Easily Confused Words

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According to a 2013 study conducted by communications firm Global Lingo, 59 percent of respondents indicated they would not do business with a company that made noticeable grammatical/spelling mistakes in its marketing content. Don’t give prospects a reason to ditch your company website by displaying poorly written copy.

With that in mind, do you know the difference between the words “discreet” and “discrete?” How about “complimentary” versus “complementary”? Have you ever used “affect” when you should have written “effect”? If your head is spinning, refer to the list below to avoid easy-to-make mistakes that could deter prospects from converting into leads.

Affect vs. effect:

Use “affect” as a verb. Use “effect” as a noun (there are exceptions to this rule, but defer to the following examples as a general guideline):

  • She was concerned the medication would affect her sleeping schedule.
  • The medication caused a negative side effect.

Anecdote vs. antidote:

“Anecdote” refers to a brief and entertaining story; “antidote” refers to a remedy for poison:

  • Please include an anecdote when writing the article.
  • Is there an antidote for this snakebite?

Bridal vs. bridle:

“Bridal” refers to weddings; “bridle” refers to the headgear for horses:

  • The bridal shop had hundreds of wedding dresses.
  • The horse needed a new bridle.

Compliment vs. complement:

“Compliment” refers to a flattering comment; “complement” refers to making something more complete:

  • She received a compliment on her shoes.
  • Her shoes complement her dress.

Complimentary vs. complementary:

Use “complimentary” for anything that’s free; use “complementary” for anything that’s well balanced/harmonious:

  • The hotel offered a complimentary breakfast to guests.
  • The complementary colors worked well in the updated kitchen.

Conscience vs. conscious:

Use “conscience” when referring to right or wrong; use “conscious” for state of awareness:

  • The child had a guilty conscience.
  • Let’s make a conscious effort to clean the house this weekend.

Discrete vs. discreet:

“Discrete” means separate; “discreet” means to be careful/secretive:

  • The opera had a prologue and three discrete acts.
  • His sneeze was not discreet.

Ensure vs. insure:

“Ensure” means to guarantee something; “insure” refers to insurance:

  • We will do everything to ensure your needs are met.
  • Did the business insure its assets?

Every day vs. everyday:

Use “every day” (two words) as an adverb. Use “everyday” (one word) as an adjective:

  • The dentist recommends brushing your teeth two times every day.
  • The everyday routine is getting boring.

Farther vs. further:

Use “farther” when referring to physical distance; use “further” for metaphorical distance:

  • The couple ran 3 miles farther than they did last week.
  • For further information, refer to the document.

Myriad of vs. myriad:

This isn’t an example of words confused because of similar pronunciation or spelling, but it’s worth an honorable mention because of frequent incorrect use. Do not include “of” when using the word “myriad.” “Myriad” stands alone — think of it like the word “multiple” or “many.”

You wouldn’t write or say, “The many of books fell off the shelf;” you would write, “The many books fell off the shelf.” Now replace “many” with “myriad:”

  • Incorrect: The myriad of books fell off the shelf.
  • Correct: The myriad books fell off the shelf.

Palate, palette, pallet:

“Palate” refers to the roof of the mouth or sense of taste for food. “Palette” is an artist’s tool used when painting. “Pallet” is a low board/platform:

  • He didn’t like spicy food because of his sensitive palate.
  • The artist mixed several colors on her palette.
  • The kitchen cupboards were shipped in boxes on three pallets.

Premiere vs. premier:

“Premier” refers to first rank, top of the line, top-notch. “Premiere” refers to a first showing of a performance, movie, etc.:

  • The premier college is located in Maryland.
  • He bought a suit for the movie premiere.

Real estate agent vs. Realtor:

Per The AP Stylebook, use the term “Realtor” (note that the “R” is capitalized) only if the person is a member of the National Association of Realtors. Otherwise, use “real estate agent.”

Stationary vs. stationery:

“Stationary” refers to being immobile; “stationery” refers to decorative paper:

  • The children were instructed to remain stationary in the classroom during the safety drill.
  • The bride wrote thank you notes with her new stationery.

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