09 Mar Commonly Confused Words

The English language has many homophones – that is, words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

Here’s a guide to some of the most commonly confused words and phrases….and remember, spell-check won’t pick them up if they are used incorrectly as both spellings are correct!


Affect is a verb meaning to have an influence on or to change (can also mean to pretend).

Effect is a noun meaning an outcome or a result.

  • Did the hot weather affect you when you were on holidays?
  • What effect did the hot weather have on you?


Principal is a noun meaning main or first in order of importance. It can refer to a person or entity.

Principle is also a noun meaning a fundamental truth or theory.

  • The principal reason you do well in exams is because you study hard.
  • The teacher explained the principles of physics in today’s class.


Stationery is a noun.

Stationary is an adjective.

  • Can someone please put in a new stationery order?
  • The train didn’t move from the platform, it remained stationary for 15 minutes.


Enquiry and Inquiry are both nouns. However, enquiry refers to a question, whereas inquiry refers to an investigation.

  • Every day our business receives many telephone enquiries.
  • The police are conducting an inquiry into a notorious murder committed recently.


Dependent is an adjective meaning contingent on or determined by.

Dependant is a noun meaning a person who relies on another for financial support.

  • Whether we go on holidays is dependent on how much money we have saved this year.
  • Paul is the only member of his family who has a job; he has many dependants.


This is just a small sample of some commonly confused words.  If you have seen or read any other words that have more than one spelling and different meanings, get in touch!