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Freelance Writing – What a Difference a Vowel Makes

vowelswordleBy Allison VanNest of Grammarly.com

Homophones—words that sound the same but are spelled differently—can be a tricky mistress. Here are ten easily confused word pairs that are separated by only a single letter:

Then vs. Than—These are two of the most frequently goofed words on this list. Then indicates time, either as a sequence of events or a reference to the past. Than is used to show comparison.

  • First we’ll open presents, and then we’ll eat.
  • I have more than enough ice cream and cake for the party.

Affect vs. Effect—The easy way to remember the difference between these words is that affect is usually a verb while effect is usually a noun.

  • The weather affects our moods in a number of ways.
  • Her complicated plan to scare her brother did not have the desired effect.

Allusion vs. Illusion—An allusion is a reference to a work of literature, film, etc. An illusion is a trick or mirage.

  • Judd Apatow’s movies contain many allusions to other films.
  • They’re not magic tricks; they’re illusions!

Capital vs. Capitol—Capital can refer to the seat of a government, wealth in the form of money or property, or an uppercase letter. Capitol, however, only refers to the building where the legislature meets.

  • Always use a capital letter at the start of a sentence.
  • The school group took a tour of the Capitol building.

Lose vs. Loose—We’re going to chalk this error up to careless typing. Lose is the present tense of lost, while loose means baggy or unfastened.

  • The local sports team always seems to lose their away games.
  • His hammer pants were so loose they fell off during lunch.

Precede vs. Proceed—To precede is to come before, but to proceed means to go ahead. The words both indicate forward movement, so always double check that you’re using the correct one for the meaning you want to achieve.

  • George H.W. Bush preceded Barack Obama in the White House.
  • We proceeded toward Las Vegas at top speed.

Principle vs. Principal—Even though we’ve been told that the “principal is our pal,” these pair of words is still tricky. Take an extra second to make sure that you typed the correct one!

  • Mrs. Elkins has strong moral principles.
  • That’s why she’s such an excellent elementary school principal.

Stationary vs. Stationery—Although these two words look and sound almost identical, their meanings are totally unrelated. Stationary describes something that is motionless, while stationery indicates writing materials.

  • Marvin did twenty minutes on the stationary bike every morning.
  • She stocked up on thank-you notes and other stationery before her wedding.

Led vs. Lead—This is another mistake that’s typically due to a typing error. The confusing part is that while led is the past tense form of the verb lead, lead can also refer to the toxic metal.

  • The hostess led the couple to their table.
  • The toys were recalled due to the presence of lead paint.

Imminent vs. Immanent—We admit that this one had us scratching our heads, too. Imminent is the more common word, and it describes something that’s about to happen. Immanent means “to dwell within” and is usually used in a spiritual sense. Neither of them should be confused with the very similar sounding word eminent, which means prominent or outstanding.

  • A fall was imminent as she balanced precariously on the stepladder.
  • Some people believe that the spirit of nature is immanent in all things.

While conventional spell check programs have gotten better at detecting contextual spelling errors—a mistake when a typo results in a word that is spelled correctly but not the one you meant to type—Grammarly catches more of these and other grammar goofs in your writing.

Do any of these word pairs give you grief? Commiserate in the comments!

About the Author: A self-proclaimed word nerd, Allison VanNest works with Grammarly to help perfect written English. Connect with Allie, the Grammarly team, and more than ONE MILLION Grammarly Facebook fans at www.facebook.com/grammarly.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • jorgekafkazar

    “Breath” and “breathe” are often mixed up. “Insure” is increasingly used to denote financial risk underwriting; “ensure” more often means to expedite or make something certain. “Assure” is often (wrongly imho) used to mean “ensure,” instead of to give someone else a feeling of certainty that something will happen. Emigrate (to leave a country) and immigrate (to enter a country) are sometimes mixed up; each is intended to mean a permanent move.

  • Allison:

    Good tips! let me add a couple.

    To your last example, “eminent” means distinguished or well-respected.

    And of course, a there’s big difference between a young lad and a young lady 🙂

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