Miss Spelling Returns: Words that Get Confused

Welcome to Amaze-ing Words Wednesday. By popular demand — or simply because she asked — Miss Spelling has returned. Her insistence on making a reappearance stemmed from a nonfiction book she is reviewing. While the book itself is written well, a different author wrote the foreword. Appallingly, however, said author of many books used the word forward instead to refer to her contribution. That settled it. Miss Spelling politely requested to come here and focus on words that get confused.

It’s my pleasure to return to the fine folks here at Ms. Glover’s blog. I adored the comments from A Lesson with Miss Spelling. I hope to shed some light today as well. I have collected pairs of words which get switched all too often like Parent Trap twins. They are not exchangeable, however. You likely have seen them misused as well.

Affect/effect. Simply put, affect is always a verb. In turn, the result (a noun) is the effect. For instance, seeing my muscular personal trainer shirtless affects my heart rate. The effect of seeing my muscular personal trainer shirtless is an elevated heart rate (and flushed cheeks and sweaty palms, but I digress).

Effect can also be used as a verb, but it is rare. It means to bring something to fruition, such as “he effected his plot to take over the world.” Most of the time, however, affect = verb, effect = noun.

Note: The views of Miss Spelling regarding shirtless personal trainers in no way represents this blog’s owner — who has no personal trainer and whose heart rate is affected by her wonderful husband of 19 years.

Capitol/Capital. The only capitol is the Washington, D.C. building in which the United States legislature congregates. Otherwise, it’s capital, as in the following: (1) the capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou (wah-guh-doo-goo); (2) Ouagadougou is a name so it begins with a capital letter; (3) I have invested no capital in the country of Burkina Faso. Why is the U.S. Congress fond of confusing us with the different spelling? The name capitol hails from the ancient temple of Jupiter at Rome, and it stuck.

Compliment/Complement. To compliment someone is to flatter them by saying something kind and true or something ridiculous that will get you what you want. “How sweet of you to compliment my house! Of course I’ll sign your petition to protect the mosquito.” To complement is to balance, enhance, or complete. “Yes, Angelina, that right leg is a wonderful complement to your dress’s slit.”

Desert/Dessert. I’ll make this one easy: It’s Sahara vs. Soufflé. One would hope that when dining in a dirt-infested wasteland, one could have a French baked treat. However, these words are not usually seen together. A desert is to die in; a dessert is to die for.

Forward/Foreword. Forward is the direction you are facing. A foreword is the section of words before the main book. Thus, the foreword is several pages of a different author telling you why you should read the main author and what an amazing contribution his or her book is to you personally and to humanity as a whole for moving forward in life.

By the way, I understand that some bookstores will turn down carrying a book if they see foreword misspelled; they figure if you can’t get that right, you didn’t take enough care with the book generally.

Lightning/Lightening. This may take the cake as the most confused pair. I covered this in A Lesson with Miss Spelling. It bears repeating, or perhaps a visual instead.

Lightening (pic from josydoodle.blogspot.com)

Peaked/Piqued. If you have peaked in life, you have reached the pinnacle, the highest point you can achieve. Meanwhile, your interest may be piqued in what the heck you’re going to do now. I often see the statement, “That peaked my interest.” Does that mean your interest is hovering at the top of Everest?

Perhaps it will help to explain that pique means to arouse or excite. Having your interest piqued means your interest has been stirred up like a witch’s cauldron brew. Who knows what magical things could happen next?

Precede/Proceed. I am saddened to report that our own fine language lover, Ms. Glover, made this alarming error in her friend’s obituary. To precede is to go before, while to proceed is to go forward. By definition alone, they don’t seem so far apart. However, consider a procession, in which a parade of people proceed along. Thus, when Ms. Glover proofread the obit and saw that her friend had proceeded several family members, she should have corrected it to read preceded since her friend had died before the others. Instead, it sounded a funeral parade.

Now, now, Ms. Glover. No need to hang your head. You won’t make that mistake again. Moreover, your friend would have made a lovely Grand Marshal of any parade.

Principal/Principle. Consider this sentence: The principal problem with Congress is their lack of principles. While I believe the statement is true, more importantly it demonstrates the difference between principal, or primary, and principle, or ethic.

Principal McGee from Grease

Principal is also used as a noun to express this concept of the primary — such as when the money you pay on your loan goes in great part to the interest and in some part to the principal. Additionally, it refers to the warden of your local high school, as in Rydell’s Principal McGee. Meanwhile, principle refers to a guiding tenet, whether a moral one or, say, the principles of physics.

Now store all of your book under your seats and pull out one fresh sheet of paper and a pencil. It’s Pop Quiz time!

Just kidding. I’m sure you’ll all do wonderfully with these words in the real world. It has been my pleasure to be here once again. Ta-ta!

My thanks to Miss Spelling for helping us navigate the tricky world of spelling. Remember that natural ability to spell is not highly correlated to intelligence, but a complete disregard for checking your spelling is.

So which of these words give you trouble? Do you have other words spelled or pronounced almost the same which get switched in your mind?

23 thoughts on “Miss Spelling Returns: Words that Get Confused

  1. I love Miss Spelling! Thank you for the lesson.

    You know, it wasn’t until just recently I realized the difference between compliment and complement .Huh. Go figure.

    My favorite way to remember desert vs. dessert is that you always want second helpings of dessert (the word with 2 Ss).

    1. I bet you are not alone, Patti! It took me a long time to figure out when capitol was used. I got it wrong about a billion times before I finally looked it up and figured it out.

  2. Ah, you got two of my top peeves! Peak/pique – this one drives me nuts! Especially since the people I see misusing it are often authors! It’s at the top of my grammar peeves list, along with sight/site. I see this one so often – also usually from authors! People, it’s a webSITE or a construction SITE. And the site, or maybe something else, is in SIGHT when you see it. Arrrrggghhhh!

    I give the peeps on the Camaro forum a little more slack, even if they say they “hit the break” when driving, or when working on their car, worry that they might “brake” something. LOL!

    Thanks for another fun word post, Julie! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Jennette! Sight/site is a great one! I often see those used incorrectly.

      I also give more slack for non-published things; like a forum. You get in a hurry, type the wrong thing, it happens.

  3. I love it when you do these. I know I’ve said this in your comments before, but lightning/lightening is the hardest for me. It just seems like the stuff if the sky should be lightening. But, yes, it wrong.

    Hope you are having a good week.

  4. I love these posts Julie! I’ve already bookmarked this page. Affect/effect give me problems. I usually get them correct but only after a lot of thought and back & forth. 🙂

  5. I love Miss Spelling! I used to have the hardest time with desert/dessert until someone told me “desserts is stressed spelled backward”… and I only crave desserts when I’m stressed. Oh, and it’s “just deserts” even thought when said it sounds like “just desserts”. That one I only discovered in the last year or so.

    The word that really makes me crazy… irregardless. Not a word.

    1. I love that! Stressed/desserts. Perfect way to remember, Tia!

      Oh yes…irregardless. I think people merge irrespective and regardless. That non-word is cringe-worthy!

  6. Very helpful, Julie. I’m happy to say I knew these, but that’s only because my grammar coach drummed them into my head. I do still get affect/effect confused sometimes and almost always default to effect. I’ll be sure to pay closer attention now:-)

    Great post, my dear. Thanks, Miss Spelling!

    Can she come back and do a post on grammar conundrums?

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