words that sound or look alike

In my blog Frequently misused words – damp squid and other blunders I talked about words that are frequently used incorrectly and so I thought I would continue on a similar theme but this time with words that sound or look alike but actually have very different meanings.

It is very easy to get these words confused and even if you habitually use a spell checker, this won’t be of much help because a spell checker can only pick up on words which have been spelled incorrectly. A spell checker can’t identify words you have misused but spelled correctly.

Here are some more common examples:

accept to receive
except not including

advice recommendation (noun)
advise to recommend (verb)

are plural form of to be
our plural form of my (possessive pronoun)

board a flat piece of wood or other material
bored uninterested

complement to add to, something that completes
compliment to praise someone, admiration

council a group of people convened to manage or advise
counsel to give advice

dessert sweet course of a meal
desert to abandon or arid, dry, sandy area

discreet careful in speech or action, prudent behaviour
discrete distinct or individual parts, a separate thing

loose not firmly or tightly fixed/fastened
lose unable to find something

practice the use of an idea, belief or method
practise to do something repeatedly or regularly to gain a skill

principal first or highest in importance or rank (adjective), head of a school (noun)
principle fundamental or basic truth

sight being able to see
site a place or location
cite to quote or document from a book, author etc.

stationary not moving, standing still
stationery writing and office materials

their possessive form of they
there in or at that place
they’re contraction of they are

your possessive form of you
you’re contraction of you are

Why it is important that you use words that sound or look alike correctly

If you want to be taken seriously as a writer you must always make sure that you have used the correct word(s). If in doubt check in a dictionary – there are plenty available online. Above all, don’t depend on your spell checker to pick up on these types of mistakes.

Words that sound or look alike

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