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English Words You Might Be Mixing Up

If you’ve ever found the usage of certain English words confusing, you’re not alone. There are some words that even native English speakers regularly mix up.

Below, we’ll go through the meanings of some easily mixed-up English words. Some of the following words have more than one meaning; we’ll focus on the definitions that best fit each situation.

Affect vs. Effect 

→ Affect: To cause a change by performing an action

The rainy weather really affects my mood; it always makes me feel kind of sad.

→ Effect: A change that results from something happening

The effects of smoking cigarettes include lung disease and emphysema.

There vs. They’re vs. Their

→ There: In that place

Look up there! An eagle is flying right above us!

→ They’re: They are 

I talked to my parents today. They’re coming to visit next month.

Their: Used before a noun to indicate belonging in the third person

My brother and his wife are selling their house and moving to France.

Your vs. You’re 

→ Your: Used before a noun to show possession in the second person

I didn’t recognize you! Your new hairstyle looks so different.

You’re: You are

You’re the best manager I’ve ever worked with.

Its vs. It’s 

→ Its: Used before a noun to show possession by a thing, animal, etc. 

Look at that dog. Its fur looks so soft!

It’s: It is

Make sure to wear a jacket to school—it’s cold out. 

Compliment vs. Complement

→ Compliment: A positive remark about someone or something

To me, the highest compliment is when someone says they like my cooking.

Complement: Something that completes or improves something else

This red wine is the perfect complement to our steak dinner.

e.g. vs. i.e.

→ e.g.: for example (used to provide examples after a statement)

I like outdoor activities, e.g., hiking, snowboarding, and cycling.

→ i.e.: that is (used to explain a statement in more detail)

You will only be considered for the position if you have the right background, i.e., five years of experience in a similar role.

Lay vs. Lie

→ Lay: To carefully put something or someone down, usually in a flat position 

Lay the blanket down on the grass so we can sit on it and have our picnic.

→ Lie: To move oneself into a flat position; to be in a flat position

When I have a headache, I feel better after I lie on my bed for a few hours.

Lead vs. Led

→ Lead: To guide a person or group of people to a destination

Follow me! I’ll lead you to the nearest subway station.

Note: This verb rhymes with “seed.” The metal that’s also called lead and is spelled the same way rhymes with “head.”

→ Led: Past tense of lead

We were really scared when we got lost in the forest, but our friend used her compass and led us back to camp.

Then vs. Than

→ Then: Used to indicate time, e.g., at that time, after that, next

Let’s go to the party first, then we’ll go have a drink at the pub.

Than: Used for comparison

When I was a child, I was a much better piano player than I am now.

Whose vs. Who’s 

→ Whose: Used to ask about possession (who owns something)

Whose car is that parked outside your house?

Who’s: Who is 

Who’s coming to the movie tonight? 

Andrea is a Gabby Academy coach and education technolgy writer based in Vancouver, Canada.