Accept or except? 10 commonly mistaken words in English

commonly mistaken words
You might get a good laugh when saying these commonly mistaken words in English, but knowing these phrases can help adapt to your life as an international student. Source: AFP

What’s the difference between effect and affect?

Ask a non-native English speaker, and chances are, they’ll struggle to pick out the commonly mistaken words in English. 

But it’s not surprising — English is one of the most difficult languages to learn due to its many grammar rules and complexities.

Worse, about 80% of English is borrowed from as many as 350 languages around the world. 

Add the fact that the language is a melting pot of diverse influences, and it’s easy to make mistakes if you’re not used to speaking the language.

Perhaps that’s why you tend to hear English words that sound the same with completely different meanings. Here are a few examples: 

  • “lie” vs “lay”
  • “there” and “their”
  • “irreverent” and “irrelevant”

Why is it important for you to know the commonly mistaken words in English?

In a new country, there’s no better to adapt to your new environment than mastering one of the most spoken languages across the globe.

If you do make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. 

Taka Moriuchi, the lead vocalist of Japanese band One Ok Rock, know this well as he talked about the band’s struggles of breaking into the American market in an interview with Upset.

 “It’s hard because the US is the US, so we jump into a different culture, different country, different languages,” he says. 

“We have to understand each other, and then after that shake hands, eye to eye, and talk about our countries and cultures.”

Knowing when not to say the commonly mistaken words can also be important when you’re working on big projects.

Hear it from Chu Xu and Robin Sharma, who curated curriculum guides for teachers to use the Assassin’s Creed’s Discovery Tour series when they were working at McGill’s Technology, Learning, and Cognition Lab (TLC). 

“Robin and I are international students. English is not our first language,” Xu told Study International in an email interview.

 “However, our lab colleagues tremendously supported us by reviewing and editing the original draft.”

So, are you eager to know the commonly mistaken words in English? We’ll break down a few examples. 

commonly mistaken words

“Lie” and “lay” are one of many commonly mistaken words in English. Source: AFP

10 commonly mistaken words that are making you look silly

1. Accept and except

These two words sound similar but have very different meanings. 

 “Accept” means to receive something willingly or agree to something. 

Sentence example: “He accepted the job offer.” or Sara accepted his boyfriend’s explanation.”

“Except”, on the other hand, is used to exclude or leave out.

Sentence example: “Everyone is coming to the party except John.”

To help you remember, take note that both “except” and exclusion begin with ex.

2. Affect and effect

“Affect’ and “effect” can be used as a noun as well as a verb.

When it comes to verbs, “affect” means to influence something or someone while “effect” means to accomplish something.

Sentence example: “The new government policies will affect the economy, but their ultimate goal is to effect positive change in the long run.”

As a noun, an “effect” is the result of something and “affect” refers to a person’s emotional state.

Sentence example: “The unexpected resignation of the company’s CEO had a profound effect on the stock price, and it also seemed to affect the employees’ morale.” 

commonly mistaken words

Serbia’s Marija Vucenovic lies down to cool herself while competing in the women’s javelin throw Group B during the World Athletics Championships. Source: AFP

3. Lie and lay

We all know “lie” means telling something untrue. But many get mixed up when trying to tell the difference between “lie” and “lay.”

“Lie” and “lay” are often confused because they both relate to the act of placing something down, but they are used differently in sentences.

“Lie” means to recline or be in a horizontal position on a surface. It does not require an object.

Sentence example: “I lie down on the couch when I’m tired.”

 “Lay” means to put or place something or someone down, typically with an object.

Sentence example: “I lay the book on the table.”

To remember the difference, keep in mind that “lie” is an action you perform on yourself (you lie down), while “lay” is an action you perform on something else (you lay the book on the table).

4. Bring and take

“Bring” and “take” are often confused because they both involve the movement of objects from one location to another.

However, they are used differently based on the perspective of the speaker and the direction of the movement:

“Bring” is used when the action is directed toward the location of the speaker.

It indicates that something is being moved closer to the speaker’s current location.

Sentence example: “Please bring the document to my office.”

“Take” is used when the action is directed away from the location of the speaker. It indicates that something is being moved away from the speaker’s current location.

Sentence example: “Take the backpack to school.”

commonly mistaken words

Some Formula One teams might ask their drivers to stay out on track to if they think drivers can further extend the life of their tyres in a stint. Source: AFP

5. Farther and further

“Farther” and “further” are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle distinction between them in some contexts.

“Farther” primarily refers to physical distance or measurable extent in space.

Sentence example: “The mountains are farther away than I thought.”

On the other hand, “Further” can refer to both physical distance and figurative extent, such as additional progress, advancement, or development. It is more versatile and can be used in non-physical contexts.

Sentence example (physical): “We need to walk further to reach the campsite.”

6. Comprise and compose

“Comprise” and “compose” are two words used to describe the relationship between parts and the whole, but they are used differently.

“Comprise” means to include or contain all the parts, elements, or members that make up the whole. It is used to indicate what the whole consists of.

Sentence example: “A soccer game comprises two halves.”

“Compose” means to make up or form the individual parts or elements of something. It refers to the act of creating or constituting the whole.

Sentence example: “The 50 states compose the United States.”

commonly mistaken words

In a rural part of town, there might be fewer taxis in the area. Source: AFP

7. Fewer and less

 “Fewer” and “less” are both used to indicate a smaller quantity, but they are used differently based on whether you are referring to countable or uncountable nouns:

“Fewer” is used with countable nouns, which are things that can be individually counted as separate units.

Sentence example: “There are fewer apples in the basket today.”

“Less” is used with uncountable nouns, which are things that cannot be easily counted as separate units but are measured as a whole.

Sentence example: “She has less time to complete the task.”

8. There and their

People often confuse these two sound-alikes. While both words are pronounced similarly, they don’t have the same meaning.

“There” is an adverb that indicates a place or location. It is often used to point to a specific place or to introduce the existence or occurrence of something.

Sentence example: “The keys are over there, on the table.” 

Their” is a possessive determiner used to indicate that something belongs to or is associated with a group of people, animals, or things.

Sentence example: “The students brought their textbooks to class.”

commonly mistaken words

Someone could have an irreverent sense of humour, but could also always be counted on for sage advice. Source: AFP

9. Irreverent and irrelevant

 “Irreverent” refers to a lack of respect or seriousness, especially in a context where respect or seriousness is expected or appropriate.

Sentence example: “His irreverent jokes during the funeral offended many mourners.”

“Irrelevant” means not related to or not connected with the matter at hand, having no bearing on the current situation or discussion.

Sentence example: “His comments about his favourite movie were irrelevant to the discussion about climate change.”

10. Irony and coincidence

“Irony” is a figure of speech where there is a discrepancy between what is said or expected and what actually happens.

Sentence example: “The firefighter’s house burned down.”

In this example, the irony lies in the fact that someone whose job is to fight fires has their own house catch fire.

“Coincidence” refers to the occurrence of events that happen by chance and appear to be related or connected but are not necessarily caused by each other. 

Sentence example: “Running into my childhood friend at the airport was a coincidence.”