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YRC 37: TOP 10 – Words We Mix Up

Writing can be fun. Reading can be enriching. But sometimes, when you are indulging in a good piece of writing, you have to do a double take because you spotted a glaring error. The truth is, even the best writers can get their words mixed up; a simple switch of a letter or omission of quotation marks could lead to a different meaning and a rather horrid typo. But whether you are a reader or a writer, don’t fret — words are a tricky thing to get around and one should be patient in wielding them well. So, after poring (no mix-up here!) over our online research, here are ten of the numerous words we often get mixed up, and some tips on how to match them well.

(1) Stationery vs Stationary
Correct Usage:
“The car was stationary.”
“We went to a stationery shop.”

Switching just the ‘a’ and ‘e’ could imply the vehicle in question was made out of writing materials. While that sounds like a cool thing to drive, it is one of those tricky errors where changing just one letter could lead for an entirely different meaning for the word.
Which One is Which: Remember, there is no ‘a’ in ‘write’. So the word with ‘e’ in it is the one for describing your pack of writing materials.

(2) Diary vs Dairy
Correct Usage:
“She was writing in her diary.”
“Milk is made at a dairy farm.”

A farm containing everybody’s personal recordings may sound like a good idea for a dystopian novel, but not in a writing error. Luckily, while these two words have similar spellings, their pronunciations are different enough to help readers and writers distinguish between them.
Which One is Which: ‘Dairy’ rhymes with ‘daily’, and daily we consume our dairy products like milk and cheese. Also, if you read somebody’s diary without permission, you could ‘die’ (figuratively — who hasn’t been punished by their siblings for peeking into their diaries?). Looking out for rhymes in words can help you remember their meaning better.

(3) Effect vs Affect
Correct Usage:
“The incident had a positive effect on me.”
“The incident affected me positively.”

One is a noun, while the other is a verb. The challenge is, both of them sound similar, so they can get mixed up easily. Their meanings are also similar (they both imply cause or impact), so it is best to have a dictionary on hand when dealing with such words.
Which One is Which: To reiterate the difference between noun and verb, remember ‘special effects’. As ‘special effects’ is already a noun, it could help you place ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ in their respective places. Here, the ‘e’ comes before the ‘a’.

(4) Principal vs Principle
Correct Usage:
“She is the principal of my school.”
“She practises the principle of compassion and diligence.”

Both words sound the same but have very different meanings. If the vital letters are switched, it can lead to a reader thinking that the person leading a school is not really a person, but a concept or a spirit. And that can lead to some confusion.
Which One is Which: Looking at the last two letters of each of these two words can help in remembering which one is which — ‘Al’ can be a principal’s nickname, while ‘Le’ is the first two letters of ‘lesson’. And lessons are where we pick up principles.

(5) Advice vs Advise
Correct Usage:
“He gave me good advice.”
“He advised me on what to do.”

Words like these two is a little trickier to navigate; both have similar meanings and the same pronunciations, which leads to the accidental and all-too-regular misuse of them. Here is one tip to help separate the two when writing — the one with ‘c’ is a noun, while the one with ‘s’ is a verb.
Which One is Which: These two words are very apt in a social service setting if you need help remembering them. The ‘c’ in ‘advice’ can refer to ‘counselor’, while the ‘s’ in ‘advise’ can point to what a counselor does — ‘serve’ those who need a listening ear.

(6) Bear vs Bare
Correct Usage:
“There is a bear under the tree.”
“The tree is bare because all its leaves have dropped off.”
“I can’t bear to see the poor tree like this.”

We added a third sentence to show an example of a word that retains its spelling over different meanings. This word is both a noun and a verb, making it handy in gags and puns. ‘Bear’ refers to both a big hairy creature and a ‘state of tolerance’. ‘Bare’, on the other hand, is an adjective, synonymous to ‘naked’ and ‘empty’.
Which One is Which: Remembering that one of these two words is also the name of an animal can prevent a grammatical mishap. If the third sentence read ‘I can’t bare to see the poor tree like this’, it would sound like the writer wanted to strip to see this unfortunate tree. Likewise, if the second sentence read ‘The tree is bear because all its leaves have dropped off’, that will be one ferocious and hairy tree!

(7) Loose vs Lose
Correct Usage:
“My pants are loose due to the stretched garter.”
“Tripping caused me to lose the race.”

The word ‘loose’ mostly applies to clothing and accessories, meaning the wearable article is no longer tight and thus is unable to fit your body snugly. This is helpful to remember since both words sound the same and share similar meanings (both indicate something moving out of your reach or off you). If one is to switch ‘lose’ with ‘loose’ in the second sentence, does that mean races are wearable now?
Which One is Which: Both words point to ‘something slipping off somebody or out of their grasp’. All it takes is an extra ‘o’ to change the word’s context. So, taking away an ‘o’ from ‘loose’ would cause something to be completely out of one’s reach.

(8) Their vs There
Correct Usage:
Their cat is walking along the fence.”
There is a cat on the fence.”

The first word is a term of ownership for ‘they’, while the second word points to something of focus. This is one of many word pairs where both words sound the same yet have different meanings. So it is always best to check a dictionary or a good piece of writing if you get confused. After all, if one is to say ‘there cat is walking along the fence’, it would sound like bad grammar — any writer’s and reader’s worst nightmare.
Which One is Which: Both of these words end in different letters, something we can use to our advantage. Remembering that ‘I’ is a pronoun just like ‘they’, we can link the word ‘their’ back to the indication of ownership. Likewise, the last two letters of ‘there’ are the first two letters of Redhill — a place. And ‘there’ is a word used to indicate places.

(9) Its vs It’s
Correct Usage:
It’s going to get better soon.”
Its wing is starting to get better.”

Placing an apostrophe in the right place will make the word’s meaning click properly with the rest of the sentence. In this case, ‘it’s’ is the short form of ‘it is’. Apostrophes are used for many things, like connoting ownership and compacting phrases, so one has to be careful in using them.
Which One is Which: Just rephrase the top sentence with the longer form: ‘It is going to get better soon’. If there is an apostrophe after ‘it’, ‘it’ does not belong to something. Wouldn’t ‘It is wing is starting to get better’ sound a little odd if we put an apostrophe in the second sentence?

(10) You’re vs Your
Correct Usage:
You’re a dog owner.”
Your dog is very fluffy.”

This is a very common error in any written work we have encountered, whether it is in the Young Author Scheme or a book from the local regional library. When it comes to words like the last two pairs on this list, apostrophes can either be your best friends or your worst enemies. If the second sentence were to have that fateful apostrophe and then be translated to its full expression, it would say ‘You are dog is very fluffy’ and that would sound weird (and maybe a little rude).
Which One is Which: This is the same case as with ‘it’s’ and ‘its’; apostrophes are used here to shorten an expression. Here, ‘you’re’ is the short form of ‘you are’, while ‘your’ connotes the subject belonging to somebody.

It has been said that lots of reading can help improve your language and writing skills, so keep on reading! And do not be afraid to refer to a dictionary or a thesaurus if you get stuck.

Wednesday,26 October 2016 by | Blog, Top 10 |