You’re on your way to figuring out how to keep from making common mistakes. Part of stepping out of common mistakes is to be ready to avoid words that are frequently confused with other words. Sometimes they sound the same, and sometimes they look the same. Knowing which words to look out for can help you be ready to revise them correctly.
- Confusing: cite, sight, site
The English language can be really confusing! Here we have a fantastic example: three words that sound identical, two of which that also look very similar on paper, but all of which can be easily confused for the other. Let’s straighten it out:
“cite” means to refer to a source of information. (Example: “Make sure to cite Mark Twain as the author of the quote, ‘The secret to getting ahead is getting started.’”) You cite Mark Twain when you tell others he is the author of the quote.
“site” is a place. (Example: “The site of the oldest existing government building in New York is now a museum.”) In this example, “site” is the place where the government building used to be housed, but which now hosts a museum.
- Confusing: conscience or conscious?
I’m deeply conscious of the fact that my conscience is deeply rooted in a desire to be kind to other people.
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This sentence can be reworded to help us understand the differences between the terms:
I’m deeply aware of the fact that my sense of right and wrong is deeply rooted in a desire to be kind to other people.
By the way, if you’ve heard someone talking about the “subconscious” or the “unconscious”, they mean a mental state or a brain state, so those will always related to awareness instead of morality.
- Confusing: elicit vs. illicit
These two words function differently in a sentence: “elicit” is a verb that means to draw out (usually as a response) and “illicit” is always an adjective that means illegal. For example:
The police were able to elicit the location of the illicit drugs from the person who saw them being sold.
- Confusing: eminent, immanent, imminent
The eminent poet in the field was able to show that rhymes used by Dickinson were immanent to her works, which can only make new interpretations of her work imminent.
Context tells us what these words mean, so that we can “translate” this sentence:
The top poet in the field was able to show that rhymes used by Dickinson were inherent in her works, which can only make new interpretations of her work available very soon.
- Confusing: its and it’s
- Confusing: lie, lay
- Confusing: passed and past
You can’t hang on to the pain of the past. (time)
If you’ve gone past the Philosophy Building, you’ve gone too far. (place)
“Passed,” however, is a verb. It is the past tense (can you believe that—the past tense!) of the verb “pass”, which means movement. So, “passed” means to have moved. Consider:
In this example, the runner, Usain Bolt, is fast, and he moved beyond (he “passed”) all of the other runners.
- Confusing: principal and principle
- Confusing: than, then
“Heather would rather eat with Brandon than with Jamen, but if she eats with Jamen, then she will also eat chocolate.”
The “than” in the example is used as a comparison between lunch partners (she prefers Brandon). The “then” in the passage sets up a sequence: if one thing happens, another will occur. In the example, if it’s the case that she eats with Jamen, Heather will also eat chocolate during lunch.
- Confusing: their, they’re, there
“Their” is a possessive of “they”. Example: Their math teacher was going to have a baby, so they would need to have a substitute.
You might expect “they’re” to be possessive, but it’s not. “They’re” is a contraction between “they” and “are”. Example: “They’re not going to build a Kroger at that abandoned warehouse.”)
“There” means some kind of place, and is a sister of “here”. “Here” points out some place close to the speaker, and “there” points out some place that is farther away. Example: “When you get there, make sure to give Mom a hug for me.”