Word Clarification

There are many confusing words in the English language, as well as a variety of similar spellings and pronunciations of words that have different meanings, uses, or parts of speech. Some of these terms are homonyms, while others are just so similar that even English teachers have to pause or use a pneumonic for guidance. Here are a few of the more confusing terms of our time.

Word Choice and Spelling Tips

Compliment vs. Complement: They are two different words with different meanings, yet they can each be a noun and a verb. 

Compliment: (v.) To express praise, admiration or congratulation; (n.) An expression of praise, admiration or congratulation. Someone may pay you a compliment (n.) regarding your new shoes, or compliment (v.) your new haircut.

Complement: (v.) To complete, bring to a whole, or make up to perfection; (n.) something that completes, brings to a whole or makes up to perfection. You may link to a website that complements (v.) your site, or your Barbaresco may be the perfect complement (n.) to your lamb chop.

Insure vs. Ensure: These two words also have quite different meanings, though the pronunciation is almost the same.

Insure: This generally refers to specific insurance coverage, but can also mean to make certain by taking specific actions. Insure your car against damages by keeping it in your garage; is your car insured?

Ensure: This means to guarantee, make certain, or make safe. Please ensure the puppy’s crate is locked.

Affect vs. Effect: The most confusing thing about affect and effect is that even scholars mix them up in professional presentations and research papers, so reputable examples are not always correct.

Affect is commonly used as a verb, and is used when something has an impact on something else. Growing up with three sisters affected my treatment of women. 

Effect is normally used as a noun that means the result of a cause. The effect of growing up with three sisters is my positive treatment of women.

Both affect and effect can be used as a noun or as a verb, so follow Grammar Girl’s great tip to remember this one, “The arrow affected the Aardvark; the effects were eye-popping.”

Allusion vs. Illusion: These two words are easy to mistake because of their close pronunciation and spelling. You will earn creativity points on your final if you make allusions (n.) to class discussions. You are under the illusion (n.) that this final exam will be easy.

Allusion is an indirect reference, and most allusions must be inferred by the reader or the audience. Shakespeare was famous for making allusions to his other works and to social and political topics of the time.

Illusion is a false perception or understanding of something. Many young girls are raised under the illusion that prince charming will sweep them off their feet one day.

Next month’s post will have some more information about word choice for grammar purposes, rather than word-specific meaning. For now, here are some quick tips!


American English vs. British English

There are many differences in American English (AmE) and British English (BrE), from grammar and punctuation to spelling and pronunciation. Most differences are rarely issues in terms of understanding, but using BrE on your AmE blog can make you seem uneducated, or just plain wrong. Some of these words will not be highlighted by your word processor’s spell-check, and others can actually cause problems; if you use “grey” in some HTML coding, you may end up with the color green. I have highlighted a few common words that exemplify some key spelling differences.


British Spelling American Spelling
Cancelled Canceled
Catalogue Catalog
Cheque Check
Colour Color
Draught Draft
Enrolment Enrollment
Grey Gray
Jewellery Jewelry
Judgement Judgment
Licence License
Memorise Memorize
Theatre Theater
Travelling Traveling


 For a more comprehensive guide, I found this great resource provided by Georgia State University.



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