Saturday, 6 September 2014

27 Words that shouldn't be confused



They sound the same, are spelt slightly differently, and have completely different meanings.

Here are 27 words that are often confused, but really shouldn't be.


Complement or compliment
Complement is a noun, meaning a thing that completes or brings perfection.
E.g. The fruity port was a perfect complement to the salty cheese.

Compliment is also a noun, meaning a polite expression of praise or admiration.
E.g. When she said she liked his shirt, he was flattered by her compliment.

Complementary or complimentary
Complementary is an adjective, meaning two or more things combining in such a way that they enhance each other.
E.g. The dress was made from two complementary fabrics.

Complimentary is also an adjective, meaning praising or approving. However, it can also mean free of charge.
E.g. The customers said complimentary things about the service they received.
E.g. Buy two steak dinners and receive a complimentary bottle of house wine.

Defuse and diffuse
Defuse is a verb, meaning to remove a fuse from an explosive device, or to remove the danger or tension in a difficult situation.
E.g. When the customer became aggressive, Tom had the skills to defuse the situation.

Diffuse is also a verb, meaning to spread across a wider area or among a large number of people.
E.g. Angling the bulbs helps to diffuse and soften the light.

Dependant or dependent
Dependant is a noun, meaning a person who is reliant, especially financially reliant, on another person or organisation.
E.g. Malcolm's two children were his only dependants.

Dependent is an adjective, meaning a contingent on, or determined by.
E.g. His release was dependent on the bail money being paid.

Discreet or discrete
Discreet is an adjective, usually meaning tactful or cautious, especially with sensitive information.
E.g. He was always discreet with his clients' personal information.

Discrete is a less commonly used adjective, meaning individually separate and distinct. 
E.g. The piece could be split into eight discrete components.

Hoard or horde
To hoard is a verb, meaning to stash, store or stockpile.

E.g. He hoards the money under his mattress.


A horde is a noun and a negative term to describe a large group of people.

E.g. The streets were filled with hordes of rioters.


Ingenious or ingenuous
Ingenious is an adjective, meaning clever, orginal and inventive.
E.g. Dave came up with an ingenious solution to the problem.

Ingenuous is also an adjective, meaning innocent and unsuspecting.
E.g. Children are often ingenuous.

Loath or Loathe
Loath is an adjective meaning unwilling or reluctant.
E.g. He was loath to leave his sunbed in case someone else took it.

Loathe is a verb meaning to feel intense dislike or disgust for.
E.g. We accept him, though we loathe his disgusting habits.

Principal or principle
Prinicpal can be a noun, meaning the most important person in the organisation, or an adjective to describe the first in order of rank, value or importance.
E.g. The school's principal owned a property just outside the country's principal city.

Principle is a noun, meaning a standard, rule or belief.
E.g. They followed the principles of safe working practice.

Stationary or stationery
Stationary is an adjective meaning still or not moving.
E.g. Vehicles in the traffic jam had been stationary for over an hour.

Stationery is a noun, meaning writing and office materials.
E.g. He liked the logo and used it on all his stationery.

There, their or they're
Let's start with the easy ones:
Their means belonging to them.
E.g. Their car had a flat battery.

They're is an abbreviation of they are.
E.g. They're having a party.

And, to make it easy, there can be used anywhere else.
E.g. They're inviting him to their party, but there is a good reason why he won't be there.

Weather or whether
Weather is a noun, meaning the state of the atmosphere at a place or time.
E.g. The weather is cold during the winter months.

Whether is a conjunction expressing a doubt or choice between two alternatives.
E.g. He didn't know whether to go out or stay at home.

Your or you're
Your means belonging to you.
E.g. Your shoelaces are untied.

You're is an abbreviation of you are.
E.g. You're a really good cook.


The English language can sometimes be a minefield. If you would like some help to avoid the pitfalls and take your writing to a new level, I can help.

I am a professional writer and copy-editor with experience of writing for businesses in many different sectors. 

To find out more about me and the value I can add to your business, please visit my website.

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