Commonly Misused Words in English

by Carol Lee
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The English language is a complex and ever-evolving entity, filled with a myriad of words that can often leave even the most seasoned language users baffled. Misusing words and phrases is a common pitfall, whether you’re a native English speaker or someone learning English as a second language. These linguistic missteps can lead to miscommunication and, in some cases, change the entire meaning of your intended message. In this blog, we will explore some of the most frequently misused words and phrases in English. More importantly, we will provide insights and practical tips on how to improve your language skills and navigate this linguistic labyrinth effectively.  

Accept vs. Except
The definition of the verb “accept” is “to readily receive or take something that is offered; to express approval or recognition.”
Here are some examples:
-The company’s policy is to accept returns within 30 days of purchase.
-I gladly accept your invitation to the party.

When anything is being excluded or when something is an exception to a claim, the word “except” is used. For illustration:
-I enjoy all fruits except for durian, which I find too pungent.
-All of the items were accounted for except for the missing key.

Affect vs. Effect
Affect” generally refers to something that has an effect on or changes. “Affect” is the word you use to describe influencing someone or something.
Here are some examples:
-The new tax policy may affect small businesses differently than larger corporations.
-The decision to raise interest rates can affect the housing market and borrowing costs.

The word “effect,” which is most often employed as a noun, refers to a change that happens as a result of an action or other cause. When referring to an outcome, you will use the word “effect“.

Here are some examples:
-The environmental effects of deforestation are a cause for concern.
-The policy changes had a significant effect on the company’s profitability.

Former vs. Latter
Former” and “latter” refer to the position of two objects. The words “former” and “latter” relate to the first and second items, respectively. It’s vital to note that you are only permitted to use these terms while speaking about no more than two topics.

Here are some examples:
-The first part of the book was slow, but the latter half was filled with action and intrigue.
-The former classmates were reunited at their high school reunion after many years.

Than vs. Then 
The adverb “than” is used to compare things. This term comes after other, rather, less, and more. Here are some sentences where the word “than” has been used:
-She is taller than her younger sister.
-My dog is more energetic in the morning than in the evening.

When discussing time, the word “then” is often used as an adverb or adjective. The following instances also call for the usage of “then“:
As a point in time
Example: I ate too many chips then.
What happens next
Example: Mix the dry ingredients, and then add the wet ingredients.
As another way to say “also”
Example: Melvin asked me to fix his laptop and then his TV.

That vs. Which
When a sentence contains a limiting clause—a clause that cannot be eliminated from the sentence without altering its intended meaning—you should use the word “that.”

Our car that uses hybrid technology has excellent safety ratings. The highlighted term in this instance would modify the meaning of the sentence because not all cars have outstanding safety ratings. Please also note that our restricted phrase is not separated by commas because restrictive clauses do not need to be separated by commas.
When your sentence contains a nonrestrictive clause—one that can be omitted from the sentence without changing its intended meaning—you should use “which.” Simply said, this phrase provides further details to support your sentence.

My car, which is in the garage, is new.
You can see that our sentence would still make sense if the highlighted part of the previous sentence were to be removed. Our phrase would still make sense if we just said, “My car is new,” but you wouldn’t be aware that the vehicle was parked in a garage.

Their vs. There vs. They’re 
When indicating ownership, the word “their” is used. Some instances are as follows:
-The astronauts trained rigorously for their upcoming mission to space.
-The neighbors decided to have a picnic in their backyard to enjoy the sunny weather.

When anything is mentioned, the word “there” denotes its presence or position. Here are a few instances:
-She left her keys on the table over there.
There is a beautiful park near our house, perfect for a leisurely stroll.

They are” is written as “they’re,” which is a contraction. Here are a few instances:
They’re excited about the job offer and the opportunity it brings.
-It’s hard to believe they’re already in their final year of college.

The English language can be a treacherous terrain to navigate, with countless words that are easily confused. However, with a bit of awareness, practice, and attention to detail, you can significantly improve your language skills. Understanding the differences between commonly misused words is just the beginning. To enhance your proficiency in English, read extensively, seek feedback, and practice regularly. Remember that language is a living entity, always evolving, and even native speakers continue to learn.
By making a conscious effort to improve your language skills, you’ll not only communicate more effectively but also gain confidence in expressing yourself in this versatile and fascinating language. So, take the initiative, embrace the intricacies of the English language, and let your words flow with precision and grace.

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