Commonly Confused Words
While the title sounds quite prosaic at worst or repetitive at best – the content and the intended effect is still relevant. With numerous students graduating and waiting for their forthcoming interviews – this piece should be helpful to one and all. Not just students (sadly but truly) many grown-ups can use it too (read: need it too).
Let’s get straight to the point. The point is that just like any other language – English has different words for different situations – let’s just keep it that way. But do we? While the list is seemingly interminable – here are some words that are relevant in the Indian context.
Affect vs Effect:
‘Affect’ is a verb that stands for ‘have an effect on; make a difference to’
‘Effect’ is a noun that stands for ‘a change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause.’
Bare vs Bear:
Bear is both – an adjective, verb, determiner and an adverb.
In the adjective form it stands for the following:
- (Of a person or part of the body) not clothed or covered
- Without the appropriate, usual, or natural covering
- Without the appropriate or usual contents
- Devoid of; without
- Unconcealed; without disguise
- Without addition; basic and simple
- Only just sufficient
- Surprisingly small in number or amount
In the verb form, it stands for ‘uncover (a part of the body or other things) and exposes it to view’
It is also a determiner meaning ‘a large amount or number of’
In the adverb form, it stands for ‘very; really (used as an intensifier)’
Bear on the other hand is a noun and a verb.
It the verb form, it stands for the following:
- (Of a person) carry
- Support; carry the weight of
- Endure (an ordeal or difficulty)
- Give birth to (a child)
- Turn and proceed in a specified direction
In the noun form, it stands for the following:
- A large, heavy mammal that walks on the soles of its feet, having thick fur and a very short tail.
- A large, heavy, cumbersome man
- A person who sells shares hoping to buy them back later at a lower price
Its vs It’s:
This is a pet peeve – almost everyone I know or have met (and where I have read their writing) has made this mistake every once in a while. Here’s how to kill the confusion.
‘Its’ is a possessive pronoun. It indicates belonging or association. E.g. the dog tried to catch its own tail. He bought the vintage car since he knew its value. The baby bit its own finger.
‘It’s’ on the other hand is a contraction. The apostrophe shows the omission of a letter/letters. In this case, it refers to a reduction from IT IS to IT’S. Other examples of reductions being don’t, won’t, can’t, wouldn’t etc.
In short – if you are referring to something that belongs to someone – the correct usage is ITS (no apostrophe). If you are shortening the words IT and IS – then the correct usage is IT’S).
I know why everyone’s so confused with this … the reason is that with other words, we always use an apostrophe to denote belonging e.g. Jack’s car, Megan’s phone, Baby’s diaper.
Just consider it’s/its to be an exception – if that helps.
Principal vs Principle:
Here’s another commonly confused term – although I don’t see a reason for any kind of confusion. Let’s get this straight.
A principal is both – a noun and an adjective
In the noun form, it stands for:
- The most important or senior person in an organization or group
- A sum of money lent or invested, on which interest is paid
- A person for whom another acts as an agent or representative
- The person directly responsible for a crime
- A main rafter supporting purlins
- An organ stop sounding a main register of open flue pipes typically an octave above the diapason
In the adjective form, it stands for:
- First in order of importance; main
- Denoting an original sum invested or lent
‘Principle’, on the other hand, is a just noun that stands for:
- A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning
- A general scientific theorem or law that has numerous special applications across a wide field
- A fundamental source or basis of something
In short – for admissions and leave applications – you approach a PRINCIPAL. For discussing values/qualities – you write PRINCIPLE.
Than vs Then:
This is another one that gets my goat. Once again, I don’t see why anyone should be confused with these terms – but since there are people who need help – let’s simplify this.
‘Than’ is conjunction & preposition that stands for:
- Introducing the second element in a comparison (he was much smaller than his son)
- Used in expressions introducing an exception or contrast (he claims not to own anything other than his home)
- Used in expressions indicating one thing happening immediately after another (scarcely was the work completed than it was abandoned)
Then is an adverb that stands for the following:
- At that time; at the time in question (I lived in Cairo then)
- After that; next; afterwards (she won the first and then the second game)
- In that case; therefore (if you do what I tell you, then there’s nothing to worry about)
In short – use THAN for comparing and THEN to denote anything related to time.
To vs Too:
I’m sure by now many of you also agree with me on the futility of this entry – but I chose to include it after reading some really atrocious text. Let’s get this one straight too…
Too is an adverb that stands for:
- To a higher degree than is desirable, permissible, or possible; excessively (he was driving too fast)
- In addition; also (is he coming too?)
I’d be damned if had to explain the meaning of ‘To’ – hence I’ll leave it your imagination.
As is clear from the above content, these confusions can lead to miscommunication and thereby losing face at social meetings. The key to a better understanding of these terms is reading and more reading. The more you read, the more you understand, in addition to this, employ internet-based resources like www.grammarly.com. Websites like these are a great help while writing emails, messages, notices, social media posts, articles, blogs etc.
Till we meet again,
Goodbye to confusions and Welcome to great writing!!!