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Writing Center

Writing Resources

Commonly Confused Words

by Ernest Williams
 
 

affect/effect
 

Usually affect is a verb, meaning "to influence," and effect is a noun, meaning "result."Social activities may affect your grades, but the effect had better be small!


between/among

 

Between is used when two are concerned, whereas among is used when more than two are concerned.

Between you and me, these mistakes are common among all of us.


its/it's
  
 

It's means 'it is." Its, on the other hand, indicates possession.

"It's a wise dog that scratches its own fleas" (Strunk and White 1).


farther/further
 

Farther refers to additional distance; further refers to additional time, amount, or other abstract matters.

You may be further from an "A" than you think, so when you study, go no farther than the best place to concentrate.


feel/think
 

In common usage, feel means to sense, to be emotionally affected by something, or to have a general conviction of something. Think means to use reason, to examine with the intellect.

I think that you can write better than you have, but I feel encouraged by the improvements in your writing.


less/fewer
 

Less refers to bulk amounts, whereas fewer refers to separate (countable) items.

Those with less knowledge receive fewer high grades.


since/because
 

Since is often used to mean because: "Since you ask, I'll tell you." Its primary meaning, however, relates to time: "I've been waiting since Tuesday for the letter." Most people now accept since in place of because; however, when since is ambiguous and may also refer to time ("Since she went to college, he found another girlfriend"), it is better to use because or after, depending on which you mean.

Because you are intelligent and careful, your writing has improved since the beginning of this course.


which/that
 

Use that in restricting (limiting) clauses that provide essential, identifying information: "The rocking chair that creaks is on the porch." You are singling out one chair from two or more chairs.

Use which in non-restrictive clauses, clauses that provide non-essential, parenthetical information: "The rocking chair, which creaks, is on the porch." You have one rocking chair, and it creaks.


If unsure whether a clause is restrictive or not, try omitting it. Omitting a restrictive clause will change the core meaning of your sentence.
 
Note: A non-restrictive which clause has commas around it; a restrictive that clause has none.
 
Also note: In both restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, use who for people.
 
A technique that can improve your writing is proofreading, which can show you unintentional errors.
 

Works Cited

Strunk, William, Jr., and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. Needham Heights: Allyn & Bacon, 2000.
 
Thanks to Professor Ernest Williams for this handout.