Tricky Words That Trip Us Up


The English language may be blessed with many words, but quite a few can easily trip us up. Here are some of the most common words that even the best English writers confuse.

Many businesses like to think of themselves as the most unique in their industry. But ‘unique’ means truly one of a kind. Therefore, you cannot be the ‘most unique’ or ‘one of the most unique’ or the ‘only unique’. You are either unique or you’re not.

Affect vs. Effect
Affect is a verb that means ‘cause a change in’ or ‘influence’. Effect is mostly used as a noun, although when we write in a formal style we occasionally use it as a verb meaning ‘to carry out’ or ‘cause to happen’.


She was greatly affected by the sad news. Smoking will affect your health.

Take care of your personal effects. The sound effects are amazing. The lawyer effected a great result.

Compliment vs. Complement
Compliment, as a noun, means ‘an expression of praise or admiration’ and as a verb ‘to pay a compliment to’.

As a noun a complement is ‘something that completes or makes perfect’ and as a verb means ‘to complete’.

Example: When you compliment mum’s new car, mention how well the colour complements her eyes.

Principal vs. Principle
Principals are people who head schools.
A school principal should always stick to her principles.

Advice and advise, practice and practise, licence and license
Advice is a noun, and advise is a verb, just as practice is a noun and practise is a verb. Likewise, licence is a noun, and license is a verb.

Example Noun: Take his advice.
Example Noun: She runs a large accounting practice.
Example Noun: Take my driving licence with you.

Example Verb: I advise you to keep quiet.
Example Verb: I will practise every day.
Example Verb: We need to get the hotel licensed.

Disinterested vs. Uninterested
Uninterested is the opposite of interested. Disinterested means impartial or unbiased (but not a lack of interest).

Example: A referee should be disinterested in the game outcome, but interested in the match.

Everyone vs. Every one
Everyone means every person, as in people. It is singular, as is everybody, anybody, anyone, no-one, somebody and someone.

Mistake: Every one danced their socks off.
Instead: Everyone danced his socks off.

Every one is also singular and we use it to describe objects.

Mistake: Everyone of the cars were new.
Instead: Every one of the cars was new.

Fewer vs. Less
Fewer means a smaller number of things or people. Less means a smaller amount or quantity of a single thing.

Example: There are fewer students at university these days. Less paper usage means less waste.

Mistake: Less cars, less dogs, less people
Instead: Fewer cars, fewer dogs, fewer people

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