When two words sound exactly or essentially the same, it can be difficult to remember which one is the correct spelling for your intended meaning. Here are a few commonly confused pairs, and some hopefully-useful little tricks for remembering which is witch which.
- Dessert versus Desert: One of these is much tastier than the other. The trick: dessert is the one you want two helpings of.
Incorrect: I hope they still serve desert at that hotel in the dessert.
Correct: I hope they still serve dessert at that hotel in the desert.
- Your versus You’re: “Your” is a possessive, and “you’re” is a contraction for “you are.” The trick is to try saying your sentence with “you are” in place of each instance, to see if you’ve used each one correctly. If “you are” doesn’t make sense, then it should be “your.”
Incorrect: Make you’re choice once your sure.
Correct: Make your choice once you’re sure.
- Effect versus Affect: Affect is a verb and effect is a noun. So something can affect something else, causing an effect. Two tricks for this one: 1. remember that affect is an action (verb), both starting with a, or 2. the thing that affects something comes before the effect it causes, just as a comes before e in the alphabet.
Incorrect: The weather will not effect the outcome of the game.
Correct: The weather will not affect the outcome of the game.
- Stationary versus Stationery: The first means still or not moving, while the second refers to office or paper supplies. Trick: envelopes are stationery (although they’re also often stationary, so, careful there… ;-)).
Incorrect: He stood stationery in the stationery store.
Correct: He stood stationary in the stationery store.
- Accept versus Except: To accept something means to say yes to it, or receive it, or to realize that it is true. Except means, generally, not including. Remember it with this trick: except involves an exclusion.
Incorrect: I except that you like everyone accept me.
Correct: I accept that you like everyone except me.
- Who’s versus Whose: “who’s” is a contraction for “who is” or “who has.” “Whose” is the possessive form of “who.” The trick, once again, is to use “who is” or “who has” in your sentence, and if that makes sense, then the contraction would be correct.
Incorrect: Who’s shoe is this? If we find whose missing one, we can return it.
Correct: Whose shoe is this? If we find who’s missing one, we can return it.
- Its versus It’s: Yikes, this one. What makes this one extra-difficult is that it involves an exception to a rule. So even if you think you know what you’re doing, you have to remember which way they decided to change things up. “It’s” is a contraction for “it is,” while “its” is the possessive for a gender-neutral object. Normally, both of those would involve using an apostrophe+s, so someone decided they had to be different to keep it from being confusing (nice try). The best trick I’ve ever been able to think of is just to not use “it’s” when you mean “it is” or “it has.” Use the longer form, and if the two words don’t make sense in your sentence, then it should be “its.”
Incorrect: Its clear that the monster has made up it’s mind.
Correct: It’s clear that the monster has made up its mind.
- Loose versus Lose: OK, this one doesn’t really fit the category because they don’t sound alike, but they do get mixed up a lot, so I’m slipping this one in. Loose means not tight, and lose means not won or not kept. The trick is in knowing how the two different spellings are pronounced: if you know that moose is spelled like loose, you’ll be all set.
Incorrect: Don’t loose sight of the moose, or it may get lose.
Correct: Don’t lose sight of the moose, or it may get loose.
I know there are more; what have I missed? Which are the sound-alike errors that you see most often? Do you have any other tricks for managing the ones I’ve mentioned? Share with us in the comments please!