10 words you need to quit misusing


Confession: I’m a terrible typist. Often when I’m writing, I’ll find that my fingers can barely keep up with my thoughts, and I end with a post peppered with incorrect spelling and poor grammar.

And that’s what we have spell check for, correct? Unfortunately, this tool doesn’t often pick up on the nuances of the English language. So you need to use your brain.

Below you’ll find ten words that are commonly used interchangeably…but should never, ever be confused.

Onwards, future spell check wizard.

Sympathetic and empathetic

Feeling sympathy requires for you to have had a similar experience with the person you’re directing your feelings at. Empathy, on the other hand, suggests that you appreciate the other person’s pain, while you might not understand completely what they’re going through.

E.g. I was sympathetic to the girl in front of me at Coles; I too had fought many a time with the self-serve check out.

E.g. It's our empathy for abandoned pets that motivates us to adopt from animal shelters.

Affect and effect

Affect is a verb – a ‘doing word’ – and effect is a noun – an actual thing.

Affect means to influence.

Effect describes the result of what just happened.

E.g. The effect of the copy was entirely successful – we doubled our sales overnight!

E.g. I was incredibly affected by that sales page. I signed up straight away.

Compliment and Complement

One denotes free stuff and kind words (yay!), and the other adds value (also yay!)

E.g. I can’t accept your compliments entirely; my business partner helped me with this one.

E.g.: The copy complemented the overall website perfectly.

Then and Than

Then is an adverb, and than is a conjunction. That’s a fancy way of referring to a comparative clause.

Use then when you’re referring to a specific time frame, and than when you’re comparing two or more items.

E.g. I had four cups of coffee, then I went home to feed my crying cats.

E.g. I’d rather stay out drinking coffee than go home to feed my cats.

Its and it’s

When we want to be PC and keep things gender neutral, we’ll often use ‘its’ over his or hers.

A frequent gall of mine is when people will assume my cats are females. This is why when I’m talking to other about their pets I’ll say ‘What’s its name?’

It’s on the other hand, is a contraction of ‘it is’. Use it when you don’t want to sound like a robot.

E.g. It’s Monday and I’m cranky.

E.g. Its fur is wonderfully soft, like a silken little cloud.

Site and sight

Confusingly, both are nouns. Here’s a trick for remembering which one is which: Great heights make for great sights.

A site refers to a location.

E.g. My office is a real sight to see – I haven’t cleaned in weeks.

E.g. My office looks like a bomb site.

Bare and bear

Use these words incorrectly, and you could end up implying a state of undress.

E.g. I made sure my feet were bare before I allowed my manicurist to touch my barnacles.

E.g. I can’t bear these unsightly bunions any longer!

Disinterested and uninterested

Ah, how I adore the nuance of the English language. And with this example, it’s the subtly that infers your level of enthusiasm. If you’re disinterested, you’re impartial to whatever is going on, yet not altogether unconcerned. You’re neutral; Switzerland, even. If you’re uninterested, you really don’t give a damn what is going on. You’re totally bored.

E.g. The crowd became disinterested when a giant peacock walked across the room, quelling their attention in the speaker’s presentation.

E.g. Sorry I’m late; I’m uninterested in whatever you have to say.

Cue and queue

Most people assume that the former is American spelling, and the latter English. Actually, a cue refers to a sign or a prompt, and a queue refers to those goddamn awful hordes of people at the post office.

e.g. That’s your cue! Get up there and fight!

E.g. The queue to top up my Myki was too long so I just winged it and got a $75 fine.

Practice and practise

If you’re American – read no further. Luckily, the following doesn’t really apply to you.

If you’re in a country where British English is the norm – hello, Australia! – this is where things get a bit tricky for us.

Practice is a noun, and practise is a verb…and an adjective. Confused?

E.g. I don’t like that doctor’s practice – they don’t bulk bill.

E.g. He’s been practising medicine for 20 years.

E.g. He’s a practised aesthetician.

So bookmark this page, pin it, or glue it to the back of your eyelids. Whatever you do, use these words correctly. You'll look a whole lot more credible, smart and appropriately nerdy in the long run.

I'm Camilla Peffer, and I'm a Melbourne copywriter who creates engaging, results-driven content for fashion and lifestyle brands. From website copywriting, to fashion copywriting, content strategies and SEO audits, I've created clicks and conversions for the likes of Sportsgirl, Seed Heritage, CoYo, Ralph Lauren and Politix. Want to work together? Reach out! I'd love to hear about your next project.