Commonly Confused Words Everyone Should Know


You’re smart. You know this; we know this; and your professor knows this. But is your writing doing you justice?

When you write a paper, as long as you comprehend the coursework and do adequate research you’re bound for an A, right? But simple mistakes and misused words can take a paper that’s great in concept to one that’s mediocre in execution. Let’s avoid some common pitfalls and learn the right way to use the commonly confused words below. If you need more help with writing in general, give BibMe’s grammar check a try!

Ironic vs. Coincidental

Ironic and coincidental are two words that are commonly confused and often used interchangeably—even though they shouldn’t be.

Ironic is an adjective used when something said is actually the opposite of it’s true meaning, or when an unexpected event is the opposite of what was expected—often in an amusing or mocking way.

Coincidental, on the other hand means something random or that happens solely by chance.

Usage Examples:

It is ironic that Mary and Jim decided to go to brunch with separate groups of friends, yet ended up at the same restaurant. It is coincidental that later that day Mary received a gift card from her mom for the very restaurant she went to for brunch. If only Mary had received the gift card earlier!

Lie vs. Lay vs. Laid

Prepare to take notes, folks.

Lie is what a person does when they’re not telling the truth (verb). It is also the actual falsehood told (noun).

Lied is the past tense of when you didn’t tell the truth.

Lie is also what a person does if they are going to go recline somewhere.

Lay is how you use past tense of lie in the sense of reclining.

Lay is what you do to an inanimate object when you put it down.

Laid is how you properly use the past tense of lay when referring to inanimate objects.

Usage Examples:

I don’t like to lie, but I lied to my roommate when I said I was going to go lie down in our dorm room. I decided not to lay down in bed, but I laid my textbooks down on my desk and relaxed with some TV. Now, I’m actually ready for bed, so I’m going to stop watching Netflix and lay my laptop down on my desk beside my textbooks.

We told you it was confusing!

Implicit vs. Explicit

Something you state very clearly, leaving no room for doubt, is explicit.

Meanwhile, implicit is when you indirectly suggest something, instead of saying it outright. It is the perfect opposite of stating something explicitly.

Usage Examples:

Growing up, my parents were quite explicit in forbidding me from listening to explicit music.

While Daniel didn’t admit that he was stressed out, it was implicit given how withdrawn he’d been acting.

Imply vs. Infer

As we previously explained, imply is what the speaker suggests without saying it outright.

Infer is what the listener deduces from what’s being implied.

Usage Examples:

Luke implied that he was going to miss Yolanda’s birthday party because they’d recently had a disagreement. Bella understood, and inferred that perhaps his absence was for the best.

Accept vs. Except

Accept is to believe or acknowledge that an opinion, assertion, or explanation is correct.

Accept also means to willingly receive or agree to something offered.

Except means ‘not including’ or everything other than the following.

Usage Examples:

I can accept that Brian didn’t want to accept my gift. Thankfully, everyone else except Brian was gracious about my generosity.

Affect vs. Affect vs. Effect

Affect (verb) means to influence someone or something.

Affect (noun), typically pronounced with a subtle difference, can refer to an emotional state.

Effect (noun) refers to a change that is the result or due to the influence of something or someone.

Usage Examples:

Bob hoped that he could positively affect his brother’s melancholy affect after losing the big game. But unfortunately, Bob’s chipper mood had no effect on Richard.

Definitely vs. Defiantly

If you’ve seen these words misused in text messages and social media posts, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s a rather common typo.

Definitely means without doubt.

Defiantly means acting with bold disobedience.

Usage Examples:

He definitely was behaving poorly by defiantly ignoring his manager’s orders.

The tricky part? If you accidentally type defiantly when you meant to use definitely, your grammar checker won’t necessarily flag it as wrong since it’s an actual word. So proofreading for context is important, as is reading your papers out loud so you can catch incorrectly used but properly spelled wording.

Supposedly vs. Supposably

Supposedly (adverb) means something is according to what is generally believed.

Supposably, on the other hand is a disputed word that has culturally gained adoption by people improperly using the word instead of supposedly.

Usage Examples:

Miguel is supposedly having a surprise concert on Sunday. “Devin is supposably going to go with me,” Mark explained improperly.

The verdict? Supposedly is the way to go. Always.

There is a plethora of commonly misused words that you may mistakenly use in your coursework. Always be cognizant of these simple mistakes, and always remember the value of proofreading your work.

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