Confusing Words (Part 1)

Confusing words in English: accept / except, advice / advise, awhile / a while, alot / a lot, allude / elude, complement / compliment, effect / affect, every day / everyday, its / it's, inquire / enquire, license / licence.

1. accept / except

Except, as a verb, means to exclude or leave out. As a preposition it means "with the exception of." Accept means "to receive willingly."

For example: We visited every landmark except the Eiffel Tower. The school is accepting only those students who have had their shots; all others are excepted.

INCORRECT: Please except this gift.

CORRECT: Please accept this gift.

2. advice / advise

Advise is a verb. The s has the sound of "z." Advice is a noun. The c has the sound of "s."

INCORRECT: He refused to take my advise.

CORRECT: He refused to take my advice.

3. awhile / a while

Awhile is an adverb that means "for a while." While is a noun that means "a period of time." A while is a phrase that means "for a period of time." Because awhile means "for a while," to say for awhile is like saying "for for a while.”

INCORRECT: I'll be staying in Paris for awhile.

CORRECT: I'll be staying in Paris for a while.

4. alot / a lot

Despite being used widely, "alot" is not a word. A lot is the correct spelling.

INCORRECT: I like you alot.

CORRECT: I like you a lot.

5. allude / elude

Elude means "to escape," usually by means of swift or clever action. Allude means "to refer to indirectly."

INCORRECT: The writer eluded to the Odyssey.

CORRECT: The writer alluded to the Odyssey.

6. complement / compliment

Complement, most frequently used as a verb, means "to complete." Compliment, used as a verb, means "to make a courteous remark." As a noun, it means "a courteous remark." For example: The illustrations complement the text. She complimented his singing. Sallie has difficulty accepting compliments.

INCORRECT: I want to complement you on your writing style.

CORRECT: I want to compliment you on your writing style.

7. effect / affect

The most common use of effect is as a noun meaning "something produced by a cause." The most common use of affect is as a transitive verb meaning "to act upon." For example: The disease had a lasting effect on the child. The family's lack of money affected his plans.

INCORRECT: His death really effected me.

CORRECT: His death really affected me.

8. every day / everyday

Everyday is an adjective that means "daily." Every day is a phrase that combines the adjective every with the noun day. For example: Walking the dog is an everyday occurrence. I practice the flute every day.

INCORRECT: Dan walks the dog everyday at six p.m.

CORRECT: Dan walks the dog every day at six p.m.

9. its / it's

It's is a contraction that represents two words: it is. Its is a one-word third-person singular possessive adjective, like his. For example: The man lost his hat. The dog wagged its tail. 

INCORRECT: Put the saw back in it's place.

CORRECT: Put the saw back in its place.

10. inquire / enquire

These are two spellings of the same word. Enquire tends to be more common in British usage, while inquire is more common in American usage. The forms inquire and inquiry are the safe choices when no official writing guidelines are being followed.

11. license / licence

license: verb, to grant permission

licence: noun, permission, liberty

In British usage, licence is the spelling of the noun; license is the spelling of the verb. In American usage, both the noun and the verb are spelled license.