Easily Confused Words

by Craig Shrives

What Are Easily Confused Words?

Easily confused words are word pairings that share a similar sound or spelling. The meanings of the words in these pairings can be very different (e.g., bare/bear) or close (e.g., breath/breath).

As the sounds, spellings, or meanings of the words in such pairings are the same or similar, writers often choose the wrong one, causing a writing error.

In English, there are hundreds of pairs of easily confused words. Our glossary contains 220 pairs.

Table of Contents

  • Top 10 Easily Confused Words
  • Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs
  • Spelling Errors Undermine Your Work
  • A-Z Glossary of Easily Confused Words

Top 10 Easily Confused Words

Here are the top 10 most confused word pairings (ordered from most to least common).

Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

Some of the easily confused pairs are homonyms. These are words that either sound exactly the same or look exactly the same.

Homonyms that sound the same (e.g., bare/bear) are called homophones, and homonyms that look the same (e.g., lead of a pencil/lead a team) are called homographs. In writing, homophones are the ones that cause problems.

Most of the easily confused pairs of words are near homonyms. In other words, they are pairs that nearly sound or look the same.
easily confused words

Spelling Errors Undermine Your Work

Choosing the wrong one in a pair of easily confused words is usually classified as a spelling error rather than a grammatical error, but you cannot rely on your spellchecker – or your grammar checker for that matter – to spot your error because there's a fair chance the error will be a feasibly sound piece of English text. For example:
  • He had bare hands (no gloves). correct tick
  • He had bear hands (hands like a bear). correct tick
  • He went forth (forward). correct tick
  • He went fourth (one after third). correct tick
Any errors in your work – especially common ones – will undermine your credibility, and this can prevent your readers from accepting your message. Put another way, your readers are likely to concentrate on your mistakes rather than what you're saying.

If you're presenting a new idea or something controversial, your thinking could be ignored if your writing contains errors.

A-Z Glossary of Easily Confused Words

Here is our A-Z list of 220 easily confused word pairs.

(Every link leads to a lesson with an interactive exercise, which is printable and sendable.)

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