Common Mistakes – 1

Delhi Law Academy

This is an important topic in English – but not because questions come from it directly. These words form the basics of vocabulary building and are always good to know.

Bought and Brought

  • The difference between these two words is a very simple one. They are the past tenses of two different verbs.
  • ‘Bought’ is the past tense of ‘buy’: I bought a new car last week.
  • ‘Brought’ is the past tense of ‘bring’: I brought him a glass of water.
  • The difference can be remembered easily too, as ‘bring’ shares its first two letters with ‘brought’ (‘br’).


Dairy and Diary

  • The words ‘dairy’ and ‘diary’, while having spellings that are confusingly similar, have no common meanings.
  • ‘Dairy’ works as an adjective, meaning anything that is derived from milk, and a noun, meaning an establishment that produces dairy products.
  • ‘Diary’ is a noun, referring to a written record of one’s personal experiences. I write in my diary every night.
  • A way to remember the difference – in Diary, the I comes earlier


Accept, Expect and Except

  • The words, ‘accept’ and ‘except’ are homophones which are often confused by English speakers.
  • ‘Accept’ is a verb which means ‘to receive’ or ‘to agree’
  • Most of the time ‘except’ is used as a preposition which means ‘excluding’.
  • ‘Expect’ is a verb which means ‘to look forward to’ or ‘to anticipate’
  • The following examples will make the usage clear.


Compliment and Complement

  • ‘Complement’ and ‘compliment’ are sometimes confused because they are pronounced the same and have very similar spellings. Both function as noun and verb, but are quite distinct in meaning.
  • As a noun, ‘compliment’ refers to an expression of esteem, admiration or praise. For example, to call someone handsome/beautiful is to pay him/her a compliment, and the verb refers to this action, ie, the paying of a compliment.
  • On the other hand, as a noun, the ‘complement’ of something supplies what that something is missing, i.e., completes or perfects it. For example, wine can be said to complement a meal.


Advice and Advise

  • ‘Advice’ and ‘advise’ can easily be mistaken, but the difference between the two is simple enough.
  • In British English, ‘advice’ acts as a noun, defined as ‘opinion about what could or should be done about a situation or problem; counsel’
  • Whereas ‘advise’ acts as a verb, meaning ‘to give advice’.
  • Therefore, ‘His father’s advice was for him to give the matter thought before reaching a conclusion about what to do.’ means the same as ‘His father advised him to give the matter thought before reaching a conclusion about what to do.


Adverse, Averse and Avert

  • ‘Adverse’ and ‘averse’ are not only spelled similarly (with the ‘d’ in ‘adverse’ being the only difference),       they are also both adjectives with negative connotations, and hence easily confused.
  • Avert and Averse usually get confused in their noun forms – Aversion and Averseness
  • ‘Adverse’ means ‘unfavourable’,       or ‘harmful’. Therefore, if a sportsman is said to perform well in adverse conditions, it means that he or she performs well in conditions that are not easy to play in. It is used in reference to things, actions or events, rather than people.
  • ‘Averse’ describes a strong disinclination. It is used of things and people, but we never speak of an averse thing or person. It is most often used in the form averse to, as in ‘I am averse to speaking in public’.
  • ‘Avert’ means to avoid or to prevent. It can also mean to turn away or turn to one side.


Beside and Besides

  • It is easy to confuse ‘beside’ and ‘besides’, but they are not one and the same thing. ‘Beside’ is a preposition, whereas ‘besides’ works as both a preposition and an adverb, and although ‘ besides’ is sometimes used in place of ‘beside’, they have distinct meaning.
  • ‘Beside’ means ‘next to’ or ‘by the side of’. For example: He stood beside his new car proudly.
  • As a preposition, ‘besides’ means ‘in addition to’ or ‘ apart from’. For example: What are you working on besides the research project? As an adverb, it means ‘ furthermore’. As in, ‘ He was not selected because he did not have a good grasp of his concepts. Besides, he did not seem very keen.’
  • As mentioned above, the distinction between the two words is sometimes ignored. ‘ Besides’ can never mean ‘at the side of’, but ‘ beside’ is often used in place of ‘ besides’. This can lead to misunderstanding, though; the sentence ‘There was no one beside him in the hall’ could mean that ‘he’ was all by himself, or that there was no one next to him.


Effect and Affect

  • Two words commonly confused by English speakers are ‘effect’ and ‘affect’.
  • ‘Affect’ is used as a verb and means ‘to have an influence on’
  • ‘Effect’ is used as a noun and means ‘the result’.
    • ‘In effect’ means ‘in fact’ or ‘in reality’
    • ‘Come into effect’ means ‘come into existence’


Principle and Principal

  • ‘Principle’ and ‘principle’ are often confused but do not, in fact, share any meanings.
  • ‘Principle’ is only a noun and usually refers to a rule or standard. ‘The principles of socialism’, for example, refers to the tenets of the socialist ideology. ‘My principles prevent me from taking such petty action’ suggests that the speaker’s moral/ethical stand is against the action being spoken of.
  • ‘Principal’, on the other hand, is both a noun and an adjective. As a noun, it has special financial and legal connotations, but in general usage it refers to someone who holds a high position or is important in a certain context: ‘a meeting of all the principals involved in the deal’. As an adjective it has the sense of ‘most important’: ‘My principal concern is to get my health back’.


Stationery and Stationary

  • Two words with vastly different meanings, but frequently confused usage.
  • ‘Stationery’ is a noun that refers to writing material and office supplies such as pens, paper, clips, etc.
  • ‘Stationary’ is generally an adjective that is used to describe something that is not moving. For example, a man who is standing in one place can be described as stationary.
  • The difference in the spellings of the two words can be used to remember their meanings: the second ‘a’ in ‘stationary’ can be thought to stand for ‘adjective’. It is replaced by an ‘e’ in ‘stationery’.