ACT English Test Prep: Commonly Misused Words

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There are certain words and phrases in the English language that are often misused and that often show up on the ACT English Test. We’ve included a list of commonly misused words here, along with definitions and examples of the proper use of the words.

Accept, Except

Accept is a verb that means “to agree to receive something.”

Example: Jenny did not accept my invitation to dinner.

Except is usually a preposition that means “excluding,” or more rarely a verb meaning “to omit or leave out.”

Example: The entire family except for my sister Jill attended the reunion.

Affect, Effect

Affect is usually a verb meaning “to influence.”

Example: His opinion will affect my decision.

Effect is usually a noun meaning “result” or “force.”

Example: His opinion had a great effect on my decision.

All ready, Already

All ready means “completely ready” or “everyone is ready.”

Example: The instructor asked the climber if he was all ready to begin.

Already means “by or before a specified time.”

Example: The students were already late for the bus.

Among, Between

Among is used with more than two items.

Example: The scientist is living among a group of native people.

Between is used with two items.

Example: The race between Amy and Jenny was very close.

Amount, Number

Amount is used to denote a quantity of something that cannot be divided into separate units.

Example: There was a small amount of water in the glass.

Number is used when the objects involved are discrete or can be counted.

Example: A large number of students participated in the festivities.

Assure, Ensure, Insure

Assure means “to convince,” or “to guarantee” and usually takes a direct object.

Example: I assure you that I will not be late.

Ensure means “to make certain.”

Example: Ensure that the door is locked when you leave.

Insure means “to guard against loss.”

Example: Please insure this package for $100.

Bring, Take

Bring should be used in situations where something is being moved toward you.

Example: Please bring me the book.

Take should be used in situations where something is being moved away from you.

Example: Did you take my book with you when you left?

Capital, Capitol

Capital refers to “the official seat of government of a state or nation.”

Example: The capital of Michigan is Lansing.

Capital can also be used to mean “wealth or money.”

Example: He needed to raise investment capital to start his company.

Capital, when used as an adjective, means “foremost,” or “excellent.”

Example: “That is a capital idea,” Steve said.

Capitol refers to the “building where government meets, or when capitalized, refers to the building in which the U.S. Congress is housed.”

Example: Some members of the legislature have their offices in the capitol building downtown.

Compare to, Compare with

Compare to means “assert a likeness.”

Example: My grandmother often compares me to my mother.

Compare with means “analyze for similarities and differences.”

Example: The detective compared the photograph with the drawing.

Complement, Compliment

Complement is a noun or verb that implies “something that completes or adds to” something else.

Example: The dessert was a tasty complement to my meal.

Compliment is a noun or verb that implies “flattery or praise.”

Example: Pam appreciated Mike’s compliment on her high test scores.

Eager, Anxious

Eager implies “an intense desire” and usually has a positive connotation. Example: Carrie was eager to begin her new job.

Anxious indicates “worry or apprehension” and has a negative connotation.

Example: Fred waited anxiously for the plane to take off.

Farther, Further

Farther refers to distance.

Example: Matt traveled farther than all of the others.

Further indicates “additional degree, time, or quantity.”

Example: The airline representative told us to expect further delays.

Fewer, Less

Fewer refers to units or individuals.

Example: Fewer students went on the class trip this year.

Example: I weigh fewer pounds this year than I did last year.

Less refers to mass or bulk.

Example: There is less air in my bicycle’s front tire than in its rear tire.

Example: I weigh less this year than I did last year.

Imply, Infer

Imply means “to suggest.” The speaker or author “implies.”

Example: His pants and shirt colors imply that he is color blind.

Infer means “to deduce,” “to guess,” or “to conclude.” The listener or reader “infers.”

Example: He is not color blind, so we can infer that he simply has bad taste in clothes.

Its, It’s

The possessive form of it is its.

Example: The dog lost its collar.

The contraction of it is is it’s.

Example: It’s too bad that your dog ran away.

Lay, Lie

Lay means “to put” or “to place,” and takes a direct object.

Example: Please lay your scarf on the back of the chair.

Lie means “to recline, rest, or stay,” or “to take a position of rest.” This verb does not take a direct object.

Example: Carrie likes to lie down when she gets home from school.

Learn, Teach

Learn means to “gain knowledge.”

Example: I have always wanted to learn how to cook.

Teach means to “impart, or give knowledge.”

Example: My uncle agreed to teach me to cook.

Lend, Borrow

Lend means to “give or loan something” to someone else.

Example: Will you lend me your jacket for the evening?

Borrow means to “obtain or receive something temporarily” from someone else.

Example: May I borrow your jacket for the evening?

Precede, Proceed

Precede means “to go before.”

Example: Katie preceded Kahla as an intern at the law office.

Proceed means “to move forward.”

Example: Please proceed to the testing center in an orderly fashion.

Principal, Principle

Principal is a noun meaning “the head of a school or an organization.” Example: Mr. Smith is the principal of our high school.

Principal can also mean “a sum of money.”

Example: Only part of the payment will be applied to the principal amount of the loan.

Principal can also be used as an adjective to mean “first,” or “leading.”

Example: Betty’s principal concern was that Gary would be late.

Principle is a noun meaning “a basic truth or law.”

Example: We learned the principles of democracy in class today.

Set, Sit

The verb set takes a direct object, while the verb sit does not.

Example: Please set the glass down on the table.

Example: Please sit in the chair next to mine.

Than, Then

Than is a conjunction used in comparative constructions.

Example: Jill would rather eat fruit than eat chocolate.

Then is an adverb denoting time.

Example: First, I will go for a run, then I will do my homework.

That, Which

That is used to introduce an essential clause in a sentence. Commas are not normally used before the word that.

Example: This is the book that Jenny recommended I read.

Which is best used to introduce a clause containing nonessential and descriptive information. Commas are required before the word which.

Example: That book, which is old and tattered, is a favorite of mine.

There, Their, They’re

There indicates location.

Example: My car is parked over there.

Their is a possessive determiner.

Example: Their car is parked next to mine.

They’re is a contraction of they are.

Example: They’re afraid of getting a ticket if the car is not moved.

To, Too, Two

To is a preposition.

Example: Send the check to my office.

Too is an adverb, and means also, excessively, or prohibitively.

Example: It is important that you read the textbook, too.

Example: John has been too sick to work this week.

Example: That silk scarf is too expensive for me to buy right now.

Two is a number.

Example: There are only two tickets remaining for the game.

Your, You’re

Your is a possessive determiner.

Example: Your brother is going to be late for school.

You’re is a contraction of you are.

Example: You’re going to be late as well.

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