7 Tricky Spelling Mix-Ups to Avoid for Better Writing

Why does spelling matter when you've got spellcheck, anyway?

Two words:

Tricky rules.

Even though my favorite spelling tool helps a lot with tricky errors, it can't catch everything. Unfortunately, human language can be very subjective.

Mastering these seven easy spelling mix-ups will keep your errors to a minimum.

Let's jump right in, shall we?

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COMMONLY CONFUSED WORDS that trip even pro writers up:

Affect vs. effect

Affect is a verb. How will changes in tax laws affect small business owners?
Effect is a noun. The tax laws will have a large effect on small business owners.

An easy trick for remembering whether you should use “affect” or “effect” is to remember that affect shows action while effect indicates an entity.

Breath vs. Breathe

This one drives me nuts! 
Breath is a noun. You must take a breath before going underwater.
Breathe is a verb. You can’t breathe underwater. 

Lose vs. Loose

Lose is a verb meaning to suffer loss, to part with something, or to fail to keep possession of something. I always lose my keys when I need them the most!
Loose is an adjective meaning the opposite of tight. I keep my shoelaces loose so I don't have to untie and retie them each time I put my shoes on.

Advice vs. Advise

Advice is a noun meaning a recommendation: My mentor gave me some great advice today.
Advise is a verb meaning to recommend: My mentor will often advise me on my career choices.

Then vs. Than

Then can be... 

  • an adverb indicating the time an action takes place: First open the document, then type your responses.
  • a noun standing in for a time: I would have opened the document, but just then my computer crashed.
  • or an adjective modifying a noun to describe how it existed in the past: My then-boss was angry at me even though the crash wasn't my fault.

Than is a conjunction used to make comparisons. But good news: my current boss is much nicer than my old boss.

Insure vs. Ensure

Insure is a verb meaning to cover with an insurance policy – think of it as the verb form of the noun insurance. I want to insure my home with an additional flood policy.
Ensure is a verb meaning to guarantee. Taking the time to read the fine print will ensure you fully understand the insurance contract you're about to sign.

Farther vs. Further

Farther and further are both the comparative form of far. In many cases they can be used interchangeably. BUT there are certain situations where only further makes sense.

A good rule of thumb is to use farther when you're describing physical distance and use further when you're talking more conceptually:

The library is farther away than the grocery store.
And furthermore, in my experience...
Any further disturbance shall result in a fine.

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