (see know)  

none

nun

not one, not any

female member of a religious order

nose (see knows)  
not (see knot)  
number (see amount)  

oar

or

ore

a blade for rowing

conjunction

metal-bearing mineral or rock

odd (see awed)  
of (see have)  
on to v. onto

Use onto if you can add "up" before "on."

Example: He climbed (up) onto the roof.

                She held on to her child in the crowd.

one

won

single unit

past tense of “win”

oral (see aural)  

ordinance

ordnance

a law

military weapons and ammunition

our (see hour)  

overdo

overdue

to do to excess

past due

packed

pact

past tense of “pack”

an agreement or treaty

pail

pale

bucket

lacking color

pain

pane

physical or emotional suffering

a plate of glass or panel

pair

pare

pear

two of something

to remove or peel

type of fruit

palate

pallet

palette

roof of the mouth; taste

a low, portable platform

a range of colors; a board to hold and mix colors

passed

past

past tense of “pass”

the time before the present

patience

patients

willingness to wait

people under medical care

pause

paws

a temporary stop

animal feet

peace

piece

calm

a portion of something

peak

peek

pique

top of a mountain

glance furtively

to wound someone’s pride or to excite interest

pealed

peeled

rang bells

removed a layer

pedal

peddle

foot-operated lever

to sell, hawk, or dispense

peer

pier

person who is an equal

a structure extending out over water

perpetrate

perpetuate

to commit as in a crime

to prolong or sustain

Example: The myth that the sun revolved around the earth was perpetuated by religious leaders for centuries.

phase (see faze)  

pi

pie

3.1416, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter

baked food filled with fruit or meat

pistil

pistol

female organ of a flower

type of gun

plain (adjective, noun)

plane

not fancy; evident; simple; treeless area of land

a flat or level surface; short for “airplane”

pleas

please

cries for help; appeals

a polite word; to satisfy

plum

plumb

a type of fruit

perpendicular

pole

poll

a long, cylindrical piece of wood or metal

a collection of opinions, survey

pore

pour

small hole

to send liquid flowing

praise

prays

preys

express approval

makes requests to God

hunts for food; victimizes

precedence

precedents

presidents

priority

examples, criteria

chief executives

presence

presents (noun, verb)

appearance, being present

gifts; offers

presumption (see assumption)  

pries

prize

to look closely; wedges open

award or reward

principal (noun, adjective)

principle

head of school; chief; of first importance

fundamental belief

profit

prophet

gain

predictor, seer

pros

prose

professionals, experts

literature

quarts

quartz

units of liquid measure, four quarts to a gallon

a mineral

quay (see cay)  
queue (see cue)  

rain

reign

rein

water that falls in drops from the sky

rule, administration

bit, harness

raise

raze

lift up

flatten, tear down completely

rap (noun, verb)

wrap

a type of music; to strike sharply

to enclose in a covering

rapped

rapt

wrapped

struck sharply

fascinated

enclosed in a covering

read

red

present and past tenses of “to comprehend writing”

a color

real

reel

actual, authentic

stumble, falter

recede

reseed

to move back, withdraw

to seed again

reek

wreak

to smell bad

to cause trouble “wreak havoc”

regardless (see irregardless)  

rest

wrest

relax

take from

retch

wretch

vomit

lowly being, scoundrel

review

revue

survey

a satirical show

right

rite

write

correct, opposite of “left”

ritual, ceremony

to compose letters or words

ring

wring

sound of a bell; jewelry worn around a finger

to twist

road

rode

rowed

street, path, highway

past tense of “ride”

past tense of “row”

roe

row

fish eggs

aisle (pronounced like "oh"); propel with an oar (pronounced like "oh"); fight (pronounced like "wow")

role

roll (noun, verb)

part in a play or film

a bun; to rotate

roomer

rumor

one who rents a room

innuendo, gossip

root

rout

route

base of a plant

defeat

path

rot

wrought

decay, decompose

accomplished

rote

wrote

by memory, formula

past tense of “write”

rude

rued

impolite, unmannerly

regretted, repented

rye

wry

seed from a grain

mocking, ironic, droll

sacks

sax

large bags

saxophone

saver

savor

one who saves

to appreciate a taste

scene

seen

a view, a setting

to have viewed with eyes

scent (see cent)  

sea

see

a body of salt water

to view with eyes

seam

seem

line formed by pieces of fabric sewn together

appear

sear

seer

sere

scorch, burn, or char

one who sees (as in the future)

withered, dry

seas

sees

seize

bodies of salt water

views with eyes

to grab hold of

seed (see cede)  
sell (see cell)  
semiannual (see biannual)  
sensor (see censor)  
sent (see cent)  

serf

surf (noun, verb)

slave

breaking waves; to ride a surfboard

serial (see cereal)  

set

sit

one sets a thing

Example: Please set the table.

one sits oneself

Example: Please sit down at the table.

sew

so

sow

to stitch

in the manner indicated

to scatter or plant seed

sewer

suer

a conduit for carrying off waste

one who sues

shear

sheer

to cut

transparent

shoe

shoo

foot attire

interjection used to scare away an animal

shoot (see chute)  

sic

 

sick

a Latin term used to indicate that something written is intentionally left in the original form, which may be incorrect

Example: She wrote, "They made there [sic] beds."

ill

sics

six

attacks

a number

sight (see cite)  

sign

sine

an indication

a trigonometry term

sink

synch or sync

to submerge; to descend to a lower level

to synchronize, to coincide or match up

site (see cite)  

slay

sleigh

kill

snow vehicle, sled

sleight

slight

cunning, skill

slender, of little substance

slew

slough

past tense of “slay”

swamp

soar

sore

to fly at great height

in pain

soared

sword

flew at great height

a bladed weapon

sole

soul

front of foot; alone

the spiritual part of humans

some

sum

a certain unspecified number

the total from adding numbers

son

sun

male offspring

star that is the central body of the solar system

sonny

sunny

diminutive of son

lit or warmed by the sun; cheerful

spade

spayed

digging tool

to have removed the ovaries of an animal

staid

stayed

solemn, serious

remained, waited

stair

stare

step

to look without blinking

stake

steak

a pole

cut of meat

stationary

stationery

in one place

writing paper

steal

steel (noun, adjective)

rob

iron alloy; determined

step (verb, noun)

steppe

moving by lifting the foot; degree

vast grasslands

stile

style

turnstile, passageway

fashion

straight

strait

not curved or bent

narrow passage of water connecting two bodies of water

succor

sucker

relief, assistance

fool

suede

swayed

leather finished with a soft, napped surface

past tense of “sway”; persuaded

suite

sweet

a connected series of rooms

opposite of “sour”

summary

summery

an abstract or brief account

of the summer

sundae

Sunday

ice cream with syrup

day of the week

sympathy (see empathy)  

tacks

tax

short nails

percent of earnings paid to the government

tail

tale

hindmost animal appendage

story

take (see bring)  

tare

tear

allowance for the weight of packaging

rip, pull apart

taught

taut

past tense of “teach”

tightly stretched

tea

tee

a beverage

a peg from which a golf ball is hit

team

teem

group playing on the same side in a game

swarm

tear

tier

salt water coming from eyes when sad

a row or layer

tense

tents

nervous strain

portable shelters used for camping

than

then

used for comparison

indicates time, answers “when?”

their

there

they're

possessive pronoun

location

contraction for “they are”

threw

through

past tense of “throw”

in one end and out the other

throes

throws

agonizing struggles

tosses, hurls

throne

thrown

royal seat or office

was tossed

thyme

time

herb of the mint family

past, present, future sequences of events

ticks

tics

parasites, sounds of a clock

facial twitches

tide

tied

ebb and flow of the ocean

past tense of “tie”

to

too

two

in the direction of, toward

also, to an extensive degree

Example: It is too hot to jog.

the number after “one”

toad

toed

towed

similar to a frog

having a toe

pulled, hauled

told

tolled

said

sounded a bell

tort

torte

a breach of contract

a rich cake made with little or no flour

tracked

tract

followed

an extended area of land; a political or religious pamphlet

troop

troupe

a body of soldiers

a group of traveling performers

vain

vane

vein

excessively concerned about one’s appearance

a blade moved by wind as in a weather vane

blood vessel

vary

very

to change or alter

extremely

verses

versus

lines of poetry

as compared to another choice; against

vial

vile

small container for holding liquids

repulsive, depraved

vice

vise

bad habit; immoral practice

device used to hold an object firmly

wade

weighed

to walk through water

to have put on a scale

wail

whale

mournful cry

marine mammal

waist

waste

narrowest part of the human torso (usually)

to squander or spend uselessly

wait

weight

to be available or ready

quantity of heaviness or mass

waiver

waver

a relinquishment of some right

to feel indecisive; vary

wear

where

to carry on the body

in what place?

warn

worn

to notify

carried on the body; deteriorated

warrantee

warranty

person who is given a written guarantee

written guarantee

way

weigh

direction

to measure mass

we're

were

contraction for “we are”

past tense of “are”

we've

weave

contraction for “we have”

to interlace thread or yarn to make a fabric

weak

week

lacking strength

seven days starting with Sunday

went (see gone)  

wheeled

wield

moved on wheels

to exercise power; to handle a weapon effectively

weather

whether

state of the atmosphere in a location

if

which

witch

what one?

sorceress

while

wile

during or in the time that

a trick to fool, trap, or entice

whine

wine

complaining cry

fermented grape juice that becomes an alcoholic beverage

whined

wind

wined

past tense of “whine,” complained

what one does to keep a watch ticking on time (pronounced like "kind"); air current (pronounced like "sinned")

to supply with wine

whirled

world

spun rapidly

planet Earth

whole (see hole)  
wholly (see holy)  

who's

whose

contraction for “who is”

Example: Who’s at the door?

possessive case of “who”

Example: Whose coat is this?

won (see one)  

won't

wont (adjective, noun)

contraction for “will not”

accustomed; habit

wood

would

tree trunk material

expressing an intention (would if I could)

wrap (see rap)  
wrapped (see rapt)  
wreak (see reek)  
wrest (see rest)  
wretch (see retch)  
wring (see ring)  
write (see right)  
wrote (see rote)  
wrought (see rot)  
wry (see rye)  

yoke

yolk

harness for oxen

yellow center of an egg

yore

you're

your

long past

contraction for “you are”

possessive pronoun

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