The Five Most Commonly Confused Words

The Five Most Commonly Confused Words

Almost everyone has heard the tale of two hunters who embark on a bear-hunting trip and return prematurely. They turn around and head for home after reaching a fork in the road and seeing the road sign “bear left.”

That’s an example of words that are homophones: They sound the same but have different meanings. Sometimes they are spelled the same, but most times they are not. Our name, Web Done Write, is a nod to the tricky homophone and to the perplexing grammatical minefield it can create for you when you are writing content for your website.

The improper use of homophones is likely the most common error we see during the website proofreading process. Immune to the spell-checker, homophones can confound and confuse writers and readers alike.

We have been keeping track of the commonly confused words we have encountered over the past year, and now share the top five with you, all of them homophones.

  • Compliment, complement: Compliment means to admire or praise. Complement is to complete or round out. A complimentary remark is one that praises someone or something, while a complementary wine rounds out a fine meal. When something is free, it’s complimentary.
  • Affect, effect: Generally, affect is a verb and effect is a noun. Affect means to act on or influence: Shoddy proofreading can negatively affect readers’ perceptions. Effect means result or consequence: Thorough proofreading can have a positive effect on a website’s credibility. As with almost everything in English, though, there are exceptions. Affect can sometimes be a noun meaning feeling or emotion: The boy’s depressed affect worried his parents. Effect can be a verb, meaning to make happen: Her political platform aimed to effect change.
  • Capitol, capital: The only meaning of capitol is a building used for legislative assembly. When referring to the building in which the US Congress meets, the word is usually upper case: Capitol. When referring to the city where the legislature meets, use capital: Albany is the capital of New York. Use capital, too, when referring to money or other resources: capital expenditure; political capital.
  • Principal, principle: As a noun, principal means the main or most important person, just as, when used as an adjective, it means the main or highest in rank: The school principal intimidates the students. Better weather is my principal reason for moving. Principal can also mean pre-interest money: increasing principal payments. Principle is a belief, a standard, or a law: A deeply held principle guides his decisions. If the word is a noun but is neither a person nor money, the correct choice is principle.
  • Stationery, stationary: This may be the easiest of all five pairs of homophones. Stationery is a noun, and means the writing paper. Stationary is an adjective meaning not moving. A person who sells stationery is known as a stationer, a good way to remember the difference. Our site sells notepapers, invitations and stationery, and prices have remained stationary for over six months.

These five homophones are just a few of the words often confused and misused when writing website copy, but they can be detected and corrected with rigorous proofreading. If they are among the words that baffle you, then you might want to keep a list of them and other problematic words handy for reference the next time you proofread.


Web Done Write specializes in personalized, expert proofreading, editing and copywriting. We fear neither the homophone nor the homonym.
Copyright © 2011 Web Done Write. All rights reserved.