Easily Confused Words

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

allusion / illusion

Allusion is a noun that means an indirect reference: “The speech made allusions to the final report.”

Illusion is a noun that means a misconception: “The policy is designed to give an illusion of reform.”

alternately / alternatively

Alternatively is an adverb that means on the other hand; one or the other: “You can choose a large bookcase or, alternatively, you can buy two small ones.”

amusement park / theme park

An amusement park, a noun, is a place where people go to have fun. It has games, food, rides, and shows for entertainment.

A theme park, a noun, is an amusement park with a theme, a subject that everything in the park has in common. The rides, games, and shows all deal with this subject in some way. At Disney World, a famous theme park, everything has some connection to the Disney characters.

beside / besides

Beside is a preposition that means next to: “Stand here beside me. ”

Besides is an adverb that means also: “Besides, I need to tell you about the new products my company offers.”

bimonthly / semimonthly

Bimonthly is an adjective that means every two months: “I brought the cake for the bimonthly office party.” Bimonthly is also a noun that means a publication issued every two months: “The bimonthly magazine will soon become a monthly publication.”

Semimonthly is an adjective that means happening twice a month: “We have semimonthly meetings on the 1st and the 15th.”

cite / site

Cite is a verb that means to quote as an authority or example: “I cited several eminent scholars in my study of water resources.” It also means to recognize formally: “The public official was cited for service to the city.” It can also mean to summon before a court of law: “Last year the company was cited for pollution violations.”

Site is a noun meaning location: “They chose a new site for the factory just outside town.”

cologne / perfume

Cologne, a noun, is a scented liquid made from alcohol and fragrant oils.

Perfume, a noun, is a quickly evaporating scented oil either obtained from flowers or manmade. It is more concentrated (stronger) and much more expensive than cologne.

complement / compliment

Complement is a noun or verb that means something that completes or makes up a whole: “The red sweater is a perfect complement to the outfit.”

Compliment is a noun or verb that means an expression of praise or admiration: “I received many compliments about my new outfit.”

concurrent / consecutive

Concurrent is an adjective that means simultaneous or happening at the same time as something else: “The concurrent strikes of several unions crippled the economy.”

Consecutive means successive or following one after the other: “The union called three consecutive strikes in one year.”

connote / denote

Connote is a verb that means to imply or suggest: “The word ‘espionage’ connotes mystery and intrigue.”

Denote is a verb that means to indicate or refer to specifically: “The symbol for ‘pi’ denotes the number 3.14159.”

dinner / supper

Dinner, a noun, is always the main meal of the day, whether it is eaten at noon or in the evening.

Supper, a noun, is eaten only in the evening, whether it is a large or small meal.

discreet / discrete

Discreet is an adjective that means prudent, circumspect, or modest: “Their discreet comments about the negotiations led the reporters to expect an early settlement.”

Discrete is an adjective that means separate or individually distinct: “Each company in the conglomerate operates as a discrete entity.”

disinterested / uninterested

Disinterested is an adjective that means unbiased or impartial: “We appealed to the disinterested mediator to facilitate the negotiations.”

Uninterested is an adjective that means not interested or indifferent: “They seemed uninterested in our offer.”

dough / batter

Dough, a noun, is a thick mixture of flour, liquid, and other ingredients that is usually rolled or shaped into bread and other baked goods.

Batter, a noun, is a thinner mixture than dough and is made of flour and liquid. Batter can be poured into pans to make pancakes, biscuits, and cakes.

Earth / universe

Earth the planet on which we live, is the third planet from the sun in our solar system.

The universe includes everything that exists, including all the planets, the stars, and space.

emigrant / immigrant / migrant

Emigrant is a noun that means one who leaves one's native country to settle in another: “The emigrants spent four weeks aboard ship before landing in Los Angeles.”

Immigrant is a noun that means one who enters and settles in a new country: “Most of the immigrants easily found jobs.”

Migrant is a noun that means one who travels from one region to another, especially in search of work: “The migrants worked in the strawberry fields on the west coast, then traveled east to harvest wheat.”

envy / jealousy

Envy, a noun, is the desire to have something that another person has and the feelings of resentment or unhappiness at the person's having it. For example, you may feel envy when someone you know gets something you've always wanted.

Jealousy, a noun, is like envy but includes suspicion. Jealousy is often associated with competition, especially in love. Sometimes you may be jealous of a brother or sister because you think your parents love him or her more than they love you.

farther / further

Farther is an adjective and adverb that means to or at a more distant point: “We drove 50 miles today; tomorrow, we will travel 100 miles farther.”

Further is an adjective and adverb that means to or at a greater extent or degree: “We won't be able to suggest a solution until we are further along in our evaluation of the problem.” It can also mean in addition or moreover: “They stated further that they would not change the policy.”

few / less

Few is an adjective that means small in number. It is used with countable objects: “This department has few employees.”

Less is an adjective that means small in amount or degree. It is used with objects of indivisible mass: “Which jar holds less water?”

figuratively / literally

Figuratively is an adverb that means metaphorically or symbolically: “Happening upon the shadowy figure, they figuratively jumped out of their shoes.”

Literally is an adverb that means word for word or according to the exact meaning of the words: “I translated the Latin passage literally.”

foreword / forward

Foreword is a noun that means an introductory note or preface: “In my foreword I explained my reasons for writing the book.”

Forward is an adjective or adverb that means toward the front: “I sat in the forward section of the bus. Please step forward when your name is called.” Forward is also a verb that means to send on: “Forward the letter to the customer's new address.”

hanged / hung

Hanged is the past tense and past participle of hang when the meaning is to execute by suspending by the neck: “They hanged the prisoner for treason.” “The convicted killer was hanged at dawn.”

Hung is the past tense and participle of hang when the meaning is to suspend from above with no support from below: “I hung the painting on the wall.” “The painting was hung at a crooked angle.”

information / knowledge

Information, a noun, is a fact or knowledge about a specific event or subject.

Knowledge, a noun, means having information and understanding it through experience.

it's / its

It's is a contraction for it is, whereas its is the possessive form of it: “It's a shame that we cannot talk about its size.”

laid / lain / lay

Laid is the past tense and the past participle of the verb lay and not the past tense of lie.

Lay is the past tense of the verb lie and lain is the past participle: “He laid his books down and lay down on the couch, where he has lain for an hour.”

melody / tune

A melody, which is a noun, is a group of notes in a certain order that results in a sweet or agreeable sound.

A tune, a which is a noun, is an easily remembered melody.

part / portion

Part, a noun, is piece of something that has been divided. When all the pieces are put together, they equal a whole.

A portion, a noun, is a share or part used or given in a specific way.

passport / visa

A passport, which is a noun, is a document, usually a booklet, that states a person's official identity and citizenship and allows that person to visit another country.

A visa, which is a noun, is stamped on a passport. It shows that the passport has been examined by the officials of a country and permits entry into that country.

principal / principle

Principal is a noun that means a person who holds a high position or plays an important role: “The school principal has 20 years of teaching experience. The principals in the negotiations will meet tomorrow at 10 o'clock.” It also means a sum of money on which interest accrues: “The depositors were guaranteed they would not lose their principal.” Principal is also an adjective that means chief or leading: “The necessity of moving to another city was the principal reason I turned down the job offer.”

Principle is a noun that means a rule or standard: “They refused to compromise their principles.”

soap / detergent

Soap, a noun, is a cleansing agent that comes from natural fats and oils.

Detergent, a noun, is a cleansing agent that is usually made from synthetic, or manmade, products.

stationary / stationery

Stationary is an adjective that means fixed or unmoving: “They maneuvered around the stationary barrier in the road.”

Stationery is a noun that means writing materials: “We printed the letters on company stationery.”

Sources +