Commonly Misused Words in the English Language

You've probably found yourself in a situation when you are not sure which word to use in a certain context. Some of those words differ in only one letter, some in two, and some are exactly the same, with just a space somewhere in between. Learn which to choose in different contexts in today’s post about commonly misused words in the English language!


Commonly Misused Words:  Effect vs Affect

Effect is usually a noun, and the result or a consequence of an action.  Affect is usually a verb, and it means to have an effect on. Go figure. So, this must be the reason why they are mixed up so often. Let’s clear up the mix-up and look at them in a sentence:

  • The weather clearly affected their wedding day, since it had a big effect on the bride ­– she was completely wet and irritated.

Commonly Misused Words:  Explicit vs Implicit


To say something explicitly is to spell it out clearly so that it isn’t ambiguous, but to say something implicitly means that the meaning is implied or not said clearly and directly.

  • He explicitly said that I’m going to get fired if I make such a mistake again. But he implicitly said that wasn’t true because his voice wasn’t serious.


Commonly Misused Words:  Compliment vs Complement

Even when you write the word “complement” in your Google search, you will get pictures that mean “compliment”. Let’s clarify the difference between these two meanings.

Compliment, with an “i”, is “an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration”. You give a compliment to your friend because she has impeccable eyeliner skills and her eyeliner is on point every single time or when her highlighter is on fleek. You can also give a compliment to someone due to their achievements. Complement, with an “e”, is something completely different. Okay, it’s not THAT different, but it’s different. Complement is “something that fills up, completes, or makes better or perfect” or “a thing that contributes extra features to something else in such a way as to improve or emphasize its quality”. In real life situation that means that her heels and purse match together perfectly or that those earrings complete her outfit and bring it to another level of dashing.

Let’s look at both words in one sentence:

  • He gave her a compliment on how well she complemented that blazer with her dress.


Commonly Misused Words:  Onto vs On To


Onto is a preposition that means “on top of, to a position on.” On to, however, is used when on is a part of a verb phrase. For example:

  • She got on to the next point in her presentation.
  • Those who qualify can go on to university.

A good trick is to mentally say “up” before “on” in a sentence. If the sentence still makes sense, then onto is the correct choice. (See the picture above.)


Commonly Misused Words:  Emigrate vs Immigrate

Emigrate means to exit a certain place, while immigrate means to enter or move to another country.

  • A lot of Croatian people emigrated from Croatia and immigrated into Germany.


Commonly Misused Words:  Assume vs Presume


a) In common usage both assume and presume can mean ‘suppose’ and are often interchangeable. However, there is a subtle difference between the two where presume means ‘suppose to be the case based on probability’:

  • Two of the journalists went missing and are presumed.

Assume on the other hand means ‘suppose to be the case without proof’:

  • I just assumed it to be the case.

b) Both words also share other meanings that can be summarized as ‘to take on oneself’. In this sense assume is generally used to describe taking on a role:

  • I assumed the role of the aggressor in the conversation.

Whereas presume is generally used when taking on an attitude:

  • He had presumed too great a level of familiarity.


To sum this up, we could say that the English language has a lot of rules and subtle differences between certain words that are quite similar. If you’re not sure which word to use, look it up on the Internet (but be careful, not all information is correct!) or simply contact us, and we’ll help you with all your language dilemmas.

You might be interested