Writing well is hard, no doubt about it. English can be confusing, especially if it’s not your first language. In the course of editing, our editors often make word changes to manuscripts because clients use the wrong version of a word. Many of these are homophones, or words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things; other times, the words are simply incorrect. Our editors can help you refine your writing, syntax, and argument. In the meantime, here are commonly misused words to look out for.

Affect/effect

Affect is usually a verb, meaning “to impact” or “to change.” The hurricane affected the entire city.

 Effect is typically a noun, and is the result of a change. The effect of the storm was devastating.

There ARE exceptions, though – in some contexts, effect can be a verb and affect can be a noun.

When used as a verb, effect means “to bring about” – as in, to effect change.

When used as a noun, affect means a feeling or emotion – for example, “The patient’s affect did not change.”

Accept/except

Accept means to receive, like a compliment, or when a student is accepted into a college or school. She accepted the invitation to the party.

Except refers to something being excluded or left out, or means “unless.” I love all green vegetables except broccoli.

They’re/there/their

They’re is the contraction for “they are.” Since you should try to avoid contractions in academic writing, this likely won’t come up. They’re running late today because of traffic.

There means “in or at that place.” It can also be thought of as the opposite to here. Please put your coat over there.

Their is the possessive case of they. They were looking for their toys.

Then/than

Then is usually used as an adverb, to situate an action or event in time. She did some homework, and then had dinner. It can also be a noun: I wanted to go to the store, but then wasn’t the right time. Lastly, it can be used as an adjective, meaning “at that time”: My then-babysitter took us to the park.

Than is a conjunction that is mainly used to make comparisons. My former professor marks papers differently than my current professor.

Compliment/complement

A compliment is an expression of praise, approval, or adulation. To compliment someone means you are showing kindness, praising, or offering congratulations: To have her smile and nod at my outfit was the highest compliment of all.  It can also be used when describing giving something away for free: Starbucks was giving people a cup of coffee, compliments of the manager.

To complement something is to complete it or supplement it. Her shoes complemented her dress.

Sight/site/cite

Sight has several meanings, including the ability to see, something that is seen, or part of a firearm. He was a sight for sore eyes.

A site is where something is located, or a website. She wanted to travel to the ancient burial sites.

To cite means to mention or to quote. She made sure to cite all of the research articles that she used.

To/too/two

To is a preposition and can mean several things, including “until” and “toward.” I am going to the concert tonight.  

Too is an adverb that can mean “also,” “in addition,” or “excessively.” You are too much today!  

Two is a number. He picked up two pizzas for our family dinner tonight.

Assure/insure/ensure

To assure someone is to ease their fears or doubts. She assured the small child that there were no monsters under the bed.

When you ensure something, it means you will make sure that it will happen. I need to study to ensure a decent grade on this test.

To insure something means that it will be covered by an insurance policy. The law says I need to insure my car.

Discreet/discrete

Discreet means modest, cautious, unassuming, or reserved. Think something like “under the radar.”  He knew the subject was sensitive, and tried to be discreet about mentioning it.  

Discrete means separate or unrelated. With data, discrete data can be categorized into a classification and is based on counts. It’s also typically only whole numbers. Even though the two events looked related at first glance, they were two discrete occurrences.

In academia or in the professional world, you want to put your best work forward, and it’s hard to edit or revise your own work, much less do it well. You’re too close to the material, and after working on it for a prolonged period of time, it’s easy to overlook mistakes. A professional editor can look at your work with fresh eyes and an objective perspective. Our editors have years of experience writing and editing academic and professional documents, and can provide you with expert editing, constructive feedback, and practical guidance to help take your work to the next level. Contact us today to see how we can be of assistance!