Spelling problem words

Some words are so close to others in spelling or meaning that they cause confusion. Words such as there and their are so frequently mistaken in the context of the sentence that they drive markers to distraction. If you do not want to annoy the very person you are trying to impress, it’s a good idea to study these problem words:

Spelling checkers can help with about 60% of spelling errors in your writing if you have a reasonable ‘sound’ match. They cannot read context, so you will have to know your homophones, compound words, American spelling to avoid and read for the use of correct words. Always proofread your work and use a standard Australian dictionary to check for the correct spelling of words.

Commonly confused words

Words that sound alike or nearly alike but have different meanings often cause writers trouble. Here are a few of the most common words with correct definitions and examples:

a lot / allot / alot
Words Common usage meaning Examples
a lot (noun) a great many There are a lot of rules for conducting an election.
allot (verb) to share out Voters were asked to allot votes according to party preferences.
alot no such word  
accept / except / expect
Words Common usage meaning Examples
accept (verb) to consent or take willingly The politician accepted the offer to address the strikers.
except (preposition/conjunction) other than Everyone, except for the elderly and infirm, must vote.
expect (verb) to consider probable Most people expected the popular party to win the election.
affect / effect
Words Common usage meaning Examples
affect (verb) to influence The politician’s speech affected my opinion before voting.
effect (noun) result, consequence, impact Her speech had a strong effect on the audience.
could have / could’ve / could of (consider also: should have / would have)
Words Common usage meaning Examples
could have (modal verb group) maybe, may have The election was so close that either party could have won.
could’ve (contraction) could have The election could’ve been won by either party.
could of no such phrase similarly ‘should of’ and ‘would of’
in turn / intern / inturn
Words Common usage meaning Examples
in turn (phrase) likewise The councillor was very supportive and the electors, in turn, were loyal.
intern (noun) A  person in workplace training or (verb) to imprison The tax office intern was interned for a financial misdemeanour.
inturn no such word  
practice / practise (consider also: advice / advise and licence / license)
Words Common usage meaning Examples
practice (noun) a habit, a regular exercise, a usual way of doing something, a convention, a professional business The legal practice was supposed to follow the practice of not employing politicians, but in practice this was ignored.
practise (verb) to perform repetitive actions, rehearse The politician practised her speech.
then / than
Words Common usage meaning Examples
then (adverb) at that time, next, as a consequence If the party wins, then they will be in power.
than (conjunction/preposition) comparison The party won the election by larger numbers than was expected.
lose / loose
Words Common usage meaning Examples
lose (verb) to be unable to find, to not win The opposition party seemed set to lose the election.
loose (adjective) not fastened, not tight, unsteady, uncertain The policies of the losing party seemed loose and unfocused when compared to the opposition party.
where / were
Words Common usage meaning Examples
where (relative adverb) refers to a place The voters enquired about where the poll booths were located for voting day.
were (verb) a past tense form of to be There were voting booths in all State schools
quiet / quite
Words Common usage meaning Examples
quiet (adjective) without noise, calm, unobtrusive The streets were quiet after the election was over.
quite (adverb) rather, completely The results of the election were quite a surprise to those who were quite sure the opposition would lose.

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Compound word errors

There are over 2,000 compound words in the English language. If you write these words as two or more words instead of single words, then you are spelling them incorrectly. The spelling checker will not assist you, so use a good Australian dictionary. Some examples of common compound words are:

alongside, another, aftermath, anybody, background, beforehand, cannot, commonplace, elsewhere, everywhere, everything, however, keyboard, meantime, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, somewhat, spokesperson, therefore, underachievement, underdeveloped, underestimate, underground, update, upheaval, whatever, widespread, without

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Common homophone errors

Your spelling checker will not pick up the errors in sentences such as There coming too sea if its reel (They’re coming to see if it’s real) because the offending words are not spelled incorrectly. They are just the wrong words. The computer is logical, but is not able to apply common sense to wording. There are hundreds of homophones in the English language. Following are some of the most common homophone errors in student writing.

its & it’s
Homophone Common usage meaning Examples
its (possessive pronoun) ownership The parliament felt that its power was being blocked.
it’s (contraction) it is, it has It’s difficult for parliament to operate when power is blocked.
to, too & two
Homophone Common usage meaning Examples
to (part of an infinitive verb group, a preposition) The politicians wanted to choose a new party leader before going to the State elections.
too (adverb) excessively, additionally The results of the election were too close to announce a winner as votes from remote areas had to be counted too.
two a number, 2 Two members of the Cabinet were not re-elected.
there, their & they’re
Homophone Common usage meaning Examples
there (adverb) refers to location The politicians were there waiting for the results.
their (possessive pronoun) ownership Their results were announced to the media.
they’re (contraction) they are They’re announcing the winners of the election after the absentee votes are counted.
who’s & whose
Homophone Common usage meaning Examples
who’s (contraction) who is, who has They’ll announce who’s won the election.
whose (possessive pronoun) ownership When they know whose party has the most votes, the winning party will be announced.
weather & whether
Homophone Common usage meaning Examples
weather (noun) climatic conditions The freezing weather affected voting attendance.
whether (conjunction) introduces alternatives As voting is compulsory, fines for absenteeism depend on whether there is a reasonable excuse.
past & passed
Homophone Common usage meaning Examples
past (adjective) beyond, before the present time The politicians ignored protestors as they drove past them. In the past, they would stop to speak to them.
passed (verb) went by The politicians passed the protestors without acknowledging their presence.
principle & principal
Homophone Common usage meaning Examples
principle (noun) theory, rule The principles of the party were upheld in their education policies.
principal (adjective) first, most important The principal cause of losing the election was raised interest rates.

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