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Tricky Words

The English language is full of tricky word usage rules. Here are some words that frequently cause confusion for students, and some tips on how to properly use them. When in doubt, you should consult a dictionary.

  • Affect/EffectAffect is usually a verb meaning “to influence.” (The cold temperatures affected the crop growth). Effect is usually a noun that means “result.” As a verb, it means “to make things happen.” (The budget cuts had a noticeable effect on the programs.)
  • Complement/Compliment/ComplimentaryComplement is a noun that describes when something perfects or completes something else (The paint color complements the color scheme perfectly.) A Compliment  is a flattering statement (The fashion critic complimented the designer on his bold choice.) Complimentary means that something is free of charge (Daily breakfast was complimentary in our hotel).
  • Cite/SiteCite is a verb meaning “to reference in a paper or as evidence.” (In her paper, she cited her sources to back up her claim. She cited using APA style.) The word Site usually refers to a website, but also means “place or location.” (The site of the accident).
  • Farther/Further Farther indicates physical distances (we drove farther than we should have and missed the turn.) Further should be used figuratively (We need to further examine the results).
  • Lose/Loose – When you lose something, you misplace it (Don’t lose your wallet!) It can also mean being deprived of something (My team lost the game). When something is loose, it is free from restraint (The dog ran loose without his leash in the backyard).
  • Who/Whom Who is the subject of a clause (The woman who was the chef was also the waitress). Whom is the object of a verb or preposition (To whom am I speaking?).