Want to sound smart? Conquer these 10 commonly confused words today!

In today’s business world, it’s all about image. Not only how we dress, how we look, and what we drive but also how we sound–both in person and on paper. We also want to sound smart when we’re communicating with others when writing and when in casual conversation.

Let’s face it, the English language is full of commonly confused words: words that sound the same but have different meanings, words that look the same but have different pronunciations, and words that don’t seem to make any sense at all. One of the underlying reasons for common word confusion is that the United States is a nation of immigrants.

Our language has evolved over time, borrowing words and phrases as well as punctuation and spelling from Latin, German, Italian, French, and many other languages. Sometimes we mix them up out of pure laziness, confusion, or maybe we just don’t know the difference. Whatever the reason, here are 10 word groups to conquer and get you on your way to sounding smarter.


About is preferred in most contexts. (The house is about 150 feet from the curb.)
However, approximately is ideal for scientific usage. (Approximately two-thirds of the earth is covered with water.)



Obtuse describes a person who cannot understand. It can also describe a blunt edge or a geometric angle between 90° and 180°. (She tried to explain her opinion, but grew frustrated at their sheer obtuseness.)
Abstruse describes an idea that is hard to understand. (The abstruse mathematical concepts went far beyond my understanding.)



Accord is a verb meaning to bring to agreement or to grant/give consent. (He made the decision of his own accord.)
Accordance is a noun meaning an agreement or conformity. (She edited the document in accordance with standard editing practices.)



Amid is used with mass nouns. (Amid the fighting, it was difficult to determine who was winning the battle.)
Among is used with the plurals of countable nouns. (The celebrants danced among the townsfolk.)
Between indicates a one-to-one relationship. (Between you and me, I had a great time.) Yes, between you and me is correct grammar, not between you and I.

Avoid using amidst and amongst.

commonly confused words


A capital is a governmental entity, usually a city. (The capital of North Carolina is Raleigh.)
A capitol is a legislative building. (The U.S. Congress meets at the capitol in Washington, D.C.)





Collaborate means to work with other, usually in an intellectual endeavor. (The teacher and students collaborated on a class project.)
Corroborate means to support or make more certain with evidence. (The prosecution called on a forensics expert to corroborate the witness’s testimony.)



The best way to distinguish these two words is to answer the question, “Who is performing the action?”

A speaker or writer implies (suggests). The company president implied that the company was doing well.
A listener or reader infers (deduces). Based on the presentation, most employees inferred that the business was nearing bankruptcy.



Loath is an adjective meaning reluctant. (He is loath to admit he is wrong.)
Loathe is a verb meaning to detest something or regard with disgust. (She loathes all types of seafood.)



The preferred use in American English is singular (without the –s). However, when in Britain, please use the –s on the end. The same is true for similar words: forward, backward, upward, downward, and afterward.



These words are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings.
Wrong pertains to being immoral/unlawful or incorrect/improper/unsatisfactory. (It is wrong to bully another person.)
Wrongful means unfair/unjust or having no legal right. (The victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant.)


What words do you confuse?

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Nikki Corbett Precise Be Smarter NowNikki Corbett is owner of Precise and
Be Smarter Now, wordsmith, writer,
editor, poet, and mom. She developed
a love of writing and the English language
early in life and has been writing stories
since she could pick up a pencil. She
holds degrees in Communications/
Journalism as well as Creative
Writing and Business Administration.
@ncwritermom @ncpoetess

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