English has more words than any other language and there are a large number of commonly confused English words.
The English language has numerous words which have a similar spelling and/or pronunciation to another word. This is challenging for English language learners and it is also problematic for a number of native speakers who confuse one word and its spelling or meaning with another. For example:
Is a pen a type of ‘stationery’ or ‘stationary’?
Both words exist in the English language, but they have different meanings. (Answer: stationery)
30 commonly confused English words
We have put together a list of 30 commonly confused English words.
Studying new words and phrases in context is the best way to understand the correct meaning and improve your English vocabulary. Therefore, we have included a definition, and an example for these commonly confused English words.
We’ve also included the part of speech and phonemic symbols for pronunciation. This is especially useful when a word has more than one use or meaning. Just to let you know, we have not included every use for every word. It would get even more confusing!
We also provide an extended list of 200 commonly confused words to challenge and develop your English vocabulary. You can check the words in the list and create your own definitions and examples too with the help of online English dictionaries!
accept & except
to agree to take something offered, to approve of or believe in something
“I think you should accept the job offer.”
[preposition] [conjunction] /ɪkˈsept/
not including, other than
“I’ve invited all my family to the wedding, except my cousins in Canada.”
advice & advise
an opinion about what to do in a particular situation
“He gives advice to students who want to study at university.”
to tell someone what they should do (in your opinion)
“The doctor advised him to give up smoking and do more exercise.”
affect & effect
to cause a change in something
“These actions will negatively affect the environment.”
a change that is caused by another person or action
“The effect of not going the gym is clear, because my clothes are too tight!”
allusion & illusion
an indirect reference to someone or something
“This comedy film makes numerous allusions to the behaviour of existing politicians.”
(i) an idea or belief that is false
“She’s has the illusion that she doesn’t need qualifications to study at university.”
(ii) something that appears to be different from the way it really is
“Getting up early in the morning gives the illusion that the day is longer.”
assistance & assistants
the act of helping or supporting another person
“Charity shops rely on the voluntary assistance of the local community.”
assistants (plural of assistant)
a person who helps another person (e.g. a manager) to do their job
“We have so much work to do and not enough time. I think we need some assistants.”
bare & bear
not covered or empty
“We need to get some pictures to decorate the bare walls in our new house.”
a large wild animal
“I heard that there is a new baby polar bear at the zoo.”
capital & capitol
the city in a country where the government is located
“The capital of the United Kingdom is London.”
a building in the US where the government meets
“There are thousands of protestors outside the Capitol building in Washington DC.”
cereal & serial
a food made from grain that is usually eaten for breakfast with milk
“During our childhood, we always ate cereal before we went to school.”
a television or radio programme that is divided into parts
“I love this comedy serial on TV at the moment.
describes something that happens multiple times
“A serial killer escaped from prison at the weekend.”
complement & compliment
something that is a positive addition or combines well with something else
“Her unique skills will be an ideal complement to the experience of the existing team.”
an expression of praise or admiration
“He'd like us to give compliments on his new hairstyle, but it's awful!”
desert & dessert
an area of land that is very dry and has very few plants
“The largest desert in Africa is the Sahara.”
something that you eat after the main course of a meal
“Would you like to have a dessert or are you already full?”
ensure & insure
[verb] /ɪnˈʃʊə/ or /ɪnˈʃɔː/
to make certain that something happens
“We need to ensure that our clients take the correct train to the airport on Saturday.”
[verb] /ɪnˈʃʊə/ or /ɪnˈʃɔː/
to pay money to protect against risks and losses (e.g. car insurance) or to issue someone with an insurance policy
“We should insure our bicycles in case they get stolen in the city.”
formally & formerly
describes when something is done in an official way or in a polite manner
“She formally submitted a complaint about her manager's behaviour.”
describes something that happened or was true in the past
“He was formerly a policeman in London and then changed to a career in acting.”
personal & personnel
describes something that belongs to or relates to an individual person
“He is very direct when he expresses his personal opinion to friends and colleagues.”
the people who work for a company or the department that deals with employees
“A lot of complaints have been made about the way this company treats its personnel.”
principal & principle
the person in charge of a school or who has the main role in a performance
“The principal has scheduled a presentation for new students and their parents.”
a rule or belief about what is right and wrong and influences your behaviour
“We teach a set of principles to children from their first day at school.”
stationary & stationery
“I'm going to be late for work. My train has been stationary for nearly an hour.”
pens, pencils, paper, envelopes etc.
“I need to buy some new stationery before I start university next week.”
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200 commonly confused words list
Here’s an extended list of commonly confused words to challenge your knowledge of English vocabulary.