In our Glossary of Usage you will find more than 200 sets of confusables--words that are commonly mixed up because they look and sound alike. In the glossary you'll also find links to definitions, examples, and practice exercises that should help you keep these words straight.
To test your familiarity with 50 of these often puzzling word pairs, set aside 10 or 15 minutes to take this big quiz. Select the word in each set that completes the sentence accurately and appropriately. (If you're not sure of the correct answer, follow the links for explanations and examples.) You'll find the correct answers on page two.
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- Affect or Effect
"Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will _____ us." (Stephen R. Covey)
- Allusion or Illusion
"The single biggest problem in communication is the _____ that it has taken place." (George Bernard Shaw)
- Aural or Oral
While visual learners prefer to learn information through charts and graphs, _____ learners prefer to hear information.
- Capital or Capitol
Bismarck is the _____ of North Dakota and the state’s second largest city.
- Cereal or Serial
"Here's what we do. We leave the car here, we take the plates off, we scratch the _____ number off the engine block, and we walk away." (Kramer in Seinfeld)
- Chord or Cord
The governor touched a responsive _____ with voters of both parties, especially with her promise to veto any budget plan that included an increase in taxes.
- Click or Clique
The vice president of China belongs to a _____ known as the "princelings," descendants of prominent communist officials.
- Climactic or Climatic
The new music director favors full-bodied, robust sound, which can build to daring decibel levels in _____ moments.
- Collaborate or Corroborate
The prosecutor closed the case, admitting that he was unable to find witnesses to _____ the allegations made against Mr. Soprano.
- Credible or Credulous
"The most imaginative people are the most _____: for them everything is possible." (Alexander Chase)
- Dazed or Dazzled
_____ by months of gladhanding and posturing, the candidates stumbled around the stage like finalists in a dance marathon.
- Defuse or Diffuse
"Gossip is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of those who _____ it: it proves nothing but the bad taste of the smoker." (George Eliot)
- Eminent or Imminent
If so _____ an establishment as a three-star Michelin restaurant can serve toxic shellfish, what hope is there for anyone else?
- Fair or Fare
The driver teased the poor child who had forgotten her bus _____.
- Faze or Phase
I'm happy to say that the first _____ of our operation has met with considerable success.
- Finally or Finely
"My sister's bringing up had made me sensitive. In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so _____ perceived and so _____ felt as injustice." (Charles Dickens, Great Expectations)
- Flare or Flair
The bright spot in the sky was an unusually large solar _____, a stupendous explosion that belched radiation and billions of tons of matter far into space.
- Flaunt or Flout
The first priority of the commission should be to identify restaurant owners who knowingly _____ public-health laws.
- Flew, Flu, or Flue
"The Wright brothers _____ right through the smoke screen of impossibility." (Charles F. Kettering)
- Formally or Formerly
"Home computers are being called upon to perform many new functions, including the consumption of homework _____ eaten by the dog." (Doug Larson)
- Forth or Fourth
"A reformer is one who sets _____ cheerfully toward sure defeat." (Lydia M. Child)
- Gibe, Jibe, or Jive
"Do you promise to jump, _____, wail, groove, rock steady, and at all times lend a helping hand to your fellow music lovers?" (The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning)
- Hardy or Hearty
"_____ laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors." (Norman Cousins)
- Homed or Honed
Last year scientists re-engineered E coli bacteria so that instead of swimming toward food they _____ in on substances released by dangerous pathogens.
- Hurdling or Hurtling
"The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is _____ around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour. And I can feel it." (The Doctor in Doctor Who)
- Ingenious or Ingenuous
"Salvatore was now a great big husky fellow, tall and broad, but still with that _____ smile and those trusting, kindly eyes that he had had as a boy." (William Somerset Maugham, "Salvatore")
- Leaches or Leeches
"You are feeding off the violence and the despair of the drug trade. You are a parasite who _____ off the culture of drugs." (Maury Levy in The Wire)
- Lead or Led
"We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has _____ to the present." (Adlai E. Stevenson)
- Liable or Libel
"If you shoot me, you're _____ to lose a lot of those humanitarian awards." (Chevy Chase in Fletch)
- Loose or Lose
"The best way to find yourself is to _____ yourself in the service of others." (Mohandas Gandhi)
- Miner or Minor
Parents are conditioned to put up with a few _____ accidents when they leave their children home alone--a broken vase, spilt milk on the rug.
- Official or Officious
Julia Child once grabbed a pepper mill from the hands of an _____ waiter before he had a chance to spoil her carefully ordered dish.
- Palate, Palette, or Pallet
"Yes, gentlemen, I have here just about the handiest, dandiest little bookful of gastronomical surprises that ever tempted the jaded _____ of a fastidious f-f-food fancier." (Daffy Duck)
- Peak, Peek, or Pique
"The man who unified China in the third century B.C. conquered six other feudal states to do it, built the first version of the Great Wall and in a fit of _____ may have buried hundreds of scholars alive." (Time magazine, May 18, 2008)
- Plain or Plane
"I remain just one thing, and one thing only, and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher _____ than any politician." (Charlie Chaplin)
- Pole or Poll
"A public-opinion _____ is no substitute for thought."(Warren Buffett)
- Prescribed or Proscribed
The Canadian government added the Somali al-Shabaab group to its list of _____ terror groups.
- Principal or Principle
"All animals, except man, know that the _____ business of life is to enjoy it." (Samuel Butler)
- Prostate or Prostrate
"Miss Everglot, what are you doing here? You should be at home, _____ with grief." (Pastor Galswells in Corpse Bride)
- Regretful or Regrettable
The movie is beautiful, luscious, and elegiac, but it has the _____ drawback of being dreadfully boring.
- Reluctant or Reticent
The teacher tried to make conversation, but the boy remained _____ and refused to make eye contact.
- Restive or Restless
"My _____, roaming spirit would not allow me to remain at home very long." (Buffalo Bill Cody)
- Riffled or Rifled
With quiet precision, the thief _____ the pouch, placed most of its contents in a briefcase, and walked confidently out of the embassy.
- Role or Roll
"Change does not _____ in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle." (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
- Stanch or Staunch
"There's an evil on these seas that even the most _____ and bloodthirsty pirates have come to fear." (Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End)
- Suit or Suite
"I'd walk through hell in a gasoline _____ to play baseball." (Pete Rose)
- Tack or Tact
"The Viper, to me, is the quintessential American muscle car--brute power, great looks and about as much _____ as a grunge band crashing a cotillion." (Bill Griffith, The Boston Globe)
- Troop or Troupe
In the end, the plucky singing Scot lost out to a dance _____.
- Vale or Veil
"Our own self-love draws a thick _____ between us and our faults." (Lord Chesterfield)
- Who's or Whose
"Never go to a doctor _____ office plants have died." (Erma Bombeck)