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Commonly Confused Words: A Quick Reference Guide: Part 2


Click here for Commonly Confused Words: A Quick Reference Guide: Part 1

Confusing Words
Tricks To Help You Tell Them Apart
Adverse vs. Averse

Think of the following sentences to help you remember that adverse relates to conditions and averse relates to people:

  • The drugs had adverse side effects.
  • The adverse weather conditions ruined our day.
  • Even though she had a terrible voice, she wasn’t averse to singing the verse.
Affect vs. Effect

Affect is a verb and is used to describe an action.

Effect is a noun and is used to describe the end consequence.

Think of the phrase ‘cause and effect’ – use the E at the end of cause to remind you that you need to begin the word effect with an E too.

All together vs. Altogether

Think of altogether as one complete word (rather than two words like all together) to remind you it means completely.

Remember you need to use the words all and together at the same time to spell all together.

Come up with a sentence that will help you work out what the meaning of each spelling. For example: ‘The class practises spelling all together and altogether it’s taken them just a few weeks to improve.’

Ascent vs. Assent

An ascent is a climb. Both words are spelled with the letter C.

Someone who agrees to do something might say, ‘Sure!’ Both sure and assent are spelled with the letter S.

Say to yourself, ‘The two Ss must agree to stand next to each other in order to spell assent.’

Think of the C in ascent as a slope to help you remember what the word means.

Borrow vs. Lend

A synonym for lend is loan – both words begin with the letter L.

“Whatever you borrow, you must return tomorrow.” Use this rhyme to remember that borrow refers to taking rather than giving.

“You lend to a friend.” Use this rhyme to remember that lend refers to giving rather than taking.

Born vs. Borne

Borne is the past participle of the verb ‘to bear’. Both words are spelt with the letter E.

If something is borne, it is carried. Think of the word borne as carrying an extra letter E.


Think of a new-born baby as being the smallest version of a human. When you are writing about someone being born, you need the smaller of the two possible words.

Broach vs. Brooch

Think of the following sentence: ‘He needed to report the roach infestation to his landlord, but found it a difficult subject to broach.’

Think of two people in a secret club wearing matching circle-shaped brooches, to help you remember that the word is spelt with two Os.

Can vs. May

Think of the word capable to help you remember that can means to be able to – both words begin with C.

Think of this sentence to help you remember to use may when requesting permission: “May I have another can of Pepsi?” The word can should only appear in the sentence once.

Cereal vs. Serial

The word serial refers to something that happens in a series. Both words begin with the letter S.

Think of breakfast cereals beginning with the letter C to help you remember the spelling. For example: Corn Flakes, Coco Pops, Cheerios, Corn Pops.

I really love cerealCheerios are my favourite.

Coarse vs. Course

He told coarse jokes until his voice was hoarse.

The last four letters of coarse make up a rather coarse word…

At university you can study on various courses.

Think of the u in course as an empty bowl to help you remember that the word refers to parts of a meal.

Council vs. Counsel

Think of council and counsel as part of this group of words. Nouns are spelt with a C in the middle and verbs are spelt with an S.

Use the words ‘city council’ to help you remember that council is spelt with the letters ci.

Cue vs. Queue

Think of the two UEs queuing up after the Q. If it helps, invent two people with the initials ‘UE’ who you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a line with, e.g. Ugly Emma and Unbearable Eric.

Think of a cue as the cure for forgetfulness.

Dear vs. Deer

Dear has the word ear in it. Come up with a sentence using both words to help you remember how to spell the word. For example: ‘I’ve bought my dear grandmother earrings for Christmas.’

Defuse vs. Diffuse

A bomb definitely needs to be defused.

I like Science, but diffusion was a difficult topic.

Draw vs. Drawer

Think of the word drawer as the piece of furniture it describes: the first part of the word – draw – is the cabinet, and the er on the end is the box that is pulled out from it.

Ensure vs. Insure

To help you remember that insure is spelt with an I, remember that you take out insurance in case something goes wrong.

Think of a name beginning with E and an object beginning with I and use them in a sentence which will help you remember the difference between these two words. For example: ‘Emma ensured she insured her new iPod in case it got lost or broken.’

Heal vs. Heel Health and healthy both contain the word heal. To heal is to make/become healthy.

Remember that heels come on things that exist in pairs (feet, shoes, socks) to help you remember that the word is spelt with a pair of Es.
May vs. Might

If in doubt, use might.

Both might and not end in T - use this to help you remember to use might when talking about a possibility that did not end up happening.

Pore vs. Pour

Think of the O in pore as a small hole to help you remember that the word refers to a tiny hole in the surface of the skin.

The U in pour is the same shape as a cup. Imagine pouring water into the u to help you remember the word is spelt with that letter.

Rain vs. Reign vs. Rein Think of the rhyme ‘Rain rain go away, come again another day!’ to help you remember that rain is spelt with an A.

Think of a king or queen having a ‘great reign’ to help you remember that reign is spelt with a silent g.

Say ‘the reign of Henry the Eighth’ to yourself to help you remember how to spell the middle of the word reign.

If you need to rein in something, you need to restrain it or keep it under control. Use the beginning and end of restrain to help you remember how to spell rein.
Tail vs. Tale Tale has the word ale in it. Think of the sentence: ‘They gathered at the pub to drink ale and tell tales.’

A tale is often finished with the words ‘The End’. Tale ends with the letter e.

A tail, which is the last part of an animal, ends with the letter l.

Picture the word Tail as an animal. The top of the T is the animal’s head and the I is the animal’s tail.
Who’s vs. Whose Replace the word you are trying to spell with the words ‘who is’. If the sentence makes sense, use who’s and if it doesn’t, use whose.


23 Jan 2017
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"Spellzone fits in beautifully with our Scope and Sequence of Phonological Awareness and Spelling. It also aligns perfectly with the four areas of spelling knowledge and uses the Brain, Ears, Eyes approach to learning spelling."
Thank you!
Teacher, Australia

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