Twenty-Seven Common Misspellings and Grammatical Confusions
Or, How to Demonstrate to Others Your Education (or Lack Thereof)


1. Prophesy (a verb meaning to speak with the authority of God’s voice) vs. prophecy (a noun indicating that which was thereby spoken). Don’t even think of saying or writing prophesize or prophecize or prophetize! Prophecize probably derives from an auditory mishearing of prophesies, the third person singular present active indicative of prophesy.

2. Altar (a table for sacrifice) vs. alter (a verb meaning to change).

3. Its (possessive) vs. it’s (a contraction of “it is”). Although these words are often confused, such confusion is a sure sign of an incomplete education. (Of course, i’ts and its’ are never correct!) Show others that the thousands of dollars you and others have invested in an education has paid off: avoid this common error!

4. Then (an adverb indicating “when”) vs. than (a conjunction used in comparisons).

5. Accept (a verb meaning “receive”) vs. except (a verb meaning “to exclude” or “to set aside from consideration”).

6. Of vs. have in compound verbs. Although in our speech we sometimes shorten the have so much that it may sound like of, it is never correct to use of as a helping “verb”: it is never correct to say or write, “I could of had a V-8!”

7. Your (indicating possession or association) vs. you’re (a contraction of “you are”).

8. Their (indicating possession or association), they’re (a contraction of “they are”), and there (indicating where or used in impersonal constructions, such as, “There are three kangaroos on our back porch,” or “There is a balm in Gilead”).

9. Led (past tense of lead) vs. lead (Pb on the Element Table, and a good reason why not to eat paint or drink water that has passed through old pipes).

10. Jesus’ (correct expression of possession or association) vs. Jesus’s (incorrect expression of possession or association). (Moses is also made possessive with only an apostrophe.) According to the Chicago Manual of Style , all other nouns ending with s are made possessive by adding ‘s. This rule should probably be extended to other two-syllable nouns in which both syllables end with with a vocalized “s” sound and whose accent falls on the first syllable.

11. Access (a noun indicating permission or ability to enter, obtain, or make use of [and derivatively, a verb meaning “gain access to”]) vs. assess (a verb meaning to evaluate).

12. Principle (a noun indicating a broad rule or code of conduct [never an adjective]) vs. principal (a noun meaning “head person”; also used as an adjective, signifying “main” or “chief”).

13. Loose (an adjective meaning “not securely attached” or “lacking in restraint”; also used as a verb meaning “to set free”) vs. lose (a verb meaning “to miss or fail to keep in one’s possession or customary or supposed place”).

14. Choose (present tense) vs. chose (past tense). (Note that lose and choose rhyme, but choose and loose do not, nor do lose and chose.)

15. Think (a verb indicating the use of one’s mind) vs. feel (a verb indicating the lack of use of one’s mind or the use of sensory perception or the nonintellectual exercise of emotion). A common expression: “I felt that it was the right thing to do.” While the use of feel as a verb expressing tentative preference is increasing, one should not overuse it in this way. Hint to remember: Avoid using the words felt and that together in the same phrase.

16. Split infinitives: “It is best not to knowingly separate the to from the verb in an infinitival expression.” In a few instances avoiding a split infinitive produces a sentence more awkward than one would have otherwise.

17. Dangling prepositions: “Try to avoid using a preposition to end a sentence with.” Common prepositions and prepositional phrases include about, above, across, after, against, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, besides, between, beyond, by, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near, of, off, on, out, outside, over, since, through, throughout, till, to, toward, under, until, up, upon, with, without, according to, because of, by way of, in addition to, in front of, in place of, in regard to, in spite of, instead of, on account of, and out of.

18. Two (meaning one more than one) vs. to (a preposition indicating goal or direction or a particle used with a verb to signify the infinitive) vs. too (an adverb meaning also or expressing excess).

19. Woman (singular) vs. women (plural).

20. The product of judging is a judgment, not a judgement. (Judgment is the preferred spelling, unless you happen to live in Canada, Britain, or other places of the world where British spellings predominate over American spellings.) And while Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition, treats as acceptable either acknowledgment or acknowledgement, it prefers the former.

21. People cite (verb) references in a book, but they may build on a site (a noun referring to a place) where they can enjoy the sight (a noun referring to a view).

22. Some people may be surprised to discover that neither suprise nor surprize nor suprize is a word.

23. That vs. who . When used as a relative pronoun, the word that should never be used of people--only animals and inanimate objects. It is never correct to say, “The people that understand this issue are brilliant.” It is correct (grammatically) to say, “The people who understand this issue are brilliant.”

24. No vs. know . No is a negative; know is a verb expressing cognition or awareness. Also beware the difference between new and knew.

25. Do vs. due vs. dew. What should I do when a book is past due? I do not think that I can mow the grass now, due to the dew on the grass this morning.

26. Affect vs. effect . Affect is a rarely used noun that has to do with one’s facial expression or emotional disposition. Affect is also a common verb that means “have an influence on [something].” Effect is a common noun that serves as a synonym for influence. Effect is also a rarely used verb that means “bring to reality” or “cause to become real.” The slightly confusing thing here is that when one “affects” someone or something, one causes an “effect” on that person or thing.

27. Finally, the millennium may come before people realize that like millennial (the adjective), the word millennium (a noun referring to the 1,000-year period alluded to in Revelation 20) is spelled with two n’s. Oddly, this is unlike the related words, millenarian and millenarianism, which are spelled with one n. Based as it is on the Latin, the plural of millennium is millennia. The decision to spell “Mazda Millenia” as it is could be a sloppy mistake but is more likely an intentional deviation to protect a product.


Copyright © 2001, 2003 by Loren L. Johns.
Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this document for noncommercial educational purposes on the condition that the author receives credit.
Loren L. Johns is Academic Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament
Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind.


Page maintained by Loren L. Johns, LJOHNS@AMBS.EDU
Last updated: 4 March 4, 2003.