An A-list of A-words That Can Confuse

CheckTeethMirrorHave you ever used one of these words wrong and been embarrassed when someone corrected you?

Or maybe you misused one and realized later you’d made a mistake, leaving you wondering whether anyone recognized it.

Or maybe someone recognized it and didn’t tell you, a scenario akin to getting home from a date and finding spinach wedged in your front teeth.

You’ll never have to worry again if you pay attention to the differences in these words that start with a.

accept / except
When you accept something, you receive it. When you except something, you exclude it:
I accept every compliment except the one about being a good cook.

advice / advise
Advice is a noun, a thing you give. Advise (ad VIZE) is a verb, a thing you do.
The financial advice he gave you was wrong, and I advise you to ignore it.

affect / effect
Affect usually is a verb meaning to influence. Effect usually is a noun meaning result.
His harsh words did not affect her high spirits. In fact, they had the opposite effect.
Effect also can be a verb meaning to bring about.
Only she can effect the change needed to improve her image.
(In psychological parlance, affect [the AF pronounced as AF in AFTER] is a noun that describes the outward expression of feelings and emotion. A depressed person might have a flat affect, meaning a restricted show of emotion.)

all ready / already
All ready means completely prepared. Already means previously.
She was all ready to discuss the meeting agenda with Bill, but he’d already left.

Fridiay2all together / altogether
All together means everything or everyone in one place. Altogether means entirely.
I was not altogether certain that I could bring committee members all together for a Friday afternoon meeting.

allusion / illusion
An allusion is an indirect reference. An illusion is a misconception or false impression.
His allusion to holding great wealth was misleading. He created an illusion of being someone he is not.

among / between
Among generally involves three or more elements, where between involves two.
Dinner will be divided among seven people, so please choose between spaghetti and lasagne.

amount / number
Use amount with quantities that cannot be counted. Use number with countable items.
The cookie recipe calls for a large amount of sugar and butter. One batch of batter will make a large number of cookies.

anxious / eager
Anxious means worried or apprehensive; it implies anxiety. Eager means to look forward to with enthusiasm or even a level of impatience.
I’m eager to see your design of new shop floor layout. Are you anxious about expectations to have it done by Monday?

any one / anyone
Any one refers to a particular person or thing in a group. Anyone means any person at all.
Anyone who shows up can pick any one of the prizes displayed on the table.

a while / awhile
A while means a length of time.
Let’s sit down and chat for a while.
He’ll be back in a while.
A while can be replaced by a more exact description of time:
Let’s sit down and chat for 15 minutes.
He’ll be back in an hour.

Awhile means for a time (or for a while), but its implication is less exact.
I read awhile before bedtime.
Let’s talk awhile.
Awhile is an adverb, so if you’re including it in a phrase, consider whether you could substitute a different adverb:
I read slowly before bedtime.
Let’s talk quietly.

If you’re thinking there is not much a difference between a while and awhile, you’re right. I have looked up both more often than I can count.

When I find for awhile in content I edit, I try to remember that awhile means for a time, so it would be incorrect to say for for awhile.

I choose blog topics in response to questions, suggestions, and what I see online or in print that relates to current language use — and misuse. Please use the comment section below to let me know if you find my topics helpful. And remember that I welcome questions and topic suggestions!

Kathy Watson
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Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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