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English is an extremely confusing language. Many words sound the same yet are
spelled differently, have different meanings or are used only in certain
circumstances. A comprehensive list would fill a book but here are some of the
most commonly confused words in business writing.

Accept / except
Despite their similarity, these two words have quite different meanings.
Accept means to receive or agree to. So you might accept an offer, or accept an
argument or viewpoint.
Except means to leave out or exclude, so you might say, I agree to write the report,
except I cant begin until next week.
You might even have occasion to put both words in the same sentence, as in I
accept your proposal except for point 3.

Advise / Advice
Its very hard to remember whether to use s or c in these and other words like
practice and license. But theres a very easy way of working out which is the right
one. Say the word advice out loud. Then say advise. Hear the difference?
If you keep in mind that advice is the noun, as in someone gives advice, then youll
know that the c is always used for a noun, and the s for a verb. It works the
same way for "practice/practise" and "licence/license" even though these sound
the same. So, while you practise the violin, you have a drivers licence.

This is not the same in American spellings. I've noticed they only use the "s" version
of practise, whether it's a noun or a verb. So, your computer may not like the "c"
version, depending on which language you have set as the default.

Affect / effect
Just about everywhere you look, people are muddling these two.
Effect, as a noun, means result. As a verb, it means to bring about or to accomplish.
Some noun examples:
A cottage garden effect
The subtle effect of the lighting
A charming effect was produced
A verb example:
During his employment he effected many changes.
Affect, means to influence. It doesn't come as a noun, only a verb.
Her drinking affected her driving
She ate too much over Christmas and this affected her weight
It can also mean to pretend as in, she affected not to hear him calling. But that's not
so common and you're not likely to need it in your business writing.

Cite / sight / site

Each of these words has a quite different meaning and is used in a different way.
To cite is a verb which means quote. You cite a passage from a book or magazine,
for example.

Sight is a noun and means vision, something to be seen, for example, she was a
sight to behold.
Site is also a noun and means location, a place where a building is or will be built.
So you have building sites, sites for new buildings and site plans.
Heres an example of a sentence using all three words (dont try this because its too
confusing for a reader):
She cited the old story of the building inspector who was depressed by the very sight
of the site for the new factory.

Complement / compliment
Although you often see them in business documents, these two are commonly
mixed up. Both can be used as verbs and nouns.
The verb form of complement means to complete or fill up, or to finish. As a noun it
is something which completes something, but it isn't often used this way.
Compliment, on the other hand, means to praise (verb) or praise (noun). It is used
mostly when someone says something nice about you:
The compliment she gave me complemented my happiness.
She returned the compliment, saying she liked my hair.
Other common examples are:
Compliments of the season
Compliments slip

Its / Its
No matter where you see this, seven times out of 10, it's wrong. Thats because its
the exception to one of the apostrophe rules.

But its really quite easy. Its is possessive (The cat lost its toy mouse) while its is
a contraction of it is or it has (I know it's going to rain).
Its only complicated and hard to remember because most possessives have
apostrophes (the cat's toy mouse).
But please, please dont add an apostrophe just because a word is plural!
Tomatoes, potatoes and plums are all wrong as you will discover if you read Lynne
Trusss excellent book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. This is an error a lot of people
make, yet one of the first things we learn in English is to make something plural by
adding an 's'. No mention of apostrophes.
Double-check your work to avoid this basic mistake.

Principal / principle
Its easy to muddle these two words although they have quite different meanings.
A principal is someone who is first in rank or importance eg the principal of a
school; main or leading; or an original sum of money invested or lent.
The principal part of the programme
The ballets principal ballerina
On the other hand, principle can mean any of these: a fundamental truth or law; a
personal code of conduct; a general law in physics etc; or a fundamental source.
The guiding principles by which we live.
I remember which one is which by thinking of the pal part of principal as being a
friend, or pal which I then associate with the head of an organisation or school.
Don't rely on your computer's spelling checker to get these right.

While / whilst
The difference between while and whilst is very subtle and you may, like me, have
to resort to consulting your trusty dictionary to be absolutely sure.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, whilst actually means while and can be used as an
adjective and a conjunction, just like while, which can also be used as a verb.
We did jigsaws to while away the time
He did the dishes while I tidied up
Whilst I tidied up, he did the dishes
There are lots of phrases in which while appears, like:
In a while (which means soon or shortly)
All the while (during the whole time that)
For a long while (for some time)
A good while (a considerable time)
Worth while (worth the time or effort spent)
All have slightly different meanings so its a very useful word to have in your
vocabulary but it pays to be sure youve used it correctly in your writing.

Whose / whos
By rights, this should be easy but every time I use it I have to double-check I have it
right. And, its surprising how often I get it wrong.
Whose is possessive, it belongs to someone. For instance, you might ask, Whose job
is it? Or, The new receptionist, whose name is Jill, always arrives late.
Whos is a short form of who is or who has. As in, Jane, whos the marketing