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Four Sets of Words That Are Commonly Mixed Up

There is a myriad of words in the English language that are misused every day. Homophones, which are words that sound alike but have different spellings with different meanings, such as "horse" and "hoarse", are easy to mix up. But even though they sound the same, and even though they look similar, they are not interchangeable.

Your pronunciation may help to hide it if you don't know the difference between certain words, but when it comes down to writing them, it's crucial to get them right.

Accept vs. Except

"Accept" is the verb version of this homophone, whereas "except" is usually used as a preposition.

To accept is to approve or receive something, such as to accept a teenager's application for a position at the local grocery store or to accept the money that your grandmother has handed you for mowing her lawn.

"Except" is usually used to exclude something. For example, "She took all of the hand-me-downs from her older sister except the sneakers."

If you excepted the teen's application, you would be bypassing it, and if you accepted the sneakers you'd have a run-on, slightly redundant sentence.

A helpful hint for remembering this difference is that accepting is an action.

Principle vs. Principal

A principle is a fundamental base for something, such as the principles of a religion, or a belief. For example, "Her principles prevented her from cheating on the test."

A principal is a person with high authority, such as the principal of a high school. It can also be used to describe an original or main item of importance, such as a principal amount of a donation, or a state's principal cities.

Your principal could prevent you from cheating on the test, but it's less likely. By the same token, your principles are likely not running your school.

You can remember some of these differences by thinking that a principal should be a pal to their school.

Defiantly vs. Definitely

This is perhaps the most frustrating mix up, since these words don't look or sound all that alike, yet seeing defiance in place of definite-ness is not uncommon.

To do something defiantly is to do it with an air of spite or rebelliousness. Used correctly, you might see a sentence saying, "He picked up his brother's mess defiantly, stomping his feet the entire time."

The word "definitely" means to do something clearly, or to establish no doubt. Used correctly, you might see a sentence that says, "I will definitely meet you at the restaurant after work today."

When these words are switched, you get, "I will defiantly meet you at the restaurant after work today." While the image it paints is comical, as though going out for dinner is an act of rebellion, it doesn't make much sense. You could defiantly meet your friend for dinner, but it's unlikely that that would be the intended meaning.

Wonder vs. Wander

This switch up is also frustrating, because while these two words do admittedly look similar, they are not pronounced the same as each other.

To wonder is to be curious about or amazed by something. For example, "She wondered how life could ever get better," or, "He watched the fireflies flickering in the yard with wonder."

To wander is to explore, or walk at your leisure. For example, "She wandered down the beach, basking in the sunset," or, "He wandered along the edge of the forest, searching for an opening."

You definitely don't wander how life could get better or wonder through the woods, but you don't have to wonder any longer if you're using the right version of these words!