4 Commonly Confused Word Pairs
There are some English language words that everyone confuses, even native English speakers will say one word when they mean the other. These commonly confused word pairs aren’t homophones, but they do all sort of sound similar, which is probably another reason they become confused.
Commonly Confused Word Pairs That Are Often Mixed Up With One Another
The 4 pairs of words I’m talking about are affect vs effect, farther vs further, accept vs except, and the trio of—assure vs ensure vs insure.
Affect vs Effect
The best guideline to remember when pausing to select which of these 2 words to say is that affect is most often used as a VERB, and effect is most often used as a NOUN.
To affect meaningful change to the effect of global warming, the US needs to limit carbon emissions.
So, here the VERB, affect, means ‘to influence’ or ‘to make a difference to’, and the NOUN, effect, means ‘a result’ or ‘influence’.
Now that’s not to say that affect is never a NOUN, or that effect is never a VERB.
His affect was so flat it was hard to tell if the depression medication could effect a change.
In this sentence the NOUN, affect, means ‘an emotion’, ‘feeling’, (and in psychiatry) ‘an expressed or observed emotional response’, and the VERB, effect, means ‘to bring about’, ‘to cause’, or ‘to make happen’.
Farther vs Further
A commonly confused word pair that they even flummox native speakers. Farther relates to distance in an actual sense. Further relates to distance in a metaphorical sense.
The shop was farther away that we thought when we started walking there.
It’s FAR away.
We’ve grown further apart over the years.
It’s an emotional distance.
Further research is called for before I begin writing.
Here further means ‘more’, ‘additional’, or ‘deeper’.
I’d hoped the degree would further my career.
Here further means ‘advance’, or ‘forward’.
Accept vs Except
These words are exact opposites! Accept means, ‘to receive’, ‘say yes to’, and except means, ‘excluding/to exclude’, or ‘other than’. I think it’s that they sound SO similar that this word pair trips people up, add to that the fact that you hear them misused so frequently they can seem interchangeable.
I gladly accept this award.
I accept your invitation.
Except for Julius, everyone made the trip.
I like all people except those under 21.
I’d join you for coffee except I’m buried in work.
Think NO—that ‘ex’ upfront of the word is a nice reminder;)
Assure vs Ensure vs Insure
Somehow these words beg to be interchanged, but they each have a different meaning.
Assure is ‘to give confidence’.
I assure you all the money is there, you can count it.
Ensure is ‘to make certain something will/won’t happen’.
“Please ensure that your tray table is in its upright and locked position.”
Insure literally means to ‘have/get insurance’.
You really need to insure your home against fire when you live in this part of Los Angeles.
However, people often use ensure and insure interchangeably, and it’s not considered a crime against grammar. That said, if you err on the side of precision with words you’ll never get a raised eyebrow from the more hardcore lexographersJ
There are plenty of English language words it’s easy to confuse with one another. These 4 pairs (one trio) are just the tip of the iceberg. Think about the definition of the English word you want to use before speaking or writing. The definition, and the context in which the word is used will help you choose the correct word.