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I'm confused...no wait maybe I'm not

The English language can be very difficult to use in both speaking and writing. We have a ton of words out there that sound similar and are similar in meaning. Some words are more easily mistaken than others and this article will talk about a few of those very words we need to be able to differentiate from. While there are a lot of words out there that could fit into this article I felt the need to point out these most common ones and will elaborate on their meaning and use in writing and speaking today.

Then vs. Than

Here's one of the key offenders in our objective in becoming good writers. Then and than get so frequently mixed up in writing that people seem to just pick one and go with it. Let's look at the difference between these two

Then: Then is an adverb, and indicates time. An example of a sentence that would you then instead of than is something like "We are going to the movies, then we are going to eat." It's indicating time and action, nothing else. Then is also a word that can be replaced with synonyms. In the above sentence, we can substitute then with afterwards or later.

Than: Than is different. That letter A as opposed to E means all the difference in this comparison. Actually that's exactly what it's used for, a comparison! Than compares two things or is used to indicate amount. For instance in a comparison: "Pie is greater than cake" makes sense because it's indicating that one is different from another. In the instance of amount: "My wallet has 4 dollars less than what it had yesterday." Again comparing something but in this case indicating amount. The other notable thing is unlike then, than cannot be replaced. Try thinking of a word that can replace than in "Pie is greater than cake." You can't because it's standalone.

Accept vs. Except

If you say these two words out loud they sound the same, but I can assure you the difference is quite big between the two. Let's look at these two words to improve your writing skills today.

Accept: Accept is a verb. This means accept is an action and you will use it to portray taking something from someone else. For example: "I will accept your generous donation" means this person is willingly taking this money from the person donating. When you accept, you take or receive in other words.

Except: Except is quite different in that while accept is a verb, except is a preposition or in other words a link to other nouns and phrases. It means not including, or other than and an example would be "I would go to the movies with you except I'm busy tonight". This isn't an action like accept; it's indicating something other than what this person desires.

Affect vs. Effect

Another duo of similarly sounding words, these two are also very different in spite of their one letter difference. Here are the differences between these two.

Affect: Affect is generally used as a verb indicating something happened. An example would be "This food is going to affect my stomach" meaning he's probably going to get sick from it. Affect is the verb here; it's the action of a sentence.

Effect: Effect is the opposite in that it's used as a noun and not a verb. So to play upon this idea of this guy’s stomach more: "This food is going to affect my stomach. The effect will be I am going to puke." Notice how effect here isn't indicating an action like affect, but instead it's acting as a noun showing the outcome of what will happen from ingesting this food.

It's vs its

That little apostrophe makes all the difference. It's subtle, or so you would think. It's and its are very different and when you understand the difference you will see how if you mixed them up the sentence suddenly makes no sense anymore.

It's: It's is a contraction of the two words "It is". Just like you know don't is "do not" or can't is "can not", it's is a contraction of two words put together by an apostrophe. An example would be "It's time to go to bed". If you took out "It's" and replaced that with the individual words "It is" the sentence still makes sense because "It's" is just short for "It is".

Its: Its is a possessive and basically....well it indicates possession. An example is "The dog ate its bone". If you said "The dog ate it is bone" that makes no sense right? Because we aren't using "It's or it is" but instead possession in "its".

More out there

There are hundreds of more examples out there besides these few that I listed, but these are the most common offenders in the English language and the most frequently confused words for writers today. Make sure you know the difference between these word pairs and you will become a better writer.