Frequently Confused Words
What’s the best way to make sure you set yourself apart from everyone else who is common? Don’t make common mistakes. There are some really common mistakes that are easy to make, usually because you are reading too fast.
- Confusing: accept or except?
To “accept” something means to receive it, or take it to be true. “Except” means something that is excluded or left out. Here is one sentence that shows good examples of both:
I can accept that Ben Affleck played Batman, but all guys who played Batman except for him were good characters.
See the difference? In the example, I believe it’s true that Ben Affleck played the character Batman, but I exclude him as being a good Batman.
- Confusing: affect or effect?
This is a tough one! Lots of college students get it wrong. To affect something is to cause it to do something in some way. An effect is the result of an affect! Check out this sentence:
Skipping breakfast affects your ability to focus. An effect of skipping breakfast is that you will be hungry and not be able to focus at school.
The distinction between affect and effect is subtle. You’ll just have to remember that affect is a verb—it’s always causing something to behave in an interesting way. The effect always results from the affect. In our example, skipping breakfast causes you to lose focus, so the action is the affect and the result is the effect.
- Confusing: a lot or alot?
When I was a sophomore in high school, my teacher wrote words on the board that are not words. “Alot” was the first word on the list! “Alot” is not a word! If you mean “many things”, always write it “a lot”.
- Confusing: allusion or illusion
Almost always, you’ll use the word “illusion” (which means an image that is fake but seems real, like a mirage). You might hear the word “allusion”, which is a logical word that means a reference to something. Consider this example:
The pilot made an allusion to seeing water on the runway, which had to be an illusion.
In this example, the pilot refers to seeing water on the runway. (If you’ve ever flown out of LaGuardia on a hot day, or seen an air show at Griffiss Air Force Base, you’ll have seen the illusion of water waving at you from the pavement. There isn’t actually water there, of course, it was just a mirage.) When you talk about the fact that you’ve seen an illusion, you are alluding to it.
- Confusing: all ready vs. already
You need to be ready to see these two versions (or, be ready for the SHSAT writers to slip the wrong version past you)! “All ready” is always two words, and it means that something has been prepared. “Already” is always one word that refers to a moment in time. Consider:
The team was already warmed up by the time the opponents got to the stadium, so they were all ready to play and had a big advantage.
If the team had already warmed up, they had prepared (that means “all” of them were “ready”) by the time the opponents showed up.
- Confusing: all together vs. altogether
Just like “all ready” is often confused with “already”, “all together” can be confused with “altogether”. You’ll be ready to use them in their correct ways, even though they can sound identical when you hear it, and even, when you read it.
“All together” is exactly as it reads—a group of people or things are together, without exception. “Altogether” means entirely. They are similar because both don’t have exceptions, but “all together” always refers to a group. You might use “altogether” to say something like, “I excellently prepared altogether for the SHSAT,” which means that you entirely excellently prepared for the SHSAT.
- Confusing: a part vs. apart
Sometimes it just helps to read carefully. Common students—and you’re not common!—can confuse “a part” and “apart” by simply reading in a sloppy way. If you read “a part” you know it’s a part of a whole, whereas if you read “apart”, you know you’re reading about something that has been separated from another thing. Here’s one sentence that demonstrates the difference:
The pie fell apart when Lynn took off a part of the crust.
In this example, the pie isn’t sticking together because Lynn has taken off a section of the crust.
- Confusing: ascent vs. assent
These are two words that sound identical, and you will need to learn that they have vastly different meanings, and use context to help you figure out which one is being used. “Ascent” means to climb higher, whereas “assent” means to agree to something.
Frankenstein’s Monster assented to ascend Mackenberg Peak.
This is an easy example, because the Monster is agreeing to climb the peak. Sometimes we use “ascend” as a metaphor for tackling a tough project, even if the subject is not literally climbing. For example:
Tony gave his assent to ascend the pinnacle of SHSAT Argo Test Prep.
Tony, in this example, is not climbing a mountain. Instead, he’s agreeing to do what he needs to do to accomplish a big task (here, completing the SHSAT Argo Test Prep).
- Confusing: breath vs. breathe
Unlike “assent” and “ascent”, “breath” and “breathe” are pronounced differently. But, many people misspell breath and breathe, and you can expect a clumsy answer on the exam to confuse the two. “Breath” is the noun that means the air going in and out of your lungs, that you can see in winter weather. “Breathe” is the verb form that describes inhaling and exhaling.
- Confusing: capital vs. capitol
You’ll definitely need to know the difference between the two-identically-sounding words, “capital” and “capitol”, because you will be reading history and political science passages in the SHSAT that will use these two words. Similar to “assent” and “ascend”, you’ll have to memorize the difference between the two. “Capitol” only means one thing: a building that houses a main body of government. “Capital” can mean three things: 1) primary (example: A capital reason students fail the SHSAT is that they did not prep for it.) 2) financial resources (example: Derek Jeter needed to raise some capital to purchase the Miami Marlins.) 3) a city where a central government meets (example: Albany is the capital of New York.) Here’s an example that uses both words, and all of the meanings of “capital”:
The capital reason Albany is the capital of New York is that the capitol required capital that businesses in Albany could support.
We know what this sentence means because we know what these confusing words refer to in the sentence:
The main reason Albany is the capital of New York is that the capitol building needed money that only Albany businesses could raise.