Words Commonly Confused and/or Misused (2)

September 29, 2016 – 2:30 pm

A few months ago I posted the first in a series of articles I have written about words that are often used incorrectly. That was an extension and expansion of a similar series I had done about three years before that. This current post is the second in my latest series of articles about commonly confused and/or misused words. The previous article covered words/terms beginning with the letters “a” to “c”; this one covers the letters “d” through “f”. I will continue to post articles from this series every three or four months over the next year or so.

Here are some frequently confused and/or misused words (“d” through “f”).

decision (make or take)
“make a decision” is the traditional phrase that was (and still is) used.
“take a decision” has become common in popular usage and is generally accepted.
They both mean “to decide about something”.
I believe that he has made a wise career decision.
The review committee is expected to take a decision later today.
Use “decision making” NOT “decision taking”

defective, deficient
“defective” refers to something lacking in quality.
“deficient” refers to something lacking in quantity.
The transformer was found to be defective and had to be replaced.
The study showed that 70% of subjects tested had deficient iron levels.

dependant, dependent
“dependant” is a noun.
“dependent” is an adjective.
Anyone with more than two dependants is eligible for that tax deduction.
Once he was in a wheelchair he became almost totally dependent on Angela.

different, various
“different” implies uniqueness and/or separateness.
“various” implies number and diversity.
Each of the three proposals offered a different approach to the project.
After the meeting, various attendees signed the petition.

disinterested, uninterested
“disinterested” means unbiased or impartial.
“uninterested” means not interested, or unconcerned, or indifferent.
The panel of judges was asked to provide a disinterested opinion on the matter.
My boss seems to be uninterested in any of the plans proposed so far.

“each” should be treated as singular and used with a singular verb.
Each of them is now free to choose sides on his/her own.
Each municipality administers its own road maintenance program.

economic, economical
“economic” relates to the economy or economic system.
“economical” refers to a person who is thrifty and tends to avoid waste.
Things have improved since the economic crisis eight years ago.
He is economical about all things, including his choice of a small hybrid car.

effective, efficient
“effective” refers to producing a good or desired result.
“effective” can also be used to indicate that something is “in effect” or “in force”.
“efficient” refers to the skilful use of time, effort, energy, and/or money to produce desired results.
Despite her inexperience, the new president proved to be highly effective in her job.
That new law will become effective on January 1st of next year.
Pressure to reduce carbon emissions has forced manufacturers to produce more efficient engines.

emigrate, immigrate, migrate
“emigrate” means to leave one country or region and move to another.
“immigrate” means to enter and settle in a new country or region.
“migrate” means to move from one place to another. (people or animals)
A large number of Irish people emigrated to Canada during the potato famine.
Last year, this country accepted more than 150,000 immigrants from African countries.
Hunters tend to migrate from one forest area to another in search of migrating herds.

fewer, lesser, less
“fewer” always refers to a number of things that can be counted.
“lesser” or “less” usually refer to quantity, amount or size.
“Less” can also refer to number, when it can be thought of as an amount.
They sold fewer cars this year than last.
He chose that option because it was the lesser of two evils.
Your workload is expected to be less from now on.
When searched, she had less than $200 in her purse.

figuratively, literally, virtually
“figuratively” means “not really” or “not literally”; in an abstract sense.
“literally” means “really” or “actually”; in actual fact.
“virtually” means “almost entirely” or “for all practical purposes”.
Figuratively speaking, he was over the moon about it.
It was determined that they were literally minutes away from death when found.
As far as we could tell, it was virtually a dead heat as they crossed the line.

financial, fiscal
“financial” refers to money matters or transactions in general.
“fiscal” refers to public finances derived from tax revenues.
The company’s financial performance was better this year than last.
The central bank has recommended the adoption of a policy of fiscal restraint.

flaunt, flout
“flaunt” means to “display boastfully”.
“flout” means to “treat with contempt and disregard”.
She made a point to flaunt her new engagement ring to everyone she encountered.
He has a tendency to flout the highway traffic laws.

flounder, founder
“flounder” means to struggle awkwardly, without making progress.
“founder” as a noun refers to a person who founded an institution.
“founder” as a verb; refers to: a ship filling with water, or a building collapse, or a horse falling down lame.
After six months, the business was already seriously floundering.
His father was the founder of that college.
After the collision, the ship quickly foundered.
As soon as they depressed the plunger the building foundered.
Right after crossing the finish line the horse foundered and then buckled to the ground.

forego, forgo
“forego” means to “go before” or “precede”.
“forgo” is an accepted variant spelling of “forego”.
By the last week of the campaign her election was a foregone conclusion.
Members were not willing to forego/forgo their dining room privileges that evening.

former, latter
“former” refers to the first mentioned in a series.
“latter” refers to the last mentioned in a series.
Of the two on the list, I tend to favor the former. (For more than two, use “first-mentioned”).
Of the two mentioned, I prefer the latter. (For more than two use “last-named”).

That completes the second installment of this series. As I mentioned above, I’ll be making additional posts like this one — three or four letters of the alphabet at a time — every few months over the next year or so.

By the way, if you have any comments or additional words to add (that start with the letters “d”, “e”, or “f”), please make your suggestions in the COMMENT BOX below.

For other articles like this one, or for additional practical writing tips, tricks and advice, make sure you check out my main writing help website:


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  1. 22 Responses to “Words Commonly Confused and/or Misused (2)”

  2. Very useful blog to understand the correct use of similar words.

    By Bharat Bhutani on Sep 29, 2016

  3. Translated using Bing Translate:

    Hi Shaun,

    I don’t comment often because of the difficulty of language, but whenever possible I like to read your posts that I get in email. Although the translations I see are not very good, they are always interesting.

    Whenever possible I watch shows about your country, Canada. It’s interesting to see that crazy family living isolated in the mountains of Canada.

    I’m in Brazil, tropical climate, don’t have your winter, but our summer is very hot. in the central region of the country temperatures reach 40° centigrade.

    All the best,


    Please Tranlate whith Chromme.

    Ola Shaun
    Faço poucos comentários, pela dificuldade de linguagem, mas, sempre que possível gosto de ler as postagem que recebo no email.

    Embora as traduções sejam meio precárias, da pra ler os conteúdos, sempre interessantes.

    Gosto do Canada, sempre que possível vejo programas sobre seu País, gosto de ver aquela família maluca que vive isolada nas montanhas do Canadá.

    Estou no Brasil, clima tropical, não temos seu inverno, mas, nosso verão é muito quente. na região central do País as temperaturas chegam a 40° centígrados.


    Toni Boriero

    By Toni Boriero on Sep 29, 2016

  4. Your welcome and ongoing clarification of words, of whose distinct definitions I do tend to lose sight, are a great relief to receive now that i’ve been around 84 years. I’ve tended to get sloppy in my caring about their correct usage, and now I can get back on track with greater communication skills! Thank you, Shaun

    By Jaffra Austin on Sep 29, 2016

  5. Thankyou for taking the time to make your list. As a writer, I understand the need for a list such as this one.

    By Kat Fankhauser-Taylor on Sep 29, 2016

  6. Dear Shaun Fawcett,
    These are very useful commonly confused words.
    Thank you for imparting valuable information about these words.

    By Gul Khoso on Sep 29, 2016

  7. Shaun,
    It’s always interesting to read your posts. As you might have known, I once told you that I still studied English Literature at the Open University of Indonesia, major in Translation. By reading your posts, I am able to add some important knowledge and skills to my English studies.

    Related to this month’s post, I think, your post entitled “No Wonder English is Difficult,” interested me very much.

    Also your information with regard to Canadian’ situation is interesting. Currently, US, your neighbor is electing a New President, and we, in Jakarta, are processing the Governor’s election. The community’s situation may the same.Thanks Shaun, may God bless you and your daughter. Ashari.

    By Ashari on Sep 30, 2016

  8. Thanks Shaun for sharing this useful list. Some words sound so similar that it is easy to misuse or confuse. Examples made it much easier to understand.

    By Rukhsana on Sep 30, 2016

  9. It’s is nice to know things about Montreal and I was thinking there will be more information on us election I hope it will be included in coming blogs have a nice day thank you…!

    By Indhumathi on Sep 30, 2016

  10. impressive

    By Emmanuel on Sep 30, 2016

  11. This is wow!
    It helps me when writing email correspondences.
    Glad to have you here Shaun :)

    By vin on Oct 3, 2016

  12. Thanks Shaun it is always a pleasure to read your post and thanks for sharing these useful commonly confused words.

    By Carolyn on Oct 3, 2016

  13. I have been neglecting this website since I graduated college in 8/2011. Now that I’ve decided to be an author (memoir) I will be back more frequently.

    I’m happy to say I was acquainted with these words and only occasionally have to stop and think which one is correct. Strangely, I have to think about “former and latter,” many times.

    By Charlotte Hyatt on Oct 5, 2016

  14. Thanks very much for this free lesson. I did not know the difference between dependant and dependent, disiniterested and uninterested. I also did not know the meaning of founder as a verb. My vocabulary has increased and grammar improved.

    By Busi Nkosi on Oct 6, 2016

  15. Dear Sir:

    I feel that “deficient” may not be related to lacking in number or quantity.
    For example:
    His theory is deficient in several respects. Can it be related to ” lacking quantity”?

    Kindly give your views.
    – Rudrapathy

    By Rudra Bala on Oct 10, 2016

  16. Good point Rudra:
    According to my Oxford dictionary, “deficient” means; “1. incomplete; not having enough of a specified quality or ingredient. 2. Insufficient in quantity or force.”

    So, it could be used in your example. However, for a “theory”; I would tend to use adjectives like “flawed”, “incomplete”, “untenable”, “impractical”, etc.

    As usual, it all depends on context, and what one specifically means when using a particular term.

    By Shaun on Oct 10, 2016

  17. Thank You,Shaun.

    By Rudra Bala on Oct 12, 2016

  18. Hi,
    Thank you for the useful words you gave us. I sometimes get confused by them. By the way, I would like to ask you for some overwhelming structures I find hard to realize. Just to take one example, how I can change the tense “simple past” with the verb “move, buy, meet” in present perfect. “When did you buy the house? – How long have you bought the house? Or How long is it since you bought the house?” Which one is correct? I really get confused with them? Could you tell me a little bit more detailed?

    By Thuy on Oct 13, 2016

  19. Thanks Thuy:

    “How long have you bought the house?”
    That one is incorrect. Instead, the following would work.

    “How long since you bought the house?” That works.

    I hope that helps.

    By Shaun on Oct 13, 2016

  20. Really Very useful!!!!!!!!!
    There were some differences or some words such as forgo I didn´t know. I would have corrected it as a spelling mistake for forego.
    Thank you very much for all this knowledge you are sharing with us.

    By Liliana on Oct 20, 2016

  21. Thank you Shaun, for sharing your list. I look forward to your next post.


    By Maria on Jan 3, 2017

  22. Excellent guidance and appreciated.

    By Patrick Romano on Jan 10, 2017

  23. yes some times, but with your guidance it really helps a lot

    By victor on Jan 18, 2017

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