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Commonly Misused Words with Meanings and Examples of Correct Use: From A to D

By Rebecca Scudder

Many words in English sound very similar or have spellings that are very close but have different meanings. Here are the meanings of the words. They are used in a memorable sentence to help you learn them. Start with accept and go to discreet, covering affect and council on the way.

Commonly Misused words

For both the ESL student and the native speaker of English, there are words which constantly perplex and confuse people who are trying to use them correctly. Bright Hub offers a brief lexicon of these words to help you learn and remember the difference. In the first part of the series, we go from accept to discreet.

A download is available with the meanings of the words in the article.

accept / except

accept - agree, go along with

except - excluded, apart from

We watched the Queen accept all the gifts with a smile except for the baby hedgehog, but she stammered her thanks.

advice / advise

advice - a recommendation for behavior or actions, often unasked for

advise - to offer advice, to counsel

Although he asked his uncle to advise him on the problems in his love life, occurring because he had three girlfriends he had promised to take to the dance, he rejected the advice to confess their existence to one another and to hope one would still be willing to attend with him.

affect / effect

affect - to influence

effect - result or to cause

The affect of the bribe on the porter had the immediate effect of finding our missing luggage.

appraise / apprise

appraise - to assess the value

apprise - to teach, make known

After they asked the gemologist to appraise the huge diamond, he went with a stunned expression to apprise the children it was real.

assure / ensure / insure

assure - to express confidence

ensure - to make sure of

insure - to guarantee, to promise to make good, to provide insurance

The mafia visited all the local stores to assure the owners that paying protection money to insure their property meant that the mafia would ensure there were no suspicious accidents.

can't / cant

can't – contraction of cannot

cant - slang or jargon

The confused interpreter reported, “I can't understand the cant the gang member uses.”

complementary / complimentary

complementary - to go well together

complimentary- to praise

She was very complimentary to the chef about the complementary flavors in the sauce for the chicken.

contingent / contingency

contingent - a group, a typical group

contingency - a possibility, a chance that something might happen

The contingent of former boy scouts had a solution for every contingency.

council / counsel

council - an advisory body, a group chosen to represent

counsel - advice about an issue, to offer guidance

The council of Wizards gathered for a meeting which lasted five months, and then offered the counsel, "Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger." *

* J R R Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring)

diffuse / defuse

diffuse - to spread throughout, generally randomly

defuse - to remove danger, as in a bomb, or to make something less risky or dangerous

The children began to diffuse throughout the crowd and managed to defuse the hungry mob with portions of the bread they gave the protesters.

disassemble / dissemble

disassemble - to take apart

dissemble - to prevaricate, refuse to reveal the truth

The clever attorney coolly began to disassemble the testimony of the lying witness, despite his frantic attempt to dissemble about the circumstances behind the car crash.

discreet / discrete

discreet - to not be obvious

discrete - to be in separate parts

The discreet explosives expert had the bomb in discrete pieces before the crowd realized they had been in danger.

You can download a sheet with the meanings of commonly misused words A -D.

Many of these words were listed in the Wikipedia article on commonly misused words. Others come from personal experience.

Additional words

If you have some words which regularly confuse you when you try to use them or you think should be included, let me know in comments, and I will include them in a future article.