Basics of writingConfusing words

Commonly confused words

From Rick:

Scott and I have done a number of blogs in the past on words that writers commonly confuse or misuse.

A few weeks ago, one of our blog readers sent me a link to a blog he’d done on the topic and asked if I’d be interested in sharing it.

I’ve been contacted in the past by bloggers (and some who masqueraded as bloggers) who wanted to know if I’d be interested in a guest post from them. Most of them were simply looking to use my blog to advertise their services. One was for a site that sold term papers to students. I didn’t discover this right away because they didn’t send me a link at first, but as soon as I realized what they were selling, I promptly declined.

We’re not against advertising other services here, but there needs to be something in it for our readers, more than promoting services. When Reedsy approached me, I saw that while they offer services, they are devote to helping writers, more as a clearing house of vetted services rather than questionable things (like selling term papers). In addition, Reedsy provides good and valuable information for writers. It’s not one-sided.

Of course, I’m always glad to promote books by friends.

This most recent request with a link on commonly confused words is a good one. The site, Art of Blog, is aimed at helping bloggers and, like Reedsy, it points bloggers toward useful services and WordPress templates they may wish to explore for use. In that regard, it’s a soft sell site and again it’s two sided. Rest assured that we will never post links to any site that sells products of questionable value (like the term papers site). Here’s the link to their Grammar Cheatsheet on commonly confused words.


If I had one criticism of this list, it would be that it’s not in alphabetical order (which would make it easier to use as a reference), but aside from that, it’s a well-researched and well-put-together resource.

To supplement this resource, I’m providing two other links to lists of commonly confused words. As one might expect, there is some overlap.


A couple of notes on this one—

(1) “alright” is used in UK English and is becoming more acceptable in the US, but “all right” is still preferred in the US, and until that chanes, stick with the two-word version “all right.”

(2) “different than” has typically been proclaimed as completely incorrect usage. It’s incorrect when a noun or noun phrase follows. Note the following correct uses:

His expectations are different from mine.

Are organic foods different from non-organic ones?


College turned to be a lot harder than he expected it would be.

Using “from” here would create a stupid-sounding sentence. A purist would claim that the sentence is awkward as is and should be written differently:

College turned out to be a lot harder from what he expected it would be.

But that’s rather formal speech, and we don’t always talk so formally. Nevertheless, the next time someone criticizes you (or an editor tries to change your wording) for using “different than” in a proper context, you have a good argument that “different than” is not always incorrect usage.

(3) “that/which” is no longer as rigid as it once was. In general, in the US “that” is used for restrictive clauses and “which” for nonrestrictive ones, but in the UK the two are less rigid in their use:

The red sports car that Kevin was driving blew me away.
(A restrictive clause narrows the description. In this case, it singles out the particular red sports car that Kevin was driving. There may be other red sports cars around being driving by others. “Restrictive” means is restricts the definition.)

The red sports car, which Kevin was driving, blew me away. (A nonrestrictive clause merely provides additional information about the car and doesn’t identify a specific one. There is only one red sports car here and Kevin happened to be driving it.)

(4) “try and” is likewise becoming more acceptable, but most of the time, “try to” is still the better choice of wording (and it’s my choice for usage).

Here’s a good video link that I particularly like from Merriam-Webster that explains the differences.


Here’s one more good link on confused words:


I see a number of writers using “pour over” instead “pore over” (meaning to study), and I see a surprising number of cases of “site” where they mean “sight” (as in “see”). If I were to guess a reason that the latter has become more prevalent it’s because “site” now refers to Internet sites where previously “site” only referred to a place.

And make sure you know the differences between “suit/suite” and “cue/queue.”

As writers let’s not forget that we need to be conscious of how our characters would speak. Would a particular character speak formally or informally? If your character is the informal sort, then don’t have him or her speaking out of character. If your character wouldn’t use proper grammar, then keep him or her in character.