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Sometimes English is a jerk.
Do you get baffled by advice and advise? Do they leave you foundering or floundering? Perhaps you feel like you’re going lose it or maybe loose it?
It’s okay. It happens to the best of us.
The thing is, unfortunately, words that sound similar but have totally different meanings can wreak havoc and wreck your writing.
So, here’s a handy list of words that get misused, abused and confused. May it help clear up mistakes and give you confidence in your word choices.
Ability/Capability: Ability means to possess the skills/means to do something, but the degree can vary. Capability is the potential to do something in a yes or no context. For example, the horse has the capability to run, but its athletic abilities are questionable.
Adverse/Averse: Adverse means something that’s harmful or working against you. Averse is a strong feeling of dislike or opposition. For example, I’m averse to driving in adverse conditions.
Advice/Advise: Advice is a noun that means an opinion or a suggestion. Advise is a verb that refers to offering a recommendation. For example, I’m going to advise you not to take your son’s advice about fashion unless you love hoodies and sneakers.
Beliefs/Believes: Beliefs are a plural noun that means trust, faith, acceptance that something is true. Believes is a verb that means to accept something as true. For example, that politician believes that his beliefs are facts. (Ahem…Trump…)
Compliment/Complement: A compliment is an expression of praise. To complement is to complete or add to something. For example, I got many compliments about how well my new scarf complemented my outfit.
Continually/Continuously: Continually describes an action that recurs regularly but with breaks. Continuously mean the action happens without interruption. For example, reading our posts continually will up your grammar game; doing it continuously may cause your brain to overheat.
Flounder/Founder: To flounder is to struggle to move or to do so clumsily. To founder is to sink or collapse. For example, as the Titanic foundered, its passengers floundered about the decks.
Hoard/Horde: To hoard is to collect and keep things in a secure and hidden place. A horde is a mob or a crowd. For example, Costco had occasional hordes of people hoarding tissue paper at the start of the pandemic.
Invoke/Evoke: To invoke is to call upon an action or for help, to make a request. To evoke is to call something forth or elicit something. For example, when he invoked his right to remain silent, he evoked jeers from the crowd.
Lose/Loose: To lose is to suffer a defeat or misplace something. As an adjective loose means not tight; as a verb, to loose means to set free. For example, he is as loose a goose; there’s no way he’s going to lose this game of darts.
Than/Then: Than is used for comparison. Then relates to time or sequence. For example, I’m going to prove I’m faster than you, and then you’ll be sorry.
And if you do mess up, well, take solace in that you’re both amusing and bemusing.