Some Common Words (pairs and triplets) that Often Confuse Us

Abhishek Upadhyay
6 min readJan 28, 2019
Confusing English Words — Writers’ Mentor

19 Commonly Confused Words in English

The word “can” is used on many occasions where the actual intention is to use “may”.

When you “can” do something, it means you have the capability to do something, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll do it.

For instance, you “can” jump off a building. But obviously, you won’t!

On the other hand, when you use “may”, it means you are asking for permission. So, if you want to leave a meeting in between, you should say “May I leave the meeting now?” rather than saying “Can I leave the meeting now?”

There is another pair, “Accept” and “Except”. Writers many a time tend to write another spelling while they mean the other. While the meanings of both these terms are fairly clear, I believe the mistake is often a silly one.

Want to know about a few more of such commonly confused words? You have hit the right link! While some of these may be homophones, many are not; read on!

19 of the Most Commonly Confused Words in English

1.There, Their, and They’re

A classic example of a rookie mistake people commit on a regular basis is getting muddled between “there”, “their”, and “they’re”. While these words don’t pose any problem while speaking, people often end up writing one or another of these three when they actually mean to write another variant. To be clear:

“There” should be used for a place. E.g. — The drinks are kept there.

“Their” should be used when you want to show possession or association by someone. E.g. — Their son proved himself to be a great attorney.

“They’re” simply means “they are”. E.g. — They’re planning to have dinner tonight.

Is it really so tough to understand?

2. Bear and Bare

Wow! This is an interesting one.

We all know that bear is an animal. In addition to this, the word “bear” also carries a meaning as a verb that means “to endure”, “to carry”, or “to tolerate”. Let’s see at some examples:

  • I won’t bear the responsibility for your actions.
  • To bear Shawn was becoming a pain.

On the other hand, “bare” is an adjective and a verb that means “minimal, “uncovered”, “naked”, or “to reveal something”.

  • She was forced to work at a bare minimum wage.
  • I had to bare the entire story to the opponents.

Now, a statement that we people often get wrong is “bear with me”. This simply means “be patient with me”. While writing the same sentence, people often write “bare with me” which means “undress with me”.

Quite a serious affair if you ask people to “bare” with you in a meeting!

Here is a sentence with both the terms — Sam fought the bear with his bare hands.

Also read: Bear and Bare — what is the difference?

And please do not confuse it with “beer”. Cheers!

3. Poisonous and Venomous

Both poisonous and venomous are closely related in terms of their meanings. While talking of snakes, we generally refer to them as poisonous or non-poisonous. But this is technically incorrect. Poisonous means containing poison, or being dangerous (of course), but in terms of snakes, the word we need is “venomous”, which means they inject poisons into other beings by biting them.

4. Sell and Sale

Have you ever used the word “sell” when you actually meant “sale”, or vice versa?

While “sell” is a verb that means to sell something — to give out an item in exchange for money or something else, “sale” is a noun that denotes someone is selling something. So, something that someone wants to “sell” is on “sale”.

If you “sell” your house, you have made a “sale”.

5. Infer and Imply

Infer — Verb

Meaning: Deduce or conclude (something) from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements.

Example: These facts are enough to infer that crime is on a rise nowadays.

Imply — Verb.

Meaning: To communicate an idea or feeling without saying it directly.

Example: His statement implies a lack of confidence in the authorities.

6. Good and well

Good — Adjective.

Meaning: Morally excellent or of satisfactory/high in quality, grade, or quantity.

Example: He is a good man.

Well — Adverb.

Meaning: In a good/satisfactory manner.

Example: My job is going well.

7. Lose and Loose

Lose — Verb.

Meaning: To come to be without something through theft, accident, etc, or to fail to retain something.

Example: He may lose his job very soon.

Loose — Adjective.

Meaning: Free or released from a binding or attachment, free from anything that binds or restrains.

Example: This is a loose end of the rope.

8. Ensure and Insure

Ensure — Verb.

Meaning: To make sure.

Example: Ensure all the documents are in place before sending out the mail.

Insure — Verb.

Meaning: To guarantee against harm or loss.

Example: Don’t forget to insure your shop against fire hazards.

9. Empathy and Sympathy

Empathy — Noun

Meaning: The ability to feel, understand, and share the feelings of others as if they were your own.

Example: The warmth of great empathy shown by the opponents kept their hopes alive in humanity.

Sympathy — Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.

Example: We have sympathy for the earthquake victims.

10. Advise and Advice

Advise — Verb

Meaning: To give counseling, offer a suggestion.

Example: I strongly advise you to study harder.

Advice — Noun

Meaning: A suggestion.

Example: Let me give you a piece of advice.

11. Angle and Angel

Angle — Noun

Meaning: A measure of the relationship between two lines, or someone’s perspective/viewpoint.

Example: Think of the scenario from a different angle.

Angle — Noun

Meaning: A celestial being.

Example: Their daughter was an angel to them.

12. Historic and Historical

Historic — Adjective

Meaning: Well-known, important in history.

Example: The final match against their biggest rivals was a historic game for the whole nation.

Historical — Adjective

Meaning: Related to history.

Example: I like reading historical books.

13. Birth and Berth

Birth — Noun/Verb

Meaning: The act of being born, the beginning, descent.

Example: Sam was 15 pounds at birth.

Berth — Noun/Verb

Meaning: Sleeping place in a ship or train, to tie up a ship in a harbor.

Example: I opted for the upper berth to sleep peacefully.

14. Adapt and Adopt

Adapt — Verb

Meaning: Get adjusted/accustomed/suitable to the new condition

Example: Global warming is on the rise, and the birds are not adapting well to the change.

Adopt — Verb

Meaning: To take someone into one’s family as their own, to approve/accept some item or idea.

Example: Since they were childless, the Jonathan family wanted to adopt a child.

15. Complement and Compliment

Complement — Noun/Verb

Meaning: Something that makes perfect or completes something, to complete something.

Example: Awesome food and free drinks complemented my evening yesterday!

Compliment — Noun/Verb

Meaning: An expression of praise, to show kindness or regard, to congratulate.

Example: A compliment from the coach greatly boosted the morale of the team.

16. Eminent and Imminent

Eminent — Adjective

Meaning: Famous, important.

Example: All the panellists were eminent personalities from the banking sector.

Imminent — Adjective

Meaning: Something that is likely to happen soon.

Example: Failure may seem imminent, but you shouldn’t quit trying.

17. Affect/effect

Affect — Verb

Meaning: To cause something.

Example: This peculiar disease mainly affects the kids.

Effect — Noun

Meaning: Result.

Example: Smoking has a hazardous effect on health.

18. Council and Counsel

Council — Noun

Meaning: A group of people selected/chosen to make decisions or give pieces of advice.

Example: The city council has allocated additional funds for the hospital repair.

19. Stationary and Stationery

Stationary — Adjective

Meaning: Not moving or changing, motionless, not intended to be moving.

Example: The population of this state has been stationary over the last 3 years.

Stationery — Noun

Meaning: Commercially manufactured writing material and office supplies.

Example: The salesman wanted to sell off all the unused stationery he had.

Was this article helpful to you? We would like to know about your thoughts in the comments section. Let us know if you have more terms to add to this list.

And this is not even the complete list of the words that cause confusion among English writers! There are a number of other word pairs that are being confused with the other and people are oblivious of the fact that they are actually wrong in using them.

Originally published at



Abhishek Upadhyay

A B2B Content Writer with hands-on experience in various niches. Skilled in writing blog content, website content, SEO content & various marketing collaterals.