How to Prevent Vocabulary Errors?

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Consider these phrases:

  1. It’s going to rain
  2. Its lost
  3. Its color will fade
  4. The dog cannot find its owner

Which sentence is grammatically incorrect?

‘It’s’ means ‘it is’ whereas ‘its’ means ‘of it’. You need to understand this rule before using the words in your writing or in your conversation. Otherwise, you will be making vocabulary errors.

Improving your vocabulary doesn’t only mean learning new words every day. No one will ask you to recite every word you learned to see if you are really fluent in English. You have to use the words that you learned ‘correctly’ to show your skill and that is something even the native speakers struggle with.

In this article, we will discuss various types of vocabulary errors. We would learn about some common vocabulary errors we make in our daily life and their correct use. Lastly, ways to prevent these errors will also be mentioned.

So, let’s get started!


Why Do Vocabulary Errors Occur?

  1. Homophones: Words that sound similar but have different spelling are called homophones. Because of the similarity in the pronunciation, students often misuse them. For example: ‘There’ and ‘their’, ‘flower’ and ‘flour’.
  2. Part of speech: The same words with the same meaning can have different spelling depending on their use in a sentence. One such example is ‘advice’ and ‘advise’.
  3. Similar syllables: Some words are not homophones but to some extent sound similar such as ‘improve’ and ‘improvise’. Many people think that they have a similar meaning which leads to unnecessary vocabulary errors.


Types Of Vocabulary Errors

According to researchers, 40.2% of all types of errors made by ESL students are the incorrect use of words, that is, vocabulary errors. 23.6% of the errors occur due to errors in using prepositions, and only 4.7% occurs due to errors in differentiating between adjective and adverb.

According to another study, 50.8% of errors include wrong word choice and correct verb form. So, this is clear that the majority of the vocabulary errors are related to improper use of words.

There is another misconception that vocabulary errors in writing are the only ones we need to take care of. Native speakers don’t always follow the grammar rules in speaking so it’s natural to think that rules are flexible for speaking. But that is not entirely true.

Sure, vocabulary errors in writing are often highlighted because they are easy to spot. But in a formal environment, such as a job interview or class presentation, your speech is carefully analyzed.

So, any vocabulary error made there will hamper your impression in many ways. Not only it can cost you a job but can make you a matter of joke to everyone.

 Check out our guide on how to learn vocabulary in English?


Common Vocabulary Errors

In this section, we will explore some vocabulary errors made frequently and learn their correct use. The cases mentioned below are divided into 2 categories-

  1. Confusing Parts of Speech
  2. Incorrect Word choice


Confusing Parts of Speech

Advice/ Advise

This is one of the major vocabulary errors in writing. ‘advice’ is a noun and ‘advise’ is a verb.

Sentence: My doctor advised me to eat more vegetables. I follow his advice to maintain a healthy lifestyle.


Affect/ Effect

Both words are pronounced differently so be careful when using them in conversation. ‘Affect’ is the verb and ‘Effect’ is the noun.

Sentence: The effects of global warming are too many to ignore. It affects the ecological balance and our health in various ways.


Breath/ Breathe

Both the words have the same meaning, but ‘Breath’ is the noun and ‘Breathe’ is the verb.

Sentence: He breathed his last breath last night.


Bath/ Bathe

Similar to the words above, ‘Bath’ is the noun and ‘Bathe’ is the verb.

Sentence: It is visible that you haven’t bathed in a while. You should take a bath as soon as possible.


Practice/ Practise

These words are a bit tricky to use. According to British English, ‘Practice’ is the noun and ‘Practise’ is the verb. But in American English, ‘Practice’ is used in both cases. So, before using them, know which variant you are following.


Who/ Whom

Both ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’ refer to a person. But ‘who’ is used when that person is the subject and ‘whom’ is used when the person is the object.

Sentence: Whom would you trust more- me, or the person who has been lying to you for years?

In the first sentence, it may look like ‘whom’ is the subject, but it is actually ‘you’.


Incorrect Word Choice

Accept/ Except

The words do sound similar, but their meanings are very different. ‘Accept’ means receiving something whereas ‘Except’ means without or excluding. Another interesting thing is that ‘Accept’ is a verb and ‘Except’ is a preposition.

Sentence: I accept all your conditions except the one about the dinner timetable.


Among/ Between

‘Between’ is used to express a relation between one to another. The relation of only two items can be described with ‘between’. For more elements, use ‘among’.

Sentence: There is some tension going on between Carla and May. So, I gave Jake the responsibility to distribute the papers among the students.

Learning easy vocabulary words used in daily life can help you reduce your vocabulary errors. Check out our guide now!


Assure/ Ensure/ Insure

‘Assure’ and ‘Ensure’ have kind of similar meanings which is why non-native speakers are often confused about their use. The word ‘assure’ means telling ‘someone’ that an incident will definitely occur whereas ‘ensure’ means making sure that ‘something’ will definitely happen. ‘Insure’ simply means buying an insurance policy.

Sentence: I assure you that such mistakes will never happen again. I’ll ensure that the employees understand their duties properly.

This policy insures your belongings against theft.


Complement/ Compliment

This is another source of vocabulary errors in writing. However, if you don’t know the meanings of both words, conversations can be confusing too.

‘Complement’ refers to an additional object that completes the whole thing such as ‘complementary breakfasts’ that are offered when you book a room in a hotel. They complete the whole package. ‘Compliment’ means praising a person.

Sentence: Her dress perfectly complements her body. She is receiving numerous compliments at the party.


Historic/ Historical

‘Historic’ simply means famous or remarkable. It has no relation to history unlike ‘Historical’ which refers to something related to history.

Sentence: It is a historic moment for our team that we are gathered today to receive our awards. After the award ceremony, we will visit the historical sights of the city.


Fewer/ Less

This is where you need your knowledge of countable and uncountable nouns. ‘Fewer’ is used for things that are countable and ‘Less’ is used for uncountable things. Misusing them will cause grammatical errors along with vocabulary errors.

Sentence: We try to give as less pressure on our employees as possible but because we have fewer employees now than before, the company is struggling to meet the target.


Improve/ Improvise

‘Improve’ means making something better or becoming better. ‘Improvise’ means creating something out of blue to tackle the situation.

Sentence: She could not remember the exact dialogue in that scene, so she improvised it. Turns out, it actually improved the quality of that scene.



‘Literally’ means something happening in a literal manner. For example, ‘He is joking. Don’t take it literally’. But recently, it has become a synonym for ‘really’. Unless you are 100% sure that they are synonymous in a particular case, avoid using ‘literally’ and look for other synonyms.


Loose/ Lose

‘Loose’ means something unfitting, low, not firm etc. ‘Lose’ means forgetting or misplacing an object.

Sentence: I lost my brooch. That is why I let the scarf hang loosely from my shoulder.


Principal/ Principle

‘Principal’ is the person in charge of an institute or other organizations, mostly educational institutes. ‘Principle’ on the other hand refers to morals, values, and beliefs.

Sentence: The principal of this school has been running the institute for 20 years. His principle is to reward everyone for their efforts which is why everyone is devoted to working hard.


Stationary/ Stationery

‘Stationary’ means immobile; something that is not moving. ‘Stationery’ means items used in writing. There are many popular mnemonics to remember the spelling differences such as:

“Parked cArs are stationAry but pEncils are stationEry”


Concluding Thoughts

You must use these words in your writing and conversation to have a clearer idea about their use. Also, don’t try to learn everything at once because it will only increase confusion.

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With SpellQuiz membership, you can experience all the offered features and have the necessary lessons that will help you avoid vocabulary errors in the future.

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