Confusing Word Pairs in Business Writing

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Writers and proofreaders consistently have problems with 25 confusing word pairs. The pairs are words that sound similar, but have very different meanings. Review the meanings of the confusing word pairs that follow. A quiz testing your knowledge of the correct use of the word pairs follows this explanation:
  1. accept – receive something, recognize a truth, or approve of something except – to leave out or exclude
  2. accessible – easily approached or attained assessable – capable of being evaluated
  3. adverse – harmful or unfavorable averse – opposed to, reluctant, distasteful
  4. affect – bring about a change effect – a result Note, “effect” can be used to mean “create a change.” “This new rule is intended to effect a change.”
  5. among – in the midst of several things between – comparison of two things; area separating two things Note, “amongst” is not acceptable in American writing, although it is acceptable in other varieties of English.
  6. appraise – determine the value of something apprise – inform
  7. assure – inform to remove doubt or concern ensure – guarantee insure – take out insurance or act as insurance (Use “ensure” unless you are describing an insurance arrangement.)
  8. bimonthly, biannually – every two months or years semimonthly, semiannually – twice a month or twice a year
  9. censor – review something and remove the objectionable parts censure – find fault with or blame
  10. common – shared equally by members of a group of people; emphasizes an entire group mutual – shared by two or three people or parties; emphasizes individual entities
  11. compliment – express praise or admiration complement – complete, make a whole, make perfect
  12. compose – create or form something comprise – consist of or made up of
  13. consecutive – following one after another without interruption successive – following one another in order, but not necessarily without interruption
  14. continual – happening often, usually in rapid succession continuous – occurring without stopping
  15. discreet – using good judgment in terms of conduct discrete – separate and distinct, or individual
  16. distinct – clearly notable, individual, discrete distinctive – distinguishing, unique
  17. eminent – prominent, distinguished in reputation imminent – about to occur, threatening, impending
  18. exceedingly – extremely, extraordinarily excessively – beyond what is reasonable
  19. fewer – used with countable items less – used with quantities
  20. forward – at, near, or toward the front foreword – the beginning of a book or report
  21. impediment – hindrance, slowing progress toward a goal obstacle – something that completely stands in the way of the goal
  22. imply – express indirectly or hint infer – conclude or deduce
  23. indexes – alphabetical listings of subjects indices – a scientific or technical listing, or statistics
  24. precede – come before in time, place, or rank proceed – advance or continue
  25. principal – foremost in importance, head of a school principle – standard, rule, or ethical code

Quiz on the confusing word pairs

Study the meanings of the confusing word pairs. When you are ready, click on “Take the quiz” below to take a short quiz to evaluate your understanding of the confusing word pairs.

Take the Test