Easily Mixed Up Words (4 of 4)

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License/ licence

Licence is a noun. License is a verb*. For example,He applied for a driver’s licence.

The march through the city centre was not licensed.

Mnemonic: Think licence (with a c) is like a card (with a c).

*License is also a noun in US English

Me, myself

There can be a tendency to incorrectly use myself instead of me. For example,

If you’re looking for a partner, give either Eileen or myself a call.

Should be:

If you’re looking for a partner, give either Eileen or me a call.

A good check, similar to the I or me check, is to remove Eileen from this sentence. For example,

If you’re looking for a partner, give myself a call.

This sounds incorrect especially when you consider that the you are the only person who can give myself a call.

Moral/ morale

It is easy to inadvertently use the wrong one. Correct usage is as follows:

He had a strong moral compass that helped him make good decisions.

The team’s morale was flagging after twenty straight losses.

No body/ nobody; Anyone/ any one; Anybody/ any body

Nobody, anyone, and anybody are pronouns referring to unspecified people. Correct usage is as follows:

Is anyone there? I can’t see anybody. Is there nobody there?

Is there any one particular reason for thinking that?

Was any body ever found during the search for the missing man?

No body was ever found.

Onto/ onto

Onto is a preposition. On to is part of a verb phrase. A good way to remember when to use each is to think of onto as meaning to "position upon" and that, in the examples that follow, you would physically be on the train but you would not on top of your main course.

I went onto the train when the doors opened.

After a starter we will move on to the main course.

Note: US English often uses just onto and the direction of travel in common usage suggests this usage may become more widespread.

Passed/ past

The distinction between these words causes confusion. The simplest way to avoid mistakes is to remember that past is never used as a verb. For example,

I walk past the post office on the way to work.

She passed me on the way to work.

All of this happened in the past.

He was a goal scorer and rarely passed the ball.

Pour/ pore

Pour is a verb meaning to flow or to cause something to flow. Pore over to examine something carefully. A pore, as a noun, is a small hole on a surface. For example,

I am going to pour myself a drink.

The journalists pored over every page of the agreement.

Human skin is covered in pores.

Practice/ practise

In UK English practice used as a noun and practise is used as a verb. For example,

The doctor practised medicine at his medical practice.

I was practising my golf. Practice makes perfect.

Principle/ principal

Principal means first in importance or rank or, with respect to finance, it means the original amount invested or loaned. Principle means a rule that guides personal conduct or a fundamental basis of something. For example,

She was promoted to the role of Principal Teacher.

He agreed to repay the principal amount and any interest accrued over the year.

Her principles meant she would never condone such behaviour.

Real/ really

Avoid the incorrect use of real in formal writing of UK English. For example,

I was real happy with my results.

Should be written as:

I was really happy with my results.

Real is an adjective. Adjectives modify nouns or noun phrases. An example of its correct use is:

When I visited her, I notice a real change in her mood.

Sometime/ sometimes/ some time

Sometime means an unspecified time in the future or past. Sometimes means from time to time. Some time means a period of time. For example,

Why don’t you join us for lunch sometime?

Sometimes I wonder what my job actually is.

I like to leave some time for proofreading.

Shall, Will

There have been many pages on whether to use shall or will. Except for those in the legal field, it has become more common for will to be used in all cases. That said, conventionally, shall is used with I and we and will is used the other pronouns. For example,

I shall ride my bike.

We shall ride our bikes.

You will ride your bike.

She will ride her bike.

They will ride their bikes.

Their, There, They’re

Their is possessive. If something belongs to or is associated with somebody or something, then use their. For example,

It was their first time in an airplane.

They’re is a contraction of They are. For example,

They’re very happy about the weather forecast.

If they’re or their is not appropriate, use there. For example,

The park is over there.

There were few reasons to celebrate.

Putting it altogether:

They’re happy to announce that their new home will be built where there are no busy roads.

Too, Two, To

Too is used to mean also or as well or to an excessive degree. For example,

I like that too. I would like to go for a walk too. There is too much to take in.

Two is a number. For example,

I have two siblings.

If too or two is not appropriate, use to. For example,

I will be going to the course later to play some golf.

That/ which

Use that with restrictive clauses (a restrictive clause is required to understand the preceding noun.)  For example,

We would only go to the park on days that were sunny.

Areas of the office that are used for meetings are noisiest.

Use which when the information is not required to understand the preceding noun. This informational could be taken as being additional. For example,

The bedroom, which is always a mess, is getting a good cleaning.

The family’s favourite restaurant, which was Italian, was closed for renovations.

There is a useful saying - “that” defines and “which” informs.

Click here for more on which and that.

Waste/ waist

These two words can easily be mixed up. Correct usage is as follows:

The belt around his waist held his trousers up.

She hated it when food was wasted.

Wave/ waive

These two words can easily be mixed up. Correct usage is as follows:

The Queen waved to the crowd.

The bank refused to waive the overdraft charges

Went/ gone

Went, unlike gone, does not need any support for another verb (e.g. has, had, have). Correct usage is as follows:

I have went gone to the shop.

I went to the shop.

Where has the time went gone.

Whole/ hole

Interchanging whole and hole is a well-known yet still common error. Correct usage is as follows:

There was a hole in the ground where the tree had been planted.

The whole class went on the trip.

Who’s or Whose

Who’s is for the contraction. For example,

Who is happy?

Who’s happy?


Who has been there?

Who’s been there?

Whose is for possessiveness. For example,

It was Sam whose house was on fire.

You and I, You and me - I or me?

It is quite easy to make a mistake with sentences that have two pronouns or a noun and pronoun. For example, should it be:

It was that last time that Sam and me I played golf.


As a farewell gift, they gave Jack and  me a box of chocolates.

One way to check whether it should be I or me is to remove the other noun and listen to whether the shortened sentence makes sense. So,

with reference to the incorrect examples above. You would not say:

It was the last time me played golf, or, As a farewell gift, they gave I a box of chocolates.

What about this example?

You and me are exactly the same. [incorrect]


You and I are exactly the same.


This is the song that you and me like. [incorrect]


This is the song that you and I like.

To check, remove the you and re-write the sentences. For example,

Incorrect - Me am exactly the same.

Correct - I am exactly the same.

Incorrect - This is the song that me like.

Correct - This is the song that I like.

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