Using the right word can matter. Using the wrong word can matter even more. I once lost a potential writing gig because I used “who” instead of “whom” in a proposal letter.
Here are some:
Adverse and averse
Adverse means harmful or unfavorable. Averse refers to feelings of dislike or opposition.
Advise and advice
Advise is a verb while advice is a noun. Advice is what you give when you advise someone.
Affect and effect
Affect means to influence. Effect means to accomplish something.
Aggressive and enthusiastic
Aggressive means ready to attack, or pursuing aims forcefully, possibly unduly so. Enthusiastic means eager, committed, dedicated and passionate.
Award and reward
An award is a prize. A reward is something given in return for effort, achievement, hard work, merit, etc.
Between and among
Use between when you name separate and individual items. Use among when there are three or more items but they are not named separately.
Bring and take
You bring things here and you take them there. You ask people to bring something to you, and you ask people to take something to someone or somewhere else.
Compliment and complement
Compliment means to say something nice. Complement means added to, enhanced, improved, completed, or brought close to perfection.
Continuously and continually
Continuously means never ending. Continual means whatever you’re referring to stops and starts.
Criterion and criteria
A criterion is a principle or standard. If you have more than one criterion, those are referred to as criteria.
Discreet and discrete
Discreet means careful, cautious, showing good judgment. Discrete means individual, separate, or distinct.
Elicit and illicit
Elicit means to draw out or coax. Illicit means illegal or unlawful.
Everyday and every day
Every day means each and every day. Everyday means commonplace or normal.
Evoke and invoke
To evoke is to call to mind. To invoke is to call upon something.
Farther and further
Farther involves a physical distance. Further involves a figurative distance.
Fewer and less
Use fewer when referring to items you can count. Use “less” when referring to items you can’t count.
Good and well
Good is an adjective that describes something. Well is an adverb that describes how something was done.
If and whether
If and whether are often interchangeable. And always use if when you introduce a condition.
Impact and affect (and effect)
Impact means to strike, collide, or pack firmly. Affect means to influence. Effect means to accomplish something.
Imply and infer
The speaker or writer implies, which means to suggest. The listener or reader infers, which means to deduce, whether correctly or not.
Insure and ensure
Insure refers to insurance. Ensure means to make sure.
Irregardless and regardless
Irregardless means not without regard to. Regardless means without regard to.
Mute and moot
Mute means unspoken or unable to speak. Moot refers to something that is of no practical importance and can also mean debatable or open to debate.
Number and amount
Use number when you can count what you refer to. Amount refers to a quantity of something that can’t be counted.
Peak and peek
A peak is the highest point. Peek means quick glance.
Precede and proceed
Precede means to come before. Proceed means to begin or continue.
Principle and principal
A principle is a fundamental. Principal means primary or of first importance and can also refer to the most important item in a particular set and also refer to money.
Slander and libel
Slanderous remarks are spoken while libelous remarks are written and published.
Stationary and stationery
You write on stationery. Stationary is non-movement.
Sympathy and empathy
Sympathy is acknowledging another person’s feelings. Empathy is having the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and relate to how the person feels, at least in part because you’ve experienced those feelings yourself.
Systemic and systematic
Systematic means arranged or carried out according to a plan, method, or system. Systemic means belonging to or affecting the system as a whole.
Then and than
Then refers in some way to time. Than involves a comparison.
Ultimate and penultimate
Ultimate means the best, or final, or last. Penultimate means the last but one, or second to last.
It’s and its
It’s is the contraction of it is. That means it’s doesn’t own anything.
They’re and their
They’re is the contraction for they are. Again, the apostrophe doesn’t own anything.
Who’s and whose
“Whose password hasn’t been changed in six months?” is correct. Use the non-contracted version of who’s, like, “Who is (the non-contracted version of who’s) password hasn’t been changed in six months?” and you sound a little silly.
You’re and your
You’re is the contraction of you are. Your means you own it; the apostrophe in you’re doesn’t own anything.
Now it’s your turn: What words would you add to the list?