commonly misused and confused words

10 commonly misused and confused words

The English language is mind-boggling. There are so many words that either look alike, sound alike, or look and sound alike but have entirely different meanings. When used in the wrong context, editors sometimes refer to these words as ‘literals’ because, if they are literally spelled correctly, they fly under the radar of most spell checkers.

Here is a list (it’s not exhaustive) of ten commonly misused and confused words that will give any pedant a nervous tic.

#1: lose vs. loose

Lose is a verb meaning to misplace, or to come to be without something. Eg. “You’ll lose your keys if you leave them there”; “He wants to lose weight before having surgery.”

Loose is an adjective meaning free or released from attachment, free from restraint, or less tight. “A loose thread”; “The rabbit was loose in the yard”; “His trousers were loose after he’d lost weight.”

#2: weary vs. wary

Weary means tired. “She was weary after a day out with the children.”

Wary means watchful; cautious; alert to danger. “She is wary of strangers”; “I am wary of those who claim to have a miracle cure.”

#3: hone vs. home

Most often used incorrectly in the context “to hone in”.
The correct phrase is “to home in”, meaning to point at, direct towards or highlight. Eg. “The tutor had a tendency to home in on her faults.”

To hone is to sharpen, improve or perfect, as in “She is honing her skills as a dressmaker.”

#4: their, there or they’re?

Oh, dear. Where do I begin? Perhaps this one is best demonstrated by using all three words in a single sentence. “They’re selling their house as there is a strong demand for period homes in their neighbourhood.”

#5: ‘devine’ is not a word

The word you are looking for is divine.  Irregardless is another word in this category, frequently confused with regardless.

#6: quiet vs. quite

Quiet means free or comparatively free from noise. “He found a quiet spot in the woods to rest.”

Quite means to a great or considerable extent. “She was quite boisterous compared to her sister.”

#7: breath vs. breathe

Breath is a noun, meaning the air inhaled and exhaled in expiration. “Her breath was fresh after brushing her teeth.”

Breathe is a verb, meaning to take oxygen into the lungs and expel it. “He breathed heavily after running up the hill.”

#8: could of vs. could have

This is one of my pet peeves. Only the latter is correct. “The cakes were so delicious we could have eaten all of them.”

#9: fewer vs. less

Fewer refers to quantities that can be counted individually, such as items in a shopping basket, while less refers to quantities you can’t count, such as a liquid, which can be measured, but not counted.

“Jenny likes less milk in her tea than David does.”

“Mum bought fewer apples from the market today than she bought last week.”

#10: lay vs. lie

Oh, boy. You may need a mojito after this one. Here goes!

Lay requires an object, as in “Lay the clothes on the bed.”

Lie is something you can do by yourself. The past tense of lie is, confusingly, lay. “I lay down on the grass.” And the past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the clothes on the bed.”

Lay is a transitive verb, which means that it must be used with a direct object. The past tense and the past participle of lay are both laid. “Please lay the clothes on the bed”.

Lie is an intransitive verb, which means it cannot have a direct object. The past tense of lie is lay and the past participle is lain.

“I just want to lie in bed all day”.
“Yesterday I just lay in bed all day.”
“I had lain in bed all day, and knew it was time to get up.”

Don’t let misused and confused words lower the quality of your web content.

Commonly misused and confused words can make your web content look unprofessional. You’ve spent a fortune on web design, now give your content the finishing touch.

A professional web content writer or editor can can add that final coat of gloss to make your website sing. Contact Karen at the Lens and Pen Group today for a friendly, obligation-free chat.


  1. Love this! I was yelling out, ‘Yessss! So freaking true!” Could of and they’re, their and there drive me nuts! If it’s said on the TV or radio, I yell at it saying, “It’s, could have!” Lol
    Great work Karen!

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