Thursday, February 22, 2007

Choosing the Correct Word: Clearing Up Common Confusions

It's easy to confuse words that are similar in sound, spelling, or meaning. But with a bit of review it's also easy to clear up such confusions.
Here you will find some commonly confused words. After studying the definitions and examples in each set, do the short practice exercises that follow. Complete each blank with an appropriate word; then compare your responses with the answers at the bottom of the page.
1. accept, except, expect
Accept is a verb that means "to take in." The preposition except means "other than." The verb expect means to "depend on" or "await."Examples:Everyone except the elves accepted the wage offer. We expect to return to work soon.Practice:(a) Because nobody _____ Shrek would _____ your excuse, I _____ an apology.(b) I _____ you to pay the rent by Friday, and I'll _____ no more excuses.
2. advice, advise
The noun advice means "guidance. The verb advise means to "recommend" or "counsel."Examples:Em's father advised her not to see Sam. She should have followed his advice.Practice:(a) _____ after injury is like medicine after death.(b) I _____ you to mind your own business.
3. affect, effect
Affect is usually a verb meaning "to influence." Effect is usually a noun meaning "result." When used as a verb, effect means "to cause."Examples:Peace is a natural effect of trade. War affects trade in various ways.Practice:(a) Scientists continue to study the _____ of sweeteners on humans.(b) Controversies over sweeteners have not seriously _____ the sales of diet soft drinks.
4. all ready, already
The phrase all ready means "completely prepared." Already is an adverb meaning "previously" or "by this time."Examples:Our bags have already been inspected. We are all ready to board the plane.Practice:(a) The ballplayers have _____ taken batting practice.(b) The players are _____ to start the game.
5. a lot (much, many)
Spell a lot as two words, not one. In formal writing (such as essays and exams), avoid a lot in favor of much or many.Examples:A lot of students finished the exam early. (informal)Many students finished the exam early. (formal)Practice:(a) Professor Legree received _____ of complaints. (informal)(b) Professor Legree received _____ complaints. (formal)
6. amount, number
Use amount to refer to a quantity. Use number to refer to people or things that can be counted.Examples:An enormous amount of energy was exerted by a small number of people.Practice:(a) Expect a certain _____ of madness when you marry someone with pets.(b) A great _____ of pets can drive you mad.
7. beside, besides
Beside is a preposition meaning "next to." Besides is a preposition meaning "except" or "in addition to." As a conjunctive adverb, besides means "also."Examples:Merdine was too proud to sit beside Gus; besides, she preferred to sit outside.Practice:(a) Thoreau lived ____ a pond.(b) Few people _____ his aunt ever visited him.
8. choose, chose, chosen
Choose is an irregular verb, with chose as the past form and chosen as the past-participle form.Examples:Last week I chose my classes for next semester, but I haven't yet chosen a major. It's hard to choose between podiatry and penology.Practice:(a) Fate chooses our relatives, but we _____ our friends.(b) Last year, she _____ to ignore me, but now I have _____ to ignore her.
9. complement, compliment
Complement means "something that completes or brings to perfection." Compliment is an expression of praise.Examples:He said that men and women have strengths that complement each other. She did not take his remark as a compliment.Practice:(a) Last night I _____ Jocko on the fine meal that he had prepared.(b) The fine meal was _____ by the fine service and warm atmosphere.
10. conscience, conscious
The noun conscience means "the sense of what is right and wrong." The adjective Conscious means "being aware" or "deliberate."Examples:Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response. My conscience tells me so.Practice:(a) No pillow is as soft as a clear _____.(b) I am always _____ of my faults.
11. device, devise
The noun device means "a gadget." The verb to devise means "to plan."Examples:Reading is sometimes a clever device for avoiding thought. We need to devise a new way of thinking.Practice:(a) We must _____ a way to rescue Lassie from the well.(b) Maybe a _____ involving pulleys and kittens will work.
12. few (fewer), little (less)
Few and fewer refer to people or objects that can be counted. Little and less refer to a small quantity.Examples:"I'm a woman of few words," Mae West said. I have even less to say than Mae.Practice:(a) I have _____ money than I thought. A _____ bills are missing from my wallet.(b) Now that I'm broke, I have _____ time to argue and _____ friends than before.
13. formally, formerly
The adverb formally means "in a formal way." The adverb formerly means "at an earlier time."Examples:Formerly an art movement, surrealism is no longer distinguishable from everyday life. I have never studied art formally.Practice:(a) This cafe was _____ a swank restaurant.(b) Guests were _____ greeted at the door.
14. have, of
Use have, not of, as a helping verb with could, must, should, would, may, and might. Of is a preposition.Examples:One of the first things that you should have done was call me.Practice:(a) One _____ us made a mistake.(b) It must _____ been you.
15. hoping, hopping
Hoping is the present-participle form of hope ("to wish for"). Hopping is the present-participle form of hop (like a bunny).Examples:Alice was hopping on one foot, hoping that she wouldn't fall.Practice:(a) She saw him _____ along the pier.(b) She was _____ that he wouldn't trip.

16. imply, infer
A speaker implies ("suggests") something; a listener infers (or "deduces").Examples:The manager implied that I was a bad risk. I inferred from her remarks that she thought I was lazy.Practice:(a) The reporter _____ that an employee started the fire.(b) I _____ from the article that the police have a suspect.
17. its, it's
Its is a possessive pronoun. It's is a contraction of "it is."Examples:When it's hot, the dog sleeps in its hiding place under the porch.Practice:(a) Although _____ not yet fall, this tree is already losing _____ leaves.(b) Either _____ dying, or _____ a sign that cold days are coming soon.
18. lay, lie
The verb lay means "to put"; it takes a direct object. The verb lie means "to rest"; it does not take a direct object. Don't confuse the past and past participle forms of these verbs:
LAY (present), laid (past), and laid (past participle)
LIE (present), lay (past), and lain (past participle)Examples:The pumpkin that I had laid on the porch lay there for a month.Practice:(a) The cat always _____ curled up under the table.(b) Don't shout when you _____ your cards down.(c) Linda _____ down for a nap after yoga last night.
19. lead, led
Led is both the past and past-participle form of the verb lead.Examples:We led the game until the eighth inning. Now the Cubs lead.Practice:(a) Your advice will _____ me into trouble.(b) Your advice has _____ me into trouble many times before.
20. loose, lose
The adjective loose means "not tight." The verb lose means "not to win" or "not to keep."Examples:Because your belt is loose, you will probably lose your pants.Practice:(a) The button on my sleeve is _____.(b) If I _____ that button, I'm in trouble.
21. passed, past
Passed is both the past and past-participle form of pass. Past is a noun (meaning "a previous time"), an adjective (meaning "ago"), and a preposition (meaning "beyond").Examples:The past two weeks have been hard for Sally. She has not passed any of her exams. When she walked past me, I told her to forget the past and look toward the future.Practice:(a) We drove _____ the exit five minutes ago.(b) We _____ the exit five minutes ago.(c) In the _____, students wore caps and gowns.(d) In _____ years, students had to do kitchen chores.
22. precede, proceed
Precede means "to come before." Proceed means "to go forward."Examples:Bill Clinton preceded George W. Bush in the White House. Bush proceeded with his plans to increase military spending.Practice:(a) After keeping us for an hour, the guard let us _____.(b) The storms of April _____ the gentle rains of May.
23. principal, principle
As a noun, principal means "administrator" or "sum of money." As an adjective, principal means "most important." The noun principle means "basic truth" or "rule."Examples:According to the Peter Principle, a worker will rise to his or her level of incompetence.Ms. Benson said that boredom was her principal reason for retiring.Practice:(a) Mr. Bill retired as school _____.(b) His _____ ambition now is to tend to his garden.(c) The _____ of gardening is the same as the _____ of teaching: to provide nourishment.
24. quiet, quit, quite
Quiet means "silence." Quit means "to leave." Quite means "very" or "actually."Examples:I was quite tired and wanted a quiet place to nap. I asked the boys to quit playing games.Practice:(a) Henry needed peace and _____.(b) He _____ his job and moved to the woods.(c) Now he is _____ content.
25. than, then
Use than to make a comparison. Use then when referring to time.Examples:The quiz was harder than I had expected. I answered two questions and then got stuck.Practice:(a) I filled out a form and _____ waited in the lobby.(b) I had to wait much longer _____ you did.
26. their, there, they're
Their is the possessive form of they. There is an adverb (meaning "at that place") and a pronoun used to start a sentence. They're is a contraction of they are.Examples:There are three kids in our family. They're all girls. Two of them are sitting over there. Their sister is at home.Practice:(a) _____ are geese in the garden.(b) _____ nibbling the roses.(c) _____ honking can be heard for miles.
27. to, too
The preposition to refers to a place, direction, or position. To is also used before the verb in an infinitive. The adverb too means "also" or "excessively."Examples:Meg was too tired to walk home. I was tired, too. We walked to a phone booth and called a cab.Practice:(a) I have wanted _____ visit Boise for years.(b) I was always been _____ busy _____ go.(c) Next week I am driving _____ Boise, and you may come _____.
28. which, who
The pronoun who refers to people; which refers to things.Examples:The man who just left drives a Pacer, which once was called "the car of the future."Practice:(a) Nan's book, _____ was published in May, is now a bestseller. (b) A writer is a lucky person _____ has found a way to talk without being interrupted.
29. whose, who's
Whose is the possessive form of who. Who's is the contraction of who is.Examples:Whose turn is it to drive? Who's driving tomorrow?Practice:(a) _____ car was damaged?(b) _____ going to pay for repairs?
30. you're, your
Your is the possessive form of you. You're is the contraction of you are.Examples:You're responsible for your own behavior.Practice:(a) _____ car is blocking mine.(b) _____ going to have to move your car.

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