Commonly Confused English Words

It’s been a while since we’ve posted an English grammar blog, so here is another on commonly confused English words. We also recommend you read the previous grammar blogs, Cool Writing Tips, Commonly Confused Word Pairs, and Desert or Dessert? More Commonly Confused Word Pairs.

When revising the draft of your book, it helps to know some of the grammar basics, and this knowledge can also save you editing fees. (If you’d like to find out how to save on editing fees with some simple formatting tips, we invite you to download our concise, to the point guide, How to Format your MS for Editing and Save.)

Commonly Confused English Words

Signposts showing confusion and a blue sky

Commonly Confused English Words

Perspective and Prospective

Perspective is a noun that deals with sight or view, including point of view. Some synonyms are ‘viewpoint’, ‘standpoint’, ‘perception’.

Example: From your perspective, there’s nothing to worry about but I’m the one who’ll cop it if anything goes wrong.

Prospective is an adjective relating to the future. Some synonyms are ‘potential’, ‘future’, ‘likely’.

Example: The prospective employee was called back for a second interview.

Since and Because

Since refers to time.

Example: Since I quit drinking, I’ve married and had two children.

Because refers to causation.

Example: Because I quit drinking, I no longer wake up with a hangover.

Stationery and Stationary

Stationery is a noun referring to writing materials such as papers, pens and notebooks.

Example: He bought his kids’ stationery for the school year at the local newsagent.

Stationary is an adjective that means not moving.

Example: The car was stationary while it waited at the level crossing for the train to pass.

Subject and Verb Agreement (and possessive pronoun agreement)

This grammar rule may seem counter-intuitive given that in English, many nouns become plural with the addition of ‘s’ (e.g. snail, snails).

With verbs, on the other hand, most plural subjects – such as ‘we’, ‘they’, ‘John and Mary’ – take verbs without an ‘s’.

Example: They type letters but She types letters

With possessive pronoun agreement, you add a possessive element to these sentences.

Example: She types on her computer, and They type on their computers.

Their, They’re and There

Their is a possessive pronoun.

Example: The students turned in their papers.

They’re is a contraction for ‘they are’. A contraction is when two words are contracted or joined together by dropping a letter (or more than one letter) and replacing the missing letter/s with an apostrophe.

Example: I thought Jen and Steve were coming but they’re (they are) studying all day.

There is an adverb of place (it has parts of speech other than as an adverb, but this is what we’ll cover here).

Example: I can’t see the baby anywhere…oh, she’s over there under the sofa.

Then and Than

To distinguish between these two words, think ‘then’ when discussing time, and use ‘than’ when comparing one thing (or person) to another thing (or person).

Example: We had a meeting and then we went to lunch.

Example: This meeting was more productive than the last one.

We’re and Were

We’re is a contraction (see above) of ‘we are’.

Example: Today, we’re (we are) going to learn about English grammar.

Were is the plural past tense of the verb ‘to be’.

Example: We were going to attend the party but we changed our minds.

Whether and If

Whether expresses a situation where there are two or more alternatives.

Example: Whether I go on that overseas trip or stay home depends on finding someone to look after the dog.

If implies a condition where no alternatives are expressed.

Example: If I find someone to look after the dog I’ll go on that overseas trip.

Who’s and Whose

Who’s is a contraction (see above) of ‘who is’ or ‘who has’.

Examples: Who’s (who is) attending the auction tonight? Who’s (who has) taken my jacket?

Whose is the possessive form of ‘who’.

Example: Whose notebooks are these? (to whom do they belong? or who do they belong to?)

Your and You’re

Your is a possessive pronoun.

Example: That is your pen.

You’re is a contraction (see above) of ‘you are’.

Example: You’re (you are) planning to take me to the dance tonight, aren’t you?

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