Don’t Let These Commonly Confused Words Trip You Up

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Don't let these commonly confused words trip you up!

Last year, Marc Hartzman wrote a piece for The Huffington Post, entitled “An Open Letter to Everyone Writing about Sneaky Mountains.” In it, he discusses a “ruthless assault” on the English language by everyone from Instagram posters to journalists.

This ruthless assault? The phrase sneak peak. He assures readers that no peaks sneak and all mountains are “completely innocent.”

Let today be the last day you confuse these similar-sounding words.

Commonly Confused Homophones

In my time spent in classrooms (both as a student and as a teaching assistant) and as an editor, I’ve noticed that there are a few groups of words that almost everyone confuses at least once:

  • There/they’re/their
  • Knew/new
  • Your/you’re
  • Then/than

How to Remember the Difference

This is one of the reasons that the English language is so difficult to learn. We sometimes have three or more words that sound exactly the same but mean totally different things. But if you have a few tricks up your sleeve, you can make sure you don’t make these mistakes again.

There, they’re, and their

I have a few tricks to remember the difference between these three.

There implies a location. So does here. So if you simply remember here is already inside the word there, you won’t confuse it with they’re and their.

Okay, so how do you remember the difference between they’re and their?

Well, they’re is a contraction of they are. It’s already right there in the contraction; it’s only missing an a.

We use their to indicate possession. WritingExplained.org has a great way to remember this. Both I and their signal possession, so just remember when you are writing about someone possessing something to use the spelling with the i.

  • I live over there.
  • Their house is at the end of the street.
  • They’re planning to buy a new house next month.

Knew and new

If you knew something, you had knowledge about it. Remember the kn. If something is new, you’ve never seen it before. Remember the n.

  • I knew that shirt was new. I had never seen you wear it.

Your/you’re

This is probably the mix-up I see most often and it’s an easy fix.

Remember that your indicates possession. So does the word our. Our is already inside your.

You’re is a contraction of you are. Just like they’re, it’s only missing an a.

  • You left your book in my car.
  • You’re going to need to follow me to my car to get your

Then/than

This is one that gives almost everyone I know a lot of trouble. If it confuses you, there’s nothing wrong with that. It confuses me sometimes too.

Fortunately, Grammar Girl has a great way to remember it. Then has to do with time; both words have an e. Than has to do with comparisons; both have an a.

  • She goes on a run, then she gets a donut.
  • I can run faster than

Which homophones give you the most trouble? Let us know!

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