10 Commonly Confused Words

Jun. 24, 2020 by Adriana Thompson

Writing skills are important for every vocation, and grammar is a major factor. That's why Concordia University Texas offers multiple ways for students to improve their writing skills. One important resource is Concordia's Writing Center, which offers students support for every phase of writing.

Improve your writing ability today with this guide to the proper use of 10 commonly confused words.

Capital vs. Capitol

It's an easy mistake to make, but many people incorrectly use "capital" and "capitol" interchangeably to refer to a city that serves as the seat of a state's government.

"Capital" has many meanings, such as the style of a letter (lowercase vs uppercase letters) and financial wealth (capital in a business). But most frequently, it is used to describe the city that serves as a state's seat of government.

"Capitol" refers to the building where legislatures (whether state or national) meet.

Examples:

  • Austin is the capital of Texas.
  • The Texas Capitol is about 14 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol.

Here's a helpful way to distinguish between the two words. Connect the "a" in "capital" with the capital of Austin. Connect the "o" in "capitol" with the dome that characterizes the Texas and U.S. Capitols.

While spinning around the capital city, VorTex found a grammar mistake on one of Austin's most notable murals. Can you spot it? [Hint: It's by VorTex's left hand.]

VorTex at Austin mural

Complement vs. Compliment

The English language is complex. While they sound similar, "complement" and "compliment" are two different things.

"Complement" refers to something that completes or supplements something else. "Compliment" is the recognition of merit or admiration.

Examples:

  • Concordia's school colors, purple and gold, complement each other well.
  • The professor gave John a compliment for his well-written essay.
  • The beautiful trees that fill Concordia's campus complement the peaceful learning environment.
  • Jane's team members gave her multiple compliments.

May vs. Might

Both "may" and "might" indicate that something is possible. "May" indicates something is more likely to happen, while "might" suggests something is much less likely to happen.

Examples:

  • The senior may graduate this semester.

This is a likely possibility since the student is a senior.

  • The freshman might earn his bachelor's degree within a year.

This is highly unlikely because it typically takes students four years to earn a bachelor's degree.

Note that "may" shouldn't be used when referring to a negative hypothetical situation because it could be interpreted to mean that the speaker does not have permission. For example, someone may interpret "I may not go to the talent show" as meaning the speaker doesn't have permission to go to the talent show. Instead, the speaker should say, "I might not go to the talent show."

That vs. Who

"Who" can be used only when referring to people. "That" is used when referring to things other than people. Some use "that" to refer to a person, but many argue against it.

Examples:

  • Sarah is the one who aced the quiz.
  • Go through the door that leads to the classroom.
  • Joe, who graduated last year, was recently promoted.
  • Park in the spot that is in the shade.

What vs. Which

When asking a question, many people use "what" and "which" interchangeably. However, there is an important distinction between the two words.

"What" is used when there is an unknown number or infinite amount of possibilities for the answer. "Which" is used when the number of possible answers is small or when both the speaker and the listener know all of the possible options.

Examples:

  • What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

From classics like vanilla and rocky road to more unusual options like green tea and blackberry cobbler, it's impossible to know the number of unique ice cream flavors, so use "what."

  • Which flavor of ice cream do you prefer: chocolate or vanilla?

There are a limited number of options, so use "which."

  • Which eye is blurry?

Unless you are a medical anomaly and have an incredibly difficult time finding sunglasses, you have only two eyes, so use "which."

  • What time is it?

There are a lot of possibilities, so use "what."

It's important to keep your mind sharp during the summer break because it will make your transition back into study mode in the fall much easier.

[The "Greetings from Austin, the Capitol of Texas" mural uses the word "capitol," when it should read, "the Capital of Texas.]

Check out these tips on how to keep your mind sharp during the summer.

 

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