See UT English Style guide

Commonly confused words

The following list of commonly confused words and tricky spelling rules draw directly from the sources cited below. 

Commonly confused words


In British English and at UT, 'programme' is the prefered spelling when referring to a schedule of events.

  • EXAMPLE: UT launched a research programme to investigate the problem.   

In British English and at UT, 'program' is used for computer applications only.

  • EXAMPLE: A computer 'program' is a collection of instructions that performs a specific task when executed by a computer.  

Note also:

In American English 'program' is the preferred spelling for both uses above, so do realise that you will continue to notice this spelling in texts written in American English.

among vs between

'Among' is used for undifferentiated items.

'Between' is used with individual, named items.

  • EXAMPLE: She couldn’t decide among all the courses.
  • EXAMPLE: She couldn’t decide between civil or mechanical engineering.

mutual vs reciprocal

'Mutual' is used when more than one person has the same feeling/opinion as another towards a third party/object/concept etc.

'Reciprocal' is used when two or more people feel, think or act in the same way about or to one another.

  • EXAMPLE: ‘I disagree with the government’s policy on fireworks.’ ‘So do I. The feeling’s mutual.’
  • EXAMPLE: ‘I won’t steal your cheese.’ ‘I won’t steal your cheese either. We have a reciprocal arrangement.’

less vs fewer

'Less' is used with nouns which are not countable objects: if you could use much to describe having a lot of the noun, use 'less'.

'Fewer' is used with countable objects: if you could use many to describe having a lot of the noun, 
use 'fewer'.

  • EXAMPLE: 'I can’t eat that much cheese: please give me less.’
  • EXAMPLE: ‘I can’t eat that many sprouts: please give me fewer.’

effect vs affect (verb)

'Effect' as a verb means to bring about, or to have the result that.

'Affect' as a verb means to have an impact on or to change something; it also means to simulate something which is untrue.

  • EXAMPLE: A glass of brandy may effect his recovery [bring his recovery about].
  • EXAMPLE: A glass of brandy may affect his recovery [have an impact on whether he recovers].
  • EXAMPLE: He affected to have drunk only one glass of brandy [when he had actually drunk more than one glass].

effect vs affect (noun)

'Effect' as a noun means the impact something causes.

'Affect' as a noun means someone’s outward appearance of their psychological state.

  • EXAMPLE: The storm had wide-reaching effects.
  • EXAMPLE: His affect was one of cheerful indifference.

infer vs imply

'Infer' is to read a meaning into a statement which has not been explicitly stated: to read between the lines.

'Imply' is to suggest something without explicitly stating it: to hint at something (usually something negative).

  • EXAMPLE: He told me that these one-size-fits-all gloves fit most people’s hands. I inferred that he thought my hands were too big, and resented what he was implying.

compared to vs compared with

Comparing something to another thing highlights a (perhaps metaphorical) similarity

Comparing something with another thing highlights the differences between them

  • EXAMPLE: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
  • EXAMPLE: Price comparison websites allow you to compare one company’s prices and policies with those of their competitors.

all together vs altogether

The two-word usage of 'all together' means, in a body or in a group.

  • EXAMPLE: The wedding guests were gathered 'all together' in the garden 

The joined up one-word usage of 'altogether' is used as an adverb, meaning completely, or entirely. 

  • EXAMPLE:  When he first saw the examination questions, he was 'altogether' baffled.

Commonly confused words caused by interference effects

  • dependent (adj. or noun) / dependant (noun only)
  • license (verb) / licence (noun)
  • practise (verb) / practice (noun)
  • principal (adj. or noun) / principle (noun)
  • stationary (adj.) / stationery (noun)
  • premises (both buildings and propositions) / premisses (propositions only)
  • discreet (careful and circumspect) / discrete (separate).

Reference List

European Commission English Style Guide - A handbook for authors and translators in the European Commission Eighth edition: January 2016 Last updated: May 2018 "[PDF File]" Retrieved from

University of Oxford Style Guide. "[PDF File]" Retrieved from

Oxford Learner's Dictionary. Retrieved from