The English language can be confusing, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be confused. Between homonyms, similarly spelled words, and different words that sound the same, there are many common confusables that trip up both amateur and professional grammarians alike. Take a look through some of our guides on commonly confused word choices to learn the difference between a parkway and a driveway, lay vs. lie, and the word for a mispronounced phrase that takes on a life of its own.
Which Is Correct?
While both of these phrases are often used interchangeably, especially in colloquial speech, only one is the correct version. Read on to find out whether you should be saying “I wish I were there” or “I wish I was there” — as well as when you can use one of these options to denote a past action.
Keep mixing up how you should acknowledge someone at the end of your emails? This guide is definitely for you. While these two phrases seem incredibly similar at face value, they're used for different purposes. Here’s a hint: One is used to address a matter concerning something, while the other is used to convey best wishes. Which is which? You’ll have to read on to find out.
What’s the difference between “insure” and “ensure”? While you can usually guess at their meanings from context clues, these two words are spelled and pronounced so similarly that they can turn your conversations upside down. The next time you need to figure out whether you “insure” or “ensure” safe travels, reference this guide.
If you’re going to take a nap, do you lie down or lay down? “Lay” and “lie” are two of the most confusing words in the English language, mostly because of attempts to use them interchangeably. Find out the difference and some handy facts here.
We’re really getting into the thick of things now — or is it “in to” the thick of things? “Into” and “in to” are two more common confusables. One of the puzzling things about these two is finding what difference is caused by that one small space. Learn a helpful way of deciding which one to use in this guide.
What’s the Difference?
You’ve probably heard these two words used interchangeably to describe someone who is well known for a particular reason. However, there is more than one way to be well known, and not all of them are positive. Read on to find out when to call someone “famous” and when to use “infamous,” along with the difference between these common confusables.
While we know that a road, an avenue, and a boulevard are all paths that we can drive down, it can be confusing to understand their distinctive qualities. For one thing, roads and boulevards are categorized as streets, and avenues are perpendicular to streets. Still confused? We have a few memory tricks in this guide.
Have you ever tried making plans with a friend and gotten grammatically scrambled over the right way to refer to the two of you together? If so, you’re not alone. The difference is found in objective and subjective pronouns. Have we lost you already? Read through to get some clarification and even some helpful memory aids for your next one-on-one get-together.
An indefinite pronoun is what you use when referencing someone (or somebody) that you either do not know or do not want to refer to by name. While it seems like the pronouns “somebody” and “someone” can be used interchangeably depending on your mood (or at least what comes to mind first), one is used in a more formal context. Which should you use in your business emails and which should you use when belting out your favorite song? Read on to find out.
Quick, think of the word “bark”! Did you picture a dog or a tree? Both are plausible, because "bark" is a homonym — a word that has more than one meaning. While homonyms are fun to play around with, their interchangeability also means that they can result in miscommunication.
Have you ever been confused about whether someone is talking about joining the military or penning their first version of the next Great American Novel? Worry no more about figuring out the correct “draft” — reference our round-up of 14 homonyms with multiple meanings.
Have you already mastered the difference between their/there/they’re? Here’s another round of words that sound the same but mean completely different things. Learn the definitions of these words, how to use them in a sentence, and why, although both are correct, there’s a difference between saying your interest has been “piqued” and saying it has “peaked.”
Americanisms and Britishisms
The short answer: Yes, “toward” and “towards” are interchangeable words. However, just taking this answer at face value misses the challenge of finding out why these two words are interchangeable, including the British vs. American drama that led to the two words in the first place.
Although “amongst” has a tendency to seem like a more formal version of “among,” there is little difference between the two words. However, there’s some interesting background on why certain countries prefer one over the other — as well as some helpful advice on how to use both in a sentence.
The words “parkway” and “driveway” seem a little odd, especially since we drive on the parkway and park in a driveway. However, their names make sense once you go down the historical rabbit hole. A parkway is named for the pre-vehicle paths that wound through parks and scenic areas, while a driveway was originally a path that led to a private residence.
This vs. That
Here’s a common confusable that haunts every writer at some point in their lives: the age-old struggle between “affect” and “effect.” What do you say when something has left an impression on you? Is it different from the repercussions of an event or a cause? All will be explained — go ahead, browse this guide, and choose the right effect (or affect) for your next email.
While you use both of these “f-words” to talk about putting or perceiving distance between things, they shouldn’t be used interchangeably — “further” and “farther” have different uses. Here’s a little hint: “Further” is used when talking about an undefined or figurative distance. You might use the words “just a little bit further” to tell a friend that you’re nearly at their house if you don’t know the exact distance, or say you'll “discuss something further” to indicate that there will be additional conversations about a particular topic. When is “farther” used? Well, you’ll have to click through to find out.
Many people defer to a grammar-school rule when deciding whether to use "a" or "an": “An” goes before a word that starts with a vowel, and “a” is used before a word that starts with a consonant. As with most things, however, there are exceptions to the rule. How do you handle the word “university,” for example? Do you attend “a” university or “an” university? Pick up a few new tricks about “a” and “an” in this popular guide.
Both of these words indicate less of something, but they differ in how they specify that amount. If you use the word “fewest,” for example, you are referring to something that you can physically count, such as objects and people in front of you. “Least,” on the other hand, is used with adjectives. Find out more specifics in this guide.
This one goes out to anyone who has ever been confused by how to say someone got what they deserved. Perhaps surprisingly, this common phrase doesn’t have anything to do with either pastries or sandy dunes as far as the eye can see. Instead, it's based on a different definition of “deserts,” which you can find out about in this guide.
Have you heard of an “eggcorn” before? An “eggcorn” is a phrase that has been misheard or mispronounced so many times that the new, incorrect phrase becomes just as commonly used — such as “intents and purposes” being misinterpreted as “intensive purposes.” While some of these eggcorns take on a life of their own through memes and other forms of parody, many are simply due to incorrect interpretation.