Common Mistakes

Delhi Law Academy

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Commom Mistakes in English


1. Accept 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’.

The following examples will make the usage clear.

Amit accepted the job offer. I can come with you on all days except Sunday.
Sanjiv accepted the allegation that he had cheated. All the athletes except Anjali finished the race.
He accepted the invitation to the party. Everyone except Shantanu was invited to the party.



2. Adverse and Averse

‘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.

‘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.


3. 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’, and

– ‘advise’ acts as a verb, meaning ‘to give advice’.


‘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.

The ‘c’ in ‘advice’ is pronounced like the ‘s’ in ‘sip’, whereas the ‘s’ in ‘advise’ is pronounced like the ‘z’ in ‘zip’.

Some more examples of the usage of ‘Advice’

You should listen to your father’s advice.

I need your advice on what to wear for my job interview.

Mohan is the best person to ask for advice on cars.

Some more examples of the usage of ‘Advise’

My father advised me to join the army.

The doctor advised Sumit to quit smoking.

Mohan advised me to buy a diesel car.


4. 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 ‘by or at 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.


5. 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’).


6. Can and May

Many English speakers are confused about the usage of the words ‘can’ and ‘may’. For example, ‘Can I drink water?’ is incorrect. ‘May I drink water?’ is the correct phrase to use in this case.

The key difference between ‘can’ and ‘may’ is that ‘can’ talks about ability and ‘may’ talks about permission.


Can is used in two cases:

To talk about ability.

  • I can finish my homework by 5 pm.
  • Can you finish your homework tonight?

To ask or give permission informally.

  • Can I use your pen? (To a friend)
  • You can use my pen. (To a friend)


May is generally used to ask or give permission formally.

Let us take a situation between a student and a teacher.

  • May I drink water?
  • Teacher: Yes, you may.

Let us take a situation between two strangers.

  • May I borrow your pen?
  • Yes, you may.


7. Complement and Compliment

‘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, ie, completes or perfects it. For example, wine can be said to complement a meal.


8. 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. I am allergic to dairy products.

‘Diary’ is a noun, referring to a written record of one’s personal experiences. I write in my diary every night.


9. 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’ and ‘Effect’ is used as a noun and means ‘the result’.


The dropped catch did not affect the result of the game.

The heavy rainfall affected the grains kept in the old warehouse.

Did the noise affect your sleep?


The effect of the tsunami was devastating.

The side effect of the cough syrup was drowsiness.

Did the noise have an effect on your sleep?

Effect is also used in the expressions ‘in effect’, ‘take effect’ and ‘come into effect.’

‘In effect’ means to ‘In fact’ or ‘In reality’

His silence was in effect an acceptance of the crime.

‘Take effect’ means ‘to produce an action’

The medicine will take effect in an hour.

‘Come into effect’ means ‘to come into existence’

The news laws come into effect next month.


10. Either Neither

It is important to grasp the meanings and difference between ‘either’ and ‘neither’ so that we don’t get confused between the two. Both words can be used as pronoun, conjunction and adjective; however, the use of ‘either’ is considered positive, while the use of ‘neither’ is considered negative.

As adjective:

‘Either’ indicates one or the other, or both. For example:

You may use either hand for the purpose. = You may use your right or left hand for the purpose.

There were tall houses on either side of the river. = There were tall houses on both sides of the river.

‘Neither’ indicates not one or the other; none of the two. For example;

Neither twin was invited to the wedding. = None of the twins was invited to the wedding.

As pronoun:

‘Either’ indicates one or the other. For example:

Both buses are headed in that direction, you can get on either. = Both buses are headed in that direction, you can get on one or the other.

‘Neither’ indicates not one or the other. For example:

Both pups were pure-breed, but neither displayed the characteristic traits of its breed. = Both pups were pure-breed, but not one or the other displayed the characteristic traits of its breed.

As conjunction:

‘Either’ is used with ‘or’ to imply a choice of alternatives. For example:

You can either play on the computer or watch TV. = You can do one of two things: play on the computer or watch TV.

‘Neither’ is used with ‘nor’ to negate both parts of a statement. For example:

I can neither play on the computer nor watch TV. = I cannot play on the computer or watch TV.

‘Either’ is also used as an adverb, to mean ‘also’, following negative expressions. For example:

If you don’t go, I won’t go either. = If you stay, I will stay also.

‘Neither’, on the other hand, is not used as an adverb.


11. Elicit Illicit


‘Elicit’ and ‘illicit’ are homophones, but they have different spellings and meanings and one must be careful about using them.

On the one hand, ‘elicit’ means to draw something out of someone, by coaxing or pleading or urging. For example, the sentence – His father was unable to elicit a response from him on the matter means that the father could not extract the information that he desired from his son.

On the other hand, ‘illicit’ means illegal, or forbidden. Examples: Theirs was an illicit relationship because their parents were opposed to inter-caste marriages, or He was thrown into prison for smuggling illicit weapons into the country.


12. Has and Have

‘Have’ and ‘has’ are both used to denote possession, form the perfect tense, and the past tense of both is ‘had’, but they are used differently.

‘Have’ is used with

– the following pronouns: I, you, we, they. Examples : ‘I have a pencil.’ ‘We have a big house.’

– pluralised nouns: Example : ‘Doctors have a rough time, dealing with illnesses all the time.’

‘Has’ is used with the third person singular (he, she, it). Examples : ‘She has your money.’ ‘Amit has the book.’


13. Hear and Listen

To any layman, ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’ may appear to be one and the same thing, but there is a subtle difference between the two words.

At one level, they are of course both functions of the ear that involve receiving sounds and processing them. However, herein lies the difference: any sound that is received by the ear and noted by the brain can be said to have been ‘heard’; it is only when a conscious effort is made to hear something that ‘listening’ comes into play.

For example, if the sounds from a conversation carry to you, but you make no effort to understand what is being said, you must say that you ‘heard’ the conversation. On the other hand, as soon as you make a conscious effort to understand or pay attention to what you are hearing, you are ‘listening’. Therefore, we do not ‘hear’ songs, we ‘listen’ to them (unless, of course, they are simply part of the background and we aren’t actually paying attention to them).

It must be noted that ‘hear’ can be used in place of ‘listen’ sometimes, but ‘listen’ should not be used in place of ‘hear’. For example, you may tell someone that you heard what he or she said, and it is understood that you were listening, ie, paying attention. You will learn these variations with practice in conversation.


14. I and Me

Speakers of English often use ‘I’ and ‘me’ in place of each other. The difference is actually very simple. Allow us to explain.

Let us begin with an exercise. Fill in the blanks with either ‘I’ or ‘me’ in the following sentences.

__ want to watch a movie.

This is the house __ want to buy.

Sudhir and __ will go to Delhi.

You and __ will play today.

He asked __ to drive.

She needs to pay __.

He gave __ the key.

The answer to the first four sentences is ‘I’ and the last three sentences is ‘me’. This is because ‘I’ is a pronoun and hence must be the subject of a verb (‘I’is the first person singular subject pronoun and will always refer to the person performing the action of a verb).

On the other hand, ‘me’ is a pronoun that must be the object of the verb (me is anobject pronoun and will always refer to the person that the action of a verb is being done to.)


15. It’s and Its

‘Its’ and ‘it’s’ are often mistakenly used in written English. Refer to the article oncontractions: ‘it’s’ is a contraction for the words ‘it is’. On the other hand, ‘its’ is apossessive noun.
The following examples will make the usage clear.

It’s quite hot today. The dog is wagging its tail.
It’s going to be a long day. The baby is sleeping in its cot.
Please go back to class immediately. It’s not right to skip classes. The table is useless now. Its legs are broken.


16. Loose Lose

‘Lose’ and ‘loose’ are often mixed up, and this is understandable because there is only an ‘o’ of difference between them. They do not, however, have any meanings in common.

‘Loose’ is generally used as an adjective, the opposite of tight or contained.

The dog is running loose in the streets.

These jeans are loose around my waist.

‘Lose’ is a verb that means to suffer the loss of, to miss.

Don’t lose the car keys.

We cannot afford to lose this match.


17. Much Many

Much’ and ‘many’ are both determiners that suggest an unspecified quantity, with more or less the same basic meaning: ‘in great quantity’ or ‘in large number’. There is, however, a distinction in their usage.

‘Much’, not ‘many’, is used for uncountable nouns, which are in singular form.

I don’t have much faith in him.

Here, ‘faith’ is an uncountable noun and hence, we use ‘much’ instead of ‘many’.

How much money do you have in your wallet?

In this example, ‘money’ is an uncountable noun and hence, we use ‘much’. Note that ‘dollars’ or ‘rupees’ are countable as we say ‘ten dollars’ or ‘ten rupees’.

There was much compassion in his voice.

Here, compassion is an uncountable noun and so we use ‘much’ and not ‘many’

On the other hand, ‘many’ is used for countable nouns, which are in plural form, and here ‘much’ cannot be used.

Many youngsters today are taking to atheism.

‘Youngster’ is a countable noun and hence, we use ‘many’.

How many days remain?

In this example, ‘Day’ is a countable noun.

There are many obstructions ahead for us.

Here, ‘Obstruction’ is a countable noun and this means that we have to use ‘many’ and not ‘much’.


18. Of and Off

The words ‘of’ and ‘off’ are used so frequently in modern English that people often confuse them. For example, the sentence, ‘He took off without a word’ could be mistakenly written as ‘He took of without a word’, and the meaning would be lost. Let us discuss the distinctions between the two words.

The word ‘of’ has several functions, but it is most in use as a preposition that denotes various relations described in the sentence. For instance, it indicates a point of reckoning: ‘South of the border.’ It is also commonly used to point out what something is made of or what it contains: ‘Heart of gold’ (this is metaphorical, of course), ‘Cup of tea’. Another relation frequently described by ‘of’ is that of possession, as in ‘Queen of England.’

‘Off’ is also a very common word with large number of functions as well, but it is most frequently used as an adverb or a preposition. As an adverb, it is used usually to describe a state of discontinuance, or suspension: ‘Turn off the light.’ As a preposition, it is used to indicate the physical separation or distance from a position of rest, attachment or union, as in ‘Take it off the table’ or ‘The gas station is just off the corner ahead.’


19. 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’.


20. Since and For

The words ‘since’ and ‘for’ are often confused by English language speakers. There is a simple rule to follow to differentiate between the usage of these twowords.

SINCE is used to talk about time from a specific period while FOR is used to talk abouta length of time.

I have been living in Delhi since 11002.
I have been living in Delhi for twenty years.

I have been studying since seven a.m. today.
I have been studying for eight hours.

My tutor has taught me since January this year.
My tutor has taught me for five months.


21. Stationery and Stationary

These two words are among the most frequently confused in the English language, although their meanings are vastly different.

‘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’.


22. Then and Than

The similar sounding words ‘then’ and than’ confuse many English speakers and if you find yourself using one for the other, please go through this article.

The word ‘than’ is used to show comparison and is a conjunction(A conjunction is a word that joins two sentences).

  1. Adhir is smarter than 
  2. Homemade food is healthier than fast-food.
  3. He is older than

On the other hand, the word ‘then’ is used either to show a sequence of events or a sense of time. Read the examples carefully to understand.

  1. If you get full marks,then I will buy you a car.
  2. Finish your homework andthen we will go out for dinner.
  3. I will reach home at night. I will call you then.
  4. I will get free at 5. Can we meet then?

Notice how the first two sentences show a sequence of events and the next two show a sense of time. The speaker in sentence 3 and 4 is referring to particular time (‘at night’ and ‘at 5’).

Note:- When confused, think about what you’re trying to say/write. Only if you’re comparing will you use ‘than’, for every other situation, use ‘then’.


23. There, Their and They’re

Many speakers tend to get confused between ‘There’, ’Their’ and ‘They’re’ and knowing how to use these three words correctly is an important step in learning English.

The words ‘There’ and’ Their’ are homophones. Homophones are words that are spelt differently but pronounced the same. It is a common mistake to replace one for the other.

‘There’ always refers to a place, whether concrete or abstract, whereas ‘Their’ shows belonging or possession. ‘They’re, on the other hand, is the short form of they are

Let’s look at these examples for each of them


How can anyone live there?

Let’s go there.

There will be a party tomorrow,


Let us buy their car.

Let us not go to their house.

Return their books tomorrow.


They’re sitting there in their car.

In this sentence, notice how ‘there’ is used to signify a place whereas ‘their’ is used to show possession. The word ‘they’re’ is a contraction of the word ‘they’ and ‘are’ and should not be confused with ‘their’ and ‘there’.


24. Was and Were

The basic difference between ‘were’ and ‘was’ is obvious: ‘were’ is used when the number of objects or entities exceeds one, as in‘We were late for the dinner’. ‘Was’ is used when only one object or entity is being referred to, as in‘I was late for the dinner.’

There are, however, nuances in their use. For example,‘Everyone was well-dressed’seems incorrect because ‘everyone’ refers to more than one person. However, here the implication of the pronoun comes into play; ‘everyone’ refers to all the members of a group individually, as do ‘none’ (None of us was well-dressed) and ‘each’ (Each of us was well-dressed). Hence, ‘was’ is used after these words instead of ‘were’. On the other hand, ‘all’ refers collectively to the entire group (All of us were well-dressed).

This does not mean, however, that ‘all’ and ‘were’ necessarily always go together. When ‘all’ is used with countable nouns, it is correct to use ‘were’, as in‘All the apples were stale.’However, when it is used with non-countable nouns, which are in the singular form, ‘was’ must be used, as in‘All the milk was over.’

What about ‘The examination was failed by all the students’?This, too, can be confusing. After all, here ‘all’ refers to the collective student body but ‘was’ is used. This is because the verb ‘was’ acts on the singular ‘examination’, not on the phrase ‘all the students’. If the subject (‘examination’) were to be pluralised (‘examinations’), ‘was’ would have to replaced by ‘were’.

Lastly, the use of ‘were’ as the past subjunctive of the present ‘to be’ is important. A subjunctive is used to express possibility, hope, supposition, etc., rather than to state a fact. Hence, we say,‘If I/he were famous…’instead of‘If I/he was famous…’


25. Who and Whom

Many English speakers confuse the words ‘who’ and ‘whom’ and tend to use them interchangeably which is often incorrect.

Both ‘who’ and ‘whom’ are interrogative pronouns. The key difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom’ is that ‘who’ is used in place of the subject of the sentence and ‘whom’ is used in place of the object of the sentence.


  • Who told you?
  • Who is singing?
  • Who wants to eat?
  • Who hit Sanjiv?


  • Whom are you talking about?
  • Whom is this food for?
  • With whom did you go to the market? Whom did Rajiv hit?