Fourteen Commonly Confused Words and Phrases in the English Language

By eContent Pro on May 24, 2023

In the academic publishing community, authors of any background must understand that even the smallest details can make or break their manuscript’s chances of acceptance.

Unfortunately, there are common mistakes authors make, such as using incorrect words or phrases, that can quickly impact the progression of their manuscript.

In this blog, you will read about some of the most confused words and phrases in the English language so you can ensure your manuscript is not rejected due to poor writing and grammatical errors.

Accept vs. Except

“Accept” is a verb defined as readily receiving or taking something that is offered; expressing approval or recognition.

Here are some examples:

  • I accept your project proposal.
  • Did you accept my party invitation?

“Except” is used when something is being excluded or something is an exception to a claim. For instance:

  • Everyone except Jane can come to the party.
  • Except for the kale, I ate all of the vegetables on my plate.

Affect vs. Effect

“Affect” is generally used as a verb and means to have an impact on; make a difference. You will use “affect” when you are describing influencing someone or something.

Here are some examples:

  • How will the weather affect our plans?
  • Will this delay affect your deadline?

“Effect” is typically used as a noun and means a change that is a result or consequence of an action or other cause. You will use “effect” when you are talking about a result.

Here are some examples:

  • What effect did that loss have?
  • This trip should have a big effect on your mood.

A While vs. Awhile

“A while,” written with a space, describes a time and is used as a noun. This is shown by the article “a” coming before the noun of “while.” You can test that you have used this correctly by replacing a while with another “article + noun” combination.

Example #1:

  • Sentence: It’s been a while since I’ve been back there.
  • Test: It’s been a year since I’ve been back there.

Our second sentence is still correct and still makes sense when we change our “article + noun” combination, so we can tell that we have used the correct version of a while.

Example #2:

  • Sentence: She told me she would be home in a while.
  • Test: She told me she would be home in an hour.

Once again, we can see that our second sentence is still correct once we change our “article + noun” combination, so we are sure that we have used the correct version of “a while.”

We can see in our examples above that “a while” is typically more general, whereas our replacement phrase tends to provide a bit more detail, which is something that you should keep in mind when writing, as sometimes being more detailed is necessary for your writing situation.

Written without a space, “awhile” means “for a time” and is an adverb. In sentences where using “awhile” is correct, you will be able to substitute another adverb, which is a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc., in its place.

Example #1:

  • Sentence: The children can go play awhile.
  • Test: The children can go play quietly.

In this example, the second sentence is still correct when we substitute the adverb quietly.

Example #2:

  • Sentence: Can you stay awhile?
  • Test: Can you stay briefly?

Once again, our second sentence makes sense once we have substituted the adverb “briefly” in its place, so we can tell that we have used the proper form of “awhile.”

e.g. vs. i.e.

Both of these abbreviations come from Latin phrases: e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means “for example,” while i.e. stands for id est, which translates roughly to “that is.”

An easy way to remember which phrase means what is to match the letters. To demonstrate, e.g. starts with an “e,” which is the first letter of example, so e.g. means “for example.” You can test this abbreviation by substituting “for example” into your sentence.

Alternatively, i.e. starts with an “i,” which is the first letter of is, so i.e. means “that is.” You can test the use of this abbreviation by substituting “in other words” into your sentence.

Example of the use of i.e.:

  • We will continue to offer our academic discount, i.e., 10% off.

Example of the use of e.g.:

  • We will offer an additional, special discount, e.g., 20% off for new customers and 15% off for referring a colleague.
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Former vs. Latter

The terms “former” and “latter” denote the place of two things. “Former” refers to the first item, whereas “latter” refers to the second item. It is important to note that you cannot use these terms when discussing more than two things.

Here are some examples:

  • I’ve been around both cats and dogs, but I prefer the latter.
  • Two of my favorite artists are Caravaggio and Vincent van Gogh, but if I had to choose one, it would be the former.

Farther vs. Further

“Farther” refers to distance. For example:

  • The grocery store was farther away than I thought.

You should only use “further” to mean “more.” For example:

  • Your manuscript requires further edits.
  • I want nothing further to do with this.

Its vs. It’s

“Its,” spelled without the apostrophe, is used to show possession of an item. You do not need the apostrophe to show possession with this word as it is a possessive pronoun, similar to hers, his, our, yours, and theirs. Here are a few examples:

  • Its main office is in New York.
  • The dog ran after its ball.

“It’s,” spelled with the apostrophe, is the contraction, or the shorthand way, of writing “it is.” Here are a few examples:

  • It’s raining very hard.
  • It’s time to go home.

Loose vs. Lose

“Loose” is an adjective that describes something as being not firmly or tightly secured in place. For example:

  • My daughter’s tooth is loose.

It can also refer to a garment that is not tight-fitting. For example:

  • I’m going to change into a loose T-shirt and shorts.

“Loose” can also be used as a verb, meaning “set free” or “release.” For example:

  • The horses have been loosed.

On the other hand, “lose” is a verb with two definitions: to be deprived of or no longer have something and to become unable to find something or someone.

Here are some examples:

  • I lose my appetite as soon as I see a roasted pig.
  • When I lose my cell phone, I often need help finding it.

Than vs. Then

“Than” is a conjunction used to make comparisons. It is the word that follows other, rather, less, and more. Additionally, it is the word to choose in phrases such as the following:

  • Smaller than
  • Smoother than
  • Further than

Here are a few examples of when to use “than” in a sentence.

  • He is shorter than I am.
  • Amanda is a better cook than I am.
  • Her jewelry is more expensive than my jewelry.
  • Raymond was sicker than a dog last week.

“Then” is typically used as an adverb or adjective, and it is often used when referring to time. “Then” is also used in the following situations:

  • As a point in time
    • Example: I ate too many chips then.
  • What happens next
    • Example: Mix the dry ingredients, and then add the wet ingredients.
  • As another way to say "also"
    • Example: Melvin asked me to fix his laptop and then his TV.
  • As another way to say "therefore" (often in an if/then statement)
    • Example: If you are going to be late, then don’t bother coming.
  • To show something existed at an indicated time
    • Example: In 1986, the then president changed the vision for the company.

“Then” usually comes after words such as since and until.

  • Since then nothing has changed.
  • Until then everyone must work.

“Then” often fits into phrases such as the following:

  • Just then
  • Back then

Below are a few additional examples of “then” in a sentence.

  • Sally was at the grocery store then.
  • Come over after work; I’ll be ready then.
  • First there were three, and then there was one.
  • Read the paper, and then provide feedback.

That vs. Which

You will want to use “that” when your sentence contains a restrictive clause, which is a clause that cannot be removed from your sentence without changing your intended meaning.


  • Our car that uses hybrid technology has excellent safety ratings.

In this example, it would change the meaning of the sentence if we removed the highlighted phrase, because not all cars have excellent safety ratings. Also, please note that our restrictive phrase is not set off by commas, as restrictive clauses do not require commas.

You will want to use “which” when your sentence contains a nonrestrictive clause, or a clause that can be left out of your sentence without changing your intended meaning. This clause simply contains additional information to add to your sentence.


  • My car, which is in the garage, is new.

You can see that if we were to remove the highlighted phrase in the sentence above, our sentence would still make sense. We could say, “My car is new,” and our sentence would still make sense, but you wouldn’t know that the car is in the garage.

It is important to note that nonrestrictive phrases are usually surrounded by commas. If a nonrestrictive clause comes at the end of the sentence, you will want to be sure to include a comma before beginning the clause.

Their vs. There vs. They’re

“Their” is used to show possession of an item. Here are a few examples:

  • Their house is beautiful.
  • When will their dog stop barking?

“There” is used to refer to a location, place, or existence of something. Here are some examples:

  • Please move the table over there.
  • There are 12 apples in the basket.

“They’re” is a contraction, or shortened form of writing, for “they are.” Here are some examples:

  • They’re very nice people.
  • They’re hosting a party later this month.

To vs. Too vs. Two

“To,” “too,” and “two” are homophones, which means that they sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

“To” can be used as a preposition with several functions.

“To” can signify motion:

  • I am going to the store.
  • His mood changed from happiness to sadness.

“To” can signify that someone has been affected by something.

  • Mary was rude to Tom.
  • My family regularly donates to charity.

“To” can identify relationships:

  • Muriel is the assistant to the CEO.
  • She is married to Paul.

“To” can indicate when things are attached to one another:

  • The wheel is attached to the car.
  • The footboard and headboard are connected to the bed frame.

“Too” is an adverb that means “also” or “excessively.”

Here are some examples:

  • If you’re ordering food, can you get me some, too?
  • This movie is too gory for my liking.
  • Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley were amazing musical artists. Frank Sinatra was, too.

“Two” is a number that designates an amount of something.

Here are some examples:

  • Tomorrow is our two year anniversary.
  • My son will be two years old in August.
  • There are two pieces of cake left.

Who’s vs. Whose

“Who’s” is a contraction of “who is” or “who has.” A way to test that you have used this correctly is to substitute these phrases into your sentence.

Example #1:

  • Sentence: Who’s driving?
  • Test: Who is driving?

We can see that in our test sentence above, “who is” can be inserted for “who’s” without causing any problems, so we have used the correct form of this word.

Example #2:

  • Sentence: Who’s been there before?
  • Test: Who has been there before?

Again, our test sentence still makes sense once we substitute the extended version of the contraction into it, so we can tell that we have used the correct word.

Example #3:

  • Sentence: Who’s house is the party at?
  • Test: Who is house is the party at?

In this example, we can see that our second sentence no longer makes sense once we substitute “who is” in place of “who’s,” so we can tell that “whose” would be the correct choice for this sentence.

“Whose” is the possessive form of the pronoun “who.” It shows the person that an item belongs to or is associated with. You would use “whose” in all cases where “who’s” is not correct.


  • Whose dog is this?
  • Whose house are we going to?
  • Whose car are we taking?

In these sentences above, we can test that we have used the correct version of “whose” by substituting “who is” in the sentences. If the sentences do not make sense once we make the substitution, we know that we have used the correct form of “whose.”


  • Who is dog is this?
  • Who is house are we going to?
  • Who is car are we taking?

We can see that once we made our substitution to test the accuracy of our choice for “whose,” the sentences no longer made sense, which tells us that “whose” is the correct choice.

Your vs. You’re

A possessive adjective is an adjective that is used to show ownership. It lets us know to whom the noun belongs, and it comes before a noun in the sentence. “Your” is a second person possessive adjective that is used as both the singular and plural form. Basically, “your” is a possessive form of you.

For example:

  • You forgot your scarf at the store.

“You” own the scarf in this situation. It lets us know to whom the noun belongs and comes before a noun in the sentence.

Here some additional examples:

  • I think you forgot your purse.
  • I appreciate your help.
  • Your book is new.
  • I think your house is incredible.
  • You need to bring your novel.

“You’re” is a contraction. or short way of writing, for “you are” and has no other uses. Here are a few examples:

  • She will ask you when you’re ready.
  • You’re one step ahead of me.
  • I can’t say if you’re going to be successful or not.
  • You’re working way too much.
  • I hope you’re going to get the job done by the deadline.

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