15 Commonly Misused Words in English: Different Meanings

15 Commonly Misused Words in English–Similar Word; Different Meaning


There are many commonly misused words in English. Some of these words may have similar spellings, and some may have similar pronunciations. These words, however, have different meanings. In this posting I talk about 15 commonly misused English words. I include definitions and example sentences. The download at the end will give you additional practice understanding these commonly misused words.

Many native speakers of English have trouble with the commonly misused words you will see below. Now, however, you will know better!


  1. all rightalright

all right–(adj)–good enough, OK; safe, recovered

Your roast chicken is delicious. It will be all right if you serve it to guests. 

He broke his leg, but now he is all right.

alright–This word is not really a word and it is not standard English. Many native speakers of English use it, but it is not correct.

2. alternatelyalternatively

alternately–(adv)–in turn, one after the other

At a 4-way stop sign, each driver crosses the intersection alternately

alternatively–(adv)–This word shows that there is a choice about how you do something. One one hand…on the other hand.

You can do your homework now. Alternatively, you can do it after dinner. 

3. capitalcapitol

capital–(n)–The city or town where the government business takes place; money

Denver is the capital of Colorado. 

We need additional capital to expand our business. 

capitol–(n)–The building located in the capital city where the government officials work.

The capitol building has a gold dome. 


cite–(v)–to quote an authority in research; to be brought before a court of law

The scientist cited many experts in his research 

Roberto was cited for speeding. 

site–(n)–a location; a web page on the internet

The city chose a site for their new airport. 

I found information for my project on several sites on the internet. 

5. complementcompliment

complement–(n)–something that completes something else such as a sentence or an outfit

He is a doctor. He is the subject; is is the verb, and doctor completes the sentence as the complement.

That hat is the perfect complement for your new dress. 

compliment–(n)–when someone says something nice to you or praises you

I received many compliments on my carrot cake. 


6. disinteresteduninterested

disinterested–(adj)–not biased, impartial

The judge is disinterested. He does not favor either person in a court case. he just looks at the evidence.

uninterested–(adj)–not interested in something, not care about something

I’m uninterested in football. I never watch it. 

7. elicitillicit

elicit–(v)–to draw out or encourage a response form someone.

A teacher asks questions to elicit information from her students. Then she knows what she needs to teach them.

illicit–(adj)–not legal

Taking drugs in an illicit activity. 

8. emigrantimmigrant

emigrant–(n)–someone who leaves his home country to move to another country.

She was born in Venezuela. When she left her country, she was an emigrant

immigrant–(n)–a person who arrives in a new country and intends to live there.

She was born in Venezuela. After she moved to to the United States, she was considered an immigrant


9. fartherfurther

farther–(adj)–more distant, more far

We drove 50 miles farther than we needed to because we missed the exit on the highway. 

further–(adj)–to a greater degree

We won’t know when our new house will be finished until we are further along in the construction. 

10. flammableinflammablenonflammable

flammable-inflammable–(adj) These words mean the same thing, able to catch on fire.

Paper is highly flammable. Move those old magazines away from the heat. They’re inflammable

nonflammable–(adj)–not able to catch on fire

Children’s pajamas must be made of nonflammable material. 

11. forewordforward

foreword–(n)–the introduction to a book

The author explained why he write his book in his foreword

forward–(adv)–toward the front

Please step forward if you already have your movie tickets. 

12. laylaidlainlie

lay–(v)–to put something down

Will you please lay the book on the shelf? 

laid–(v)–past tense of lay

He laid the dishes on the table. 

lain–(v)–past participle of lay

We have lain all the papers on your desk. 

lie–(v)–to become horizontal. Past tense is lay, pas participle is lain.

I don’t feel well. I think I’ll lie down.    He lay down, and now he feels better.  She must be sick. She has lain on the couch all day. 

13. loseloose

lose–(v)–to misplace something

I’m very careful not to lose my keys. 

loose–(adj)–not tight, not well fixed

My six-year-old son has a loose tooth. He is very excited.


14. passedpast

passed–(v)–past tense of the verb to pass, go in front of someone; to succeed on a test

We finally passed that very slow driver. 

I’m so excited! I passed my nursing exam! 

past–(n)–time gone by

I used to live in Nevada in the past

15. principleprincipal

principle–(n)–a rule or a standard.

I don’t steal. When my friend wanted me to shoplift with him, I refused. I won’t compromise my principles

principal–(adj)–the main or most important person or thing

The principal idea of an essay is the thesis statement. 

principal–(n)–the director of a K-12 school

Jimmy had to go to see the principal after he got into a fight on the playground. 

Yo now know that English has many commonly misused words. Some have the same pronunciation. Others do not, but they are still similar enough to be confusing. Many native English speakers have problems with these words as well. The download will give you additional practice understanding and using these commonly misused words.

You can download the practice sheet now!

Idioms of the day

  1. to get on someone’s nerves  –This means to anger or annoy someone. My office mate sits at his desk and whistles all day. It really gets on my nerves.
  2. not on your life   –This means never, not ever for any reason. My friend offered me $500 to go skydiving with him. I answered, “Not on your life!”

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Commonly Misused Words in English Lesson Download

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