Commonly Misspelled Words

Author: David R. Tribble
Version: 1.9, 2007-02-03

This is a misspelling of accessible.

affect | effect
The first form is a verb meaning "to change", as in "His new wealth will noticeably affect his pride."
The second form is a noun meaning "outcome", as in "His new wealth had a noticeable effect on his pride."
The second is also used, more rarely, as a verb meaning "to cause", as in "He will effect the change as soon as possible." This use of the word is confusing more often than not.

This is a misspelling of a hold.
For example, "He grabbed a hold of the reins."

alot | a lot | allot
The first form is a misspelling of a lot, and is not a real word.
The second form means "much" or "many", as in "He had a lot of money and a lot of friends."
The third form is similar in meaning to "allocate", as in "He planned to allot some of his money for the buying of gifts for his friends."

This is a misspelling of compatible.
Software is called compatible if it interoperates with an existing system or another vendor's software.

compliment | complement
The first means "to say something nice about someone", as in "He complimented her on her nice dress."
The seconds means "provides a missing feature", as in "His tuxedo provided a nice complement to her dress."
In programming, the complement of a number is its inverse. Thus, we refer to one's-complement and two's-complement numbers.

This is a misspelling of definitely.

This is a misspelling of dependent.

This is a misspelling of edited.

existant | extant
The first word is a misspelling of existent.
Both words mean "in existence", but the first form is more common.

This is a misspelling of implement.

its | it's
These are "its (possessive)" and "it is", respectively.
The first is used to indicate possession, as in "My car is in bad shape since the water rusted its pipes."
The second is a simple contraction, as in "If it keeps raining, it's going to rust the pipes."

These may the the most misspelled words in English. It's easy to remember when its should be used, since it's one of these possessives:

his (irregular)
mine (irregular)

Just say "it is" whenever you see "it's".

This is a misspelling of kernel.
In programming, kernel refers to the "core" of a software system, such as the central scheduling mechanism within an operating system. It comes from the same term meaning seed, as in "a kernel of corn."

lose | loose
The first means "to misplace", as in "He will lose his keys if he's not careful." The 's' is pronounced with a 'z' sound, to rhyme with "news".
The second means "not tight", as in "The knot was loose because he didn't tie it carefully." The 's' is pronounced with an 's' sound, to rhyme with "noose".

This is a misspelling of propagate.

This is a misspelling of separate.

setup | set up
The first is a noun or adjective, and the second is a verb, as in "Please read the setup instructions in order to properly set up the projector."

shutdown | shut down
The first word ("shutdown") is a noun or adjective, as in "The computer entered shutdown mode and eventually suffered a complete shutdown."
The second two words are a verb, as in "Please shut down the computer."
"Shutdown" should never be used as a verb, since this would lead to obviously incorrect uses such as "He shutdown the computer, so now it's shutdowning." The correct usage is "He shut down the computer, so now it's shutting down."

there | they're
The first specifies a location, and the second is a contraction of "they are", as in "They're over there."

2 | two
Numerals should only be used when they specify measurement quantities (such as percentages), or to specify counts of ten or more items.
For example, the sentence "Only 2% of the cases were caused by human error" is proper because the quantity specified is a percentage. However, a sentence such as "We proposed 2 solutions to the problem" is improper usage, and should be written instead as "We proposed two solutions to the problem."

Larger numbers (having more than one digit) can be represented either way. For example, both the form "There were 12 'A' students in the class of 500" and the form "There were twelve 'A' students in the class of five hundred" are proper.

However, large numbers with many non-zero digits look awkward when spelled out completely. Thus the form "The bank hired 452 tellers" is preferred over the form "The bank hired four hundred and fifty-two tellers." As a general rule, if a number is pronounced with more than three syllables, it is probably better to use the shorter (numeric) form.

These rules also apply to ordinal numbers, so that a sentence like "The 2nd liar never stands a chance" is improper, and should be replaced with "The second liar never stands a chance."

whose | who's
These are "whose (possessive)" and "who is", respectively.
For example, "Whose son is he?" and "The boy whose father is a mailman." Compare to "Who's that boy's father?"

your | you're
These are "your (possessive)" and "you are", respectively.
For example, "Your friend is a student" and "You're her friend."

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Copyright ©1998-2007 by David R. Tribble, all rights reserved.
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