“Our affinity for language makes us human. We are never better than when we use words clearly, eloquently, and civilly.”  David W. Orr

Easily Confused Words – Part 2

Among, Between: The traditional rule requires between to be used only for sentences involving two items and among for sentences involving more than two, as in the following:

            He sat between his new bride and his mother-in-law.

            The bridal bouquet landed on the floor among all the single girls.

However, Jan Vanolia, in Write Right, suggests that if followed too stringently it could lead to the absurdity of “She traveled among Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque.”  She suggests using between when individual relationships are emphasized and the number is unspecified (he appeared between acts) and use among with unspecified numbers if individual relationships are not emphasized (discontent among the employees.) (p. 129).

I, Me, Myself:  I is in the subjective case and should be used when it is the subject of the sentence. Me is in the objective case and should be used when it is the object of the action or thought conveyed by the verb or the object of a preposition.

My sister and I went shopping at Target with our mother. (subject)

Mom was looking for Easter dresses and shoes for my sister and me. (object of preposition “for”)

Myself  is used for emphasis (“I, myself, will accomplish that task.”) Or as a reflexive (I hurt myself  falling down the steps.) Never use myself as a substitute for I or me.

            Wrong: The money was given to my partner and myself.

Right:  The money was given to my partner and me.

Loose, Lose: Loose is an adjective meaning unrestrained or not fastened. Lose is a verb that is the opposite of win and find. I think most people know the difference between these words in speech, but they often use the incorrect spelling in their writing.

            If I don’t sew up the hole in my pocket, I will lose all of my loose change.

Principal, Principle: Principal can be an adjective or a noun. As an adjective, it refers to one who is first or foremost in importance, rank or worth, as the principal dancer in the ballet or the principal character in a film. As a noun, it’s the person who holds a high position, especially the head of an elementary or high school; the main participants in a business deal; an actor in a starring role; or a sum of money owed as a debt.

            One of the principal characters in Gone with the Wind is Scarlett O’Hara. (adjective)

The students who were involved in the prank had to speak to the principal.. (noun)

Principle is a noun that refers to a basic truth or statement, especially a system of beliefs or ideals. (The Senator swore to uphold the principles of democracy.) It may also refer to a rule or standard, especially of good behavior. (The Eagle Scout was a young man of principle.) Or it could be a statement describing the functioning of natural phenomena or mechanical processes, such as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which says “it is impossible to measure both the speed and position of an object at the same time.”

There, There’s, Their, They’re:  These four words are frequently misused or misspelled on signs, online in posts or in texts. There can be an adverb (in or at that place—over there) or an adjective when used for emphasis (those men there can tell you). Their is a possessive adjective (their furniture). They’re is a contraction of they + are (they’re going home).

There’s is a contraction of there + is and is often misused with plural nouns:

Wrong: There’s three reasons.

Right: There are three reasons






To, Too, Two:  These three words are also often misused in writing, both in articles or in online content.

To is a preposition indicating action toward a person, place, or thing (drove to the city). It can also be an adverb used as a function word indicating direction toward (feathers wrong end to) or (run to and fro).

Too is an adverb meaning also (take the flowers too) or excessive (the house was too big for us).  It can also mean very, as in I don’t think she was too interested in the play.

Two is an adjective meaning one more than one in number.  She had two cookies and a piece of candy.

A patron, seeing the sign on the left, asked them to fix the typo. The new version is on the right. I would like to see a period after “cook” and an exclamation mark at the end of the text, but that’s probably asking too much!


More confusing and misused words will appear in “Easily Confused Words-Part Three.”


Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries. 100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016.

Venolia, Jan. Write Right! A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar, and Style. 4th Edition. Berkley: Ten Speed Press, 2001.


Karen Schuster, May 26, 2020


#spelling, #editing, #Eagle-Eye-Editing, #confusingwords, #usage, #grammar, #wordusage


Easily Confused Words – Part 1

“The slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

–George Orwell

            During my 25 years of reading and correcting papers and reports for students and adults, I have come across many different spelling and usage errors. Some have made me smile and some have made me groan and shake my head. Here is a small sample of the words I have seen confused or substituted the most often. Some of my own spelling and usage demons are included in this list too.

Advice, Advise:  The noun advice means a suggestion or opinion regarding a course of action. Advise is a verb meaning to give advice, and the person who does this is an advisor or adviser (both are correct).

  • My college advisor gave me some great advice. He advised me to take a variety of courses before declaring a major.

Affect, Effect:  Affect is usually used as a verb meaning to influence or to have an effect on. (1) The noun effect means results or consequences. (2) The verb effect means to bring about.

  • The coronavirus affected all of our lives and had a dramatic effect on schools, hospitals, and businesses. (1)
  • When life returns to normal, businesses hope to effect changes in their operations. (2)

Al and All words:  Some one-word and two-word forms vary according to the meaning:

  • The ham is almost done; you are all most welcome to join us for dinner.
  • By the time we were all ready to leave, the taxi was already here.
  • We were not altogether happy about being all together at the camp.

The last two are frequently misused:

  • All right is correct, meaning entirely right or adequate, but alright is not a word.
  • A lot is correct but alot is not a word.

Capital, Capitol:  Capital and capitol are often confused because they refer to things that are related. A town or city that is the seat of government is the capital but the building in which a legislative body meets is the capitol.

  • Capital also refers to wealth, an uppercase letter, and something first rate or excellent, as in a capital idea.
  • The Capitol building which houses the U.S. Congress is always capitalized.

Complement, Compliment:  While distinct in meaning, they are often confused because they are pronounced the same and almost spelled the same. Complement is both a verb and a noun, meaning to complete a whole or satisfy a need. Compliment is also a verb and a noun meaning praise.

  • “The antique silver was a complement to the beautifully set table.” (noun) (Am. Heritage)
  • “The neutral color of the paint complements the beauty of the oak floors.” (verb) (Am. Heritage)
  • The bride paid her friend a compliment on the exquisitely wrapped gift.
  • The guests complimented the bride’s parents on the delicious dinner.

Fewer, Less:  Fewer is used with individual items that can be counted (fewer potatoes) and less is used for quantity or when the item is regarded as a single entity (less oatmeal).

  • “The fewer mistakes you make, the less embarrassment you will feel.” (Venolia)

Irregardless: This is a redundancy and is not considered standard English.  Use regardless and you won’t get into trouble with the Grammar Police.

Its, It’s:  Its is the possessive pronoun and it’s is a contraction meaning it is or it has.

  • “The apostrophe has a life of its own.” (Venolia)
  • It’s easy to put the apostrophe in its place.” (Venolia)

Lay, LieLay means to place or put down while lie means to recline. 


More confusing and misused words will appear in “Easily Confused Words-Part Two.”



Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries. 100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016.

Venolia, Jan. Write Right! A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar, and Style. 4th Edition. Berkley: Ten Speed Press, 2001.


Karen Schuster, April 19, 2020