What’s the best way to make sure you set yourself apart from everyone else who is common? Don’t make common mistakes. There are some really common mistakes that are easy to make, usually because you are reading too fast.
- Confusing: accept or except?
I can accept that Ben Affleck played Batman, but all guys who played Batman except for him were good characters.
See the difference? In the example, I believe it’s true that Ben Affleck played the character Batman, but I exclude him as being a good Batman.
- Confusing: affect or effect?
Skipping breakfast affects your ability to focus. An effect of skipping breakfast is that you will be hungry and not be able to focus at school.
The distinction between affect and effect is subtle. You’ll just have to remember that affect is a verb—it’s always causing something to behave in an interesting way. The effect always results from the affect. In our example, skipping breakfast causes you to lose focus, so the action is the affect and the result is the effect.
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- Confusing: a lot or alot?
When I was a sophomore in high school, my teacher wrote words on the board that are not words. “Alot” was the first word on the list! “Alot” is not a word! If you mean “many things”, always write it “a lot”.
- Confusing: allusion or illusion
The pilot made an allusion to seeing water on the runway, which had to be an illusion.
In this example, the pilot refers to seeing water on the runway. (If you’ve ever flown out of LaGuardia on a hot day, or seen an air show at Griffiss Air Force Base, you’ll have seen the illusion of water waving at you from the pavement. There isn’t actually water there, of course, it was just a mirage.) When you talk about the fact that you’ve seen an illusion, you are alluding to it.
- Confusing: all ready vs. already
The team was already warmed up by the time the opponents got to the stadium, so they were all ready to play and had a big advantage.
If the team had already warmed up, they had prepared (that means “all” of them were “ready”) by the time the opponents showed up.
- Confusing: all together vs. altogether
“All together” is exactly as it reads—a group of people or things are together, without exception. “Altogether” means entirely. They are similar because both don’t have exceptions, but “all together” always refers to a group. You might use “altogether” to say something like, “I excellently prepared altogether for the SHSAT,” which means that you entirely excellently SHSAT.
- Confusing: a part vs. apart
The pie fell apart when Lynn took off a part of the crust.
In this example, the pie isn’t sticking together because Lynn has taken off a section of the crust.
- Confusing: ascent vs. assent
Frankenstein’s Monster assented to ascend Mackenberg Peak.
This is an easy example, because the Monster is agreeing to climb the peak. Sometimes we use “ascend” as a metaphor for tackling a tough project, even if the subject is not literally climbing. For example:
Tony gave his assent to ascend the pinnacle of SHSAT Argo Test Prep.
Tony, in this example, is not climbing a mountain. Instead, he’s agreeing to do what he needs to do to accomplish a big task (here, completing the SHSAT Argo Test Prep).
- Confusing: breath vs. breathe
- Confusing: capital vs. capitol
The capital reason Albany is the capital of New York is that the capitol required capital that businesses in Albany could support.
We know what this sentence means because we know what these confusing words refer to in the sentence:
The main reason Albany is the capital of New York is that the capitol building needed money that only Albany businesses could raise.