People who rely on spell check too much often mix up words that sound the same but are spelled differently. If you want your readers to understand you and think you’re smart, you must avoid  sound-alike traps.

don't look stupid with sound-alike confusionsAlthough there are way too many to list here, here are some of the common ones:

accept                                  except

affect                                   effect

alternate                              alternative

boarder                               border

cite                                      site                               sight

complement                        compliment

chord                                   cord                             cored

council                                 counsel

coarse                                 course

discreet                               discrete

elicit                                     illicit

epic                                      epoch

farther                                 further

heard                                  herd

insight                                 incite

peak                                    peek                 pique

pedal                                   peddle

principal                              principle

storey                                  story

than                                     then

verses                                 versus

If you want to stop embarrassing yourself and confusing your readers, write a list of words you have confused  and tape it prominently in your work space. If you are the slightest bit confused about any of the words on this list, start with them.

When you have a smidgen of doubt, check that you’re using the correct word by highlighting it and clicking on spelling & grammar or research in Word or the equivalents on other word processing programs. It takes only a few seconds, much less time than we used to spend hauling the fat dictionary off the shelf and leafing through.

Once you’ve caught yourself a few times, using the correct one will become automatic. Then you can cross it off the list. As long as you haven’t had to add too many new ones, you will feel good.

Don’t get me started on sound-alike pronouns, as in its and it’s, which I dumped on here.

You may not be aware of these slip-ups. So when a sound-alike mix-up is pointed out to you, usually by a baby boomer and anal person,  don’t be defensive. Thank them.  Add the words to your list.

Do you have any to add to mine?

Thanks to Graham Ballantyne for the photo.

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Words that can make you look stupid
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