Word Confusion Tips
Whether you are a veteran author, or new to trying your hand at creative writing, avoiding word confusion mistakes is an ongoing battle. Even best-selling authors have confessed to relying on other sources, more reliable than their own memory, when faced with such conundrums as having to choose between “than” and “then,” or between “affect” and “effect.”
The following list of common word confusion pairs was compiled with assistance from several SIYE Beta readers. Other suggested word confusion sets, namely “there/their/they’re,” “to/too,” and “your/you’re,” have already been covered in a previous grammar tips essay by Sunshine and can be found here.
This essay most likely will not instantly turn you into an expert on the chosen topics. (Although, if it does, we would be pleased if you let us know.) At the very least, we hope it will provide an easy-to-use reference that you can call upon when necessary.
it’s vs. its
Although this word pair was already featured in the grammar tips essay mentioned above, we are going to give it a little more time in the spotlight because so many Betas suggested it—and with good reason. You should not feel bad if knowing the difference does not come easily to you.
“It’s” is an abbreviation for “it is” or “it has.” On the other hand, “its” is a possessive pronoun, to be used in the same manner as “his” or “her.”
“Did the Kneazle like its dinner?”
“Yes, it’s quite satisfied at the moment.”
Since many of us have been conditioned to add “’s” when indicating possession, we often end up using “it’s” for both situations. As a test in your own writing, try replacing all of the “its” with “his.” If it still makes sense, you have used it correctly. Similarly, you can expand any instances of “it’s” to “it is” or “it has” to see if your usage of “it’s” is on the mark.
than vs. then
“Than” is used in making comparisons, while “then” is used for indicating that an event has taken place after another event.
“Crabbe is heavier than Goyle.”
“Then he should eat that treacle tart to catch up.”
Anyone who has ever done any computer programming should note that “if...then” will compile, while “if...than” will not. For everyone else, remember that “then” is spelled like “when,” which should remind you that “then” is used to indicate when something happened.
affect vs. effect
These two are perhaps the trickiest of the most commonly confused word pairs. Part of the reason for this is because both words can be either a noun or a verb in the right situation.
In general, however, “affect” is a verb meaning “to influence.” “Effect” is often a noun (although modern “corporate speak” would have you believe otherwise) that is best captured in the phrase “cause and effect.”
“I should have predicted how the Horcrux would affect Ron.”
“But the effect on his personality was nothing out of the ordinary.”
An admittedly poor example:
The potion affects the brain by producing a paralysing effect.
The only reason for introducing the example above is to offer it as a method for remembering when to use each word. “Affect” comes before “effect” in the sentence above, as well as alphabetically.
lose vs. loose
“To lose” is a verb that means the opposite of either “to win” or “to find.” “Loose” is usually an adjective, often utilised as the opposite of “tight.”
“I thought we were going to lose that match.”
“We would have, if our Keeper had not found a way to relax and be loose.”
Confusion probably arises because “loose” can also be a verb that means “to make something less constraining.”
“He loosened his belt after yet another satisfying Molly Weasley dinner.”
Those familiar with the phrase “loose as a goose” may be able to use it as a means of remembering how to use “loose.” Or, one can perhaps remember that one can not only “win by a nose,” but also “lose by a nose.”
pore vs. pour
When used as a verb, “to pore” means “to peruse,” and it is usually used in conjunction with “over.” In contrast, “to pour” means “to cause to flow.”
Ron poured himself a cup of pumpkin juice.
Hermione pored over all the History references in the library.
Perhaps SIYE Beta Victor Aagard said it best: “As far as I know, I don’t ‘pour over’ the stories that I beta, unless I want some serious computer damage (or at least a dripping screen).”
bated vs. baited
Rarely used in its verb form, “to bate” means “to reduce the strength of.” Readers are probably more familiar with its use in the form “bated breath.”
Ginny anticipated his kiss with bated breath, and Harry obliged her.
In contrast, “to bait” means “to add a lure.” This would change the above example to:
Ginny anticipated his kiss with baited breath, but Harry was suddenly reminded that he did not like sushi.