Quick Fixes for 15 Common Writing Errors

Correcting Commonly Confused Words

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Even professional writers get tripped up now and then by some commonly confused words: look-alikes and sound-alikes that our spell checkers will never be able to tell apart. 

The following sentences have been drawn from the blogs of smart, experienced writers—writers who may have let their attention wander for just a moment. In each case, the faulty word choice is marked in bold, and the corrected form appears directly below the sentence.

  1. "Here's some good advise for students who want to find the perfect internship."
    Fix it:
    Change the verb advise (recommend) to the noun advice (guidance).
  2. "We all have favorite movie quotations from some of our favorite actors. Regrettably, we can't always recall what movie or which actor. The full quote alludes us."
    Fix it:
    Change alludes (make an indirect reference) to eludes (escape the understanding of).
  3. "I've always said that there's alot of untapped talent out there."
    Fix it:
    Write a lot as two words.
  4. "Interns receive complementary tickets to the Mill Valley Film Festival and the Smith Film Center as well as a CFI membership."
    Fix it:
    Change complementary (something that completes or brings to perfection) to complimentary (given free).
  5. "I kept dreaming that the fingerprints came up in an investigation for a major crime. The dreams were really disturbing, and I told my husband that I must have a guilty conscious."
    Fix it:
    Change the adjective conscious (being aware) to the noun conscience (the sense of what is right and wrong).
  1. "Adventure Science Center (formally known as the Children's Science Museum, as old-timers will remember) offers an endless supply of educational fun with on-going special exhibits."
    Fix it:
    Change formally (in a formal way) to formerly (at an earlier time).
  2. "Visit a lake you're unfamiliar with, and you'll immediately realize you'd better do your homework if you want to hook the illusive rainbow trout."
    Fix it:
    Change illusive (another word for illusory) to elusive (tending to evade capture or avoid perception).
  3. "O'Neill made several other statements that are sticking in supply-side craws. For one thing, he seemed to infer that business people do not respond to lower tax-rate incentives. 'I never made an investment decision based on the tax code,' he said."
    Fix it:
    Change infer (deduce) to imply (suggest).
  4. "Breaking news from Toy Fair: Barbie and Ken have broken up! After 43 years of dating, its all over for the prince and princess of plastic."
    Fix it:
    Change the possessive pronoun its to the contraction it's (it is).
  1. "Over the past ten years, in order to achieve the growth, development, and scale necessary to go from less than 1,000 stores to 13,000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience."
    Fix it:
    Change lead to led—the past participle form of the verb.
    (Also, change less to fewer.)
  2. "Some of these events have already been highlighted in the last days; others maybe new to you."
    Fix it:
    Change the adverb maybe (perhaps) to the verb phrase may be (showing possibility).
  3. "Another survey of 256 people who had been divorced at one time or another asked, 'What was the principle reason you got a divorce?'"
    Fix it:
    Change the noun principle (basic truth or rule) to the adjective principal (most important).
  4. "Laguna de Apoyo lies 40 minutes outside of town, and no motor boats are allowed on its waters, making the atmosphere very quite and peaceful."
    Fix it:
    Change the adverb quite (very) to the adjective quiet (silent).
  5. "It was a little surprising because most teachers say the actual test is easier then practice ones, but in this case I didn't think it was that much easier."
    Fix it:
    Change then (refers to time) to than (used to make a comparison).
  1. "Whose going to be President in 2017?"
    Fix it:
    Change the possessive pronoun Whose to the contraction Who's (who is).