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University of Newcastle Library guides

Common feedback comments and what they mean: Commonly confused words in English

This guide lists some common feedback comments and explains what they mean.

Commonly confused words in English

There are many words in English that are commonly confused.  When you use the wrong word in a sentence, the meaning of the sentence becomes unclear.

Here is a list of commonly confused words, with simple definitions and examples.

Word Definition Example



To receive or agree

Apart from, not including

Mary excitedly accepted the gift.

John packed everything into the car, except the children.

advice (noun)

advise (verb)

Suggestion about what you should do.

To give counsel or guidance

Mary was given sound financial advice from her accountant.

John was strongly advised to quit smoking.

affect (verb)

effect (noun)

To influence, stir emotions

To bring about a result

The death of the family dog affected the family deeply.

Reduced speed limits near schools has had a great effect on driver behaviour.

bear (noun)

bear (verb)



An animal

To hold up, to support a heavy weight, to suffer


Naked or uncovered

The hungry bear was seen at the campsite searching for food.

The old chair will not bear your weight.

The mother could not bear to see her daughter in pain.

It is common to see bare arms in the summer time.

The contents of the suitcase were laid bare for all to see.



When one thing goes well with something else

A nice thing to say

John’s shoes complemented his jacket very well.

John complimented Mary on her excellent research.




Bored, not interested

The disinterested judges made an impartial decision on the best art work.

Mary was uninterested in John’s butterfly collection.



Move away from country/city to another place

Move to a country from somewhere else

Mary’s family emigrated from England five years ago.

John’s brother immigrated to Canada in 2016.



Physical distance

Refers to figurative distances or something that is additional.

Mary can run farther than John.

The results further suggest the drug has few side effects.

I could of

I could have

Incorrect use of could have. The contraction "could've" sounds like "could of." This is probably why this phrase is used incorrectly

Something was possible in the past, but it did not happen.


Mary could have gone to the movies with friends, but stayed home to study instead.

I should of

I should have

Incorrect use of should have.

Something did not happen, but we wish it had happened.


John should have gone to the doctor before his cold got worse.

I would of

I would have

Incorrect use of would have

Someone wanted to do something in the past, but could not.


Mary would have called John, but she had no credit on her phone



Hint, indicate or suggest at something without saying it directly.

Take an educated guess or deduce something.

The letter implied that John’s health was poor.

Mary was able to infer John was at home when she saw his wallet on the table



Standard American spelling

Standard British spelling

The student’s inquiry was answered over the phone.

The student’s enquiry was answered over the phone.



Contraction of it is

The possessive form of it, meaning belonging to it.

John will be late for lectures as it’s already 9am. (it is)

The council will raise its rates next year.




To place or to put


To recline

Mary will lay the cloth on the table before the guests arrive.

Mary laid the cloth before the guests arrive. (past tense)

John will lie down for a sleep before dinner.

John lay down for a sleep over an hour ago. (past tense)



Standard American English

Standard British English

I learned to play the piano when I was young.

I learnt to play the piano when I was young.




Not tightly fixed in place


To misplace something or not win in a game.


Mary’s jeans were loose.

The cows were loose in the paddock.

John was careful not to lose his car keys again.

Mary predicted her team would lose the game this week.



Past tense of the verb ‘to pass’

(1) Time before the present

(2) Denotes movement from one point to another

John passed his exam with distinction.

The past year has been difficult for Mary.

Don’t go past the gate.




Go forward, to carry on

Mary preceded her friend walking into the restaurant.

Once the speech was finished, the march proceeded into the city.




(1) Person in charge of a school or organisation

(2) Most important

Firmly held belief

The principal gave the morning assembly and then sent the students to class.

The principal reason for this meeting is to elect a new president.

Freedom is a basic principle of democracy.




(1)Piece of land on which something is or will be constructed

(2) website

Something seen, vision

The construction of this site will be completed early next year.

John found the useful site on the web.

Mary’s sight had deteriorated and she needed glasses to see clearly.



Not moving

Writing materials – paper, envelopes etc.

The train remained stationary at the station until repairs could be done.

Mary used expensive stationery for the wedding invitations.



Than is used to make comparisons

Then is used to indicate time or sequence

John is taller than Mary.

John walked through the door and then Mary followed him.




Shows ownership or possession

Indicates a place

Is the contraction for they are

It was their day off to do as they pleased.

Place the book over there.

They’re not able to come to the graduation.





Preposition that can indicate direction

Means excessively or also


A number

Mary hurriedly walked to the train station.

It was too far for John to walk, so he took a taxi.

Can I come too?

Mary had two assessment tasks due on the same day.



Standard American English

Standard British English

John looked toward the voices he could hear coming into the room.

John looked towards the voices he could hear coming into the room.



Contraction of who is

Pronoun meaning ‘belonging to someone

Who’s coming to the library with me? (who is)

Whose car are we taking?

your (adjective)



Belonging to you

Pronoun meaning belonging to you

Contraction of you are

Is this your book, Mary?

If it is yours, can you put it back where it belongs?

You’re going to be late for your lecture.