53 Words You Absolutely Don’t Want to Confuse at Work
Last week, I emailed my boss that I was hoping to elicit feedback, and then, I panicked.
Did I just say that I wanted to prompt feedback (my intention), or did I accidentally use the word that sounds the same, but is spelled differently and would suggest I was hoping for feedback unsuitable for the workplace (very much not my intention)?
You might have recently found yourself in a similar situation, writing an email that contains a word you say all the time, only to later realize that you misspelled it (and now your sentence means something entirely different).
In order to make sure this never happens again, here are 53 commonly confused words that you definitely want to get right at work.
Ensure vs. Insure
You insure a car or a house. Think: insurance.
You ensure the company will be a fit for you by doing your research.
Capitol vs. Capital
The Capitol is a building in Washington, DC. Do note its proper noun status.
Capital is money, as in a venture capital firm. It’s also what you’re referring to when you ask someone to stop emailing in ALL CAPS—and the spelling you’d want to use if asked to list all of the state capitals.
Perspective vs. Prospective
You have a unique perspective, or take, on events.
Prospective means potential, as in, the prospective candidates are impressive.
Gauge vs. Gouge
You’ll gauge your client’s reaction to the new slogan (i.e., take his or her temperature).
You’ll gouge out your eyes if you have to stare at your presentation slides much longer.
Moot vs. Mute vs. Moo
The point is moot—or, in other words, it doesn’t matter.
The TV is on mute.
And if you think the point is moo, you’ve watched too much Friends.
Prosperity vs. Posterity
Prosperity means wealth, so if you’re toasting to prosperity, you’re celebrating your fortune.
Posterity means future generations. You could toast to posterity as well, so long as you know you’re raising a glass to your descendants.
Principal vs. Principle
You went to the principal’s office when you misbehaved in school.
Principal can also mean main, as in principal investor.
And a principle is a tenet you believe in.
Tenet vs. Tenant
While we’re on the subject, a tenet is a rule.
A tenant is a renter.
Rein vs. Reign vs. Rain
You rein in your tendency to overreact, much like you use the reins to control a horse.
Meanwhile a monarch reigns over his or her empire, while rain falls from the sky.
Solidarity vs. Solitary
You show solidarity by joining or supporting a cause or social movement.
If you’re the solitary member on a project, you’re the only person working on it. (Note: Solitary often includes a connotation that means lonely or isolated.)
Weary vs. Wary vs. Leery vs. Leer
Weary means tired. It can also mean jaded, which is why some people confuse it with…
Wary, which means suspicious. You’d be wary of a candidate with terrible references.
Leery also means suspicious. You would be rightfully leery of a hiring manger who never showed up for your interview.
Finally, to leer is to stare in an inappropriate way.
Accept vs. Except
You accept an offer from your dream company.
You would go to the upcoming event, except you already have plans.
Broach vs. Brooch vs. Breach
You’ll broach the subject tomorrow, while wearing your grandmother’s lucky brooch.
Neither of which has anything to do with a breach of contract.
Fleshing vs. Flushing
You flesh out the findings by going into more detail.
You flush something down in the restroom.
Banal vs. Blasé
The topic is banal, a.k.a., boring.
He’s known for his blasé attitude—meaning he’s never flustered and seems generally unconcerned.
Skim vs. Scan
When you skim a document, you’re glancing at pretty quickly.
Scan can be used as a synonym for skim, but it also can mean reading something in detail (much like the oft-misused peruse). Scan can also be used in a medical context, e.g., a full-body scan.
Underserved vs. Undeserved
Underserved communities suffer from a lack of resources.
Undeserved means something was not merited, like an unwarranted dismissal.
Proceed vs. Precede
If someone says, “let’s proceed,” he means “let’s get started” or “let’s continue.”
Something that precedes something else, comes first (e.g., winter precedes spring, spring precedes summer).
Intents vs. Intense
Your intents are noble.
But your intense gaze is creeping the interviewer out.
Squash vs. Quash
You might eat squash after a game of squash in which you squashed your opponent like a bug. (What an eventful lunch break!)
On the other hand, you’d quash a merger that you’ve reconsidered and decided is a bad move.
Irreverent vs. Irrelevant
You might think irreverent just means colorful, but it often connotes something that is disrespectful, rude, even blasphemous.
While something that’s irrelevant doesn’t relate to the matter at hand.
Amused vs. Bemused
If you’re amused, you’re enjoying yourself, whereas…
If you’re bemused, you’re confused.
Farther vs. Further
Farther and further both measure distance. But farther is more often used for a distance you can actually measure. So, my favorite lunch spot is farther from the office than the sandwich spot up the block.
If you don’t want to go there, we don’t need to take this conversation any further.
Elicit vs. Illicit
If you’ve read this far, you deserve to know that elicit means provoke, as in elicit a response.
Illicit means illegal or forbidden—illicit activities have no place in the office (or, really, anywhere).
Did we miss any words you commonly confuse or have to set others straight on? If so, tweet me and let me know!
Photo of man shrugging courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sara McCord’s column “Impress Me” explains how to make a better professional impression step-by-step. Her career advice has been published on Forbes, Mashable, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Daily Muse, Sara has experience managing programs, building strategic partnerships, advising executive directors, and supporting a national network of volunteers. Catch up with Sara on her blog Grab A Latte or on Twitter @grabalatte.More from this Author