College of Staten Island
 The City University of New York
CSI Students

  Harry Thorne,
  WAC Coordinator
  Office: Building 2S Rm 227
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Writing Across the Curriculum/
Writing in the Disciplines
for Students

 Commonly Confused Words and Spellings

Following are easy ways to remember the differences between these commonly confused words spellings. We often list several different memory devices; read them all, and one or two will probably stick with you.

If you’re really visual, check out the memory aids in this Oatmeal comic for these words:

  • lose / loose
  • weird / wierd
  • there / they’re / their
  • you’re / your
  • its / it’s
  • definitely
  • effect / affect
  • weather / whether
  • a lot
  • then / than

Also, see Grammar Girl for a very extensive list of explanations for commonly confused, misspelled, and misused words (including lay / lie, further / farther, i.e / e.g, and many more). Keep in mind that this just links you to the first page of six. Dig through to find what you need.




  1. Think of the way the letters look in each word:
X Except has the X; it’s the one that wants to keep things or people out.
Hug Accept holds its arms out to you in a very accepting manner; look at the shape of your arms when you’re hugging someone—kind of like two C’s, right?
  • One student reports that she keeps the terms separate by remembering that credit card offers have exceptions and exclusions.




  • A comes before E in the alphabet. Similarly, something must be affected first to produce the effect. The action leads to the result.
  • Or use the acronym RAVEN.    
              Affect is a
              Verb and
              Effect is a


This video can help you remember when to use effect and affect.

This Oatmeal comic includes memory aids for effect and affect in its list of 10 commonly misspelled words.

If you want a little more detail, check out Grammar Girl’s podcast on this word pair confusion.




  • For misspelled words with ie or ei, use the rhyme,
    “I before E, except after C, or when sounding like A as in neighbor and weigh.”
  • Remember that the word weird is weird; it’s an exception to the rule (E comes before I for no apparent reason). There are other exceptions too, so make sure you check a dictionary if you aren’t certain.


This quick one-minute video lists the exceptions of the ie and ei spelling rules (if you can understand his English accent).

Another funny video about exceptions to the rule with Daniel Radcliffe from the Harry Potter series.

This isn’t a link, but you can always rent A Boy Named Charlie Brown for a great song about “i before e.” It’ll stick with you, especially if you’re a Snoopy fan.




  • Remember that the words I and me always go last when you’re talking about yourself and others together in a sentence. It’s sort of like opening a door for everyone else to go through first. [insert photo of someone holding the door] It’s the polite sentence order.

    For example:
    “Sheila and I thought it was funny that the announcer called both her and me.”
  • I vs. me: Take the other person out of the sentence, and use the correct pronoun.

    For example: “I thought it was funny that the announcer called me.”


Here are a few posts on the I/me issue from Grammar Girl:




Pay attention to the words within each of the words:

  • There = that place: This is a place word, so it contains the word here.
  • They're = contraction for they are: Pronouns have apostrophes only when two words are being shortened into one, so think about what letter is being left out (“a” for “they are”).
  • Their = possessive of they: This is a possessive word, so it contains the word heir (an heir inherits money or possessions).


This video has more memory aids to help you remember when to use their, there, and they’re properly (a little slow but helpful).




Pay attention to how each word looks:

  • To = preposition or first part of the infinitive form of a verb: It should always be part of an action.
  • Two = the number 2: Two, twelve, and between are all words related to the number 2, and all contain the letters “tw.”
  • Too = very, also: Too can mean also or can be an intensifier, and you might say that it contains an extra “o” (“one too many”).


This website also breaks down the uses of each word.




  • Try substituting the word who or whom with he or him. If you would use he, then choose who. If you would use him, then choose whom.

    For example, “The artist who/whom we’re studying will lecture today.”
    Would you say, “We’re studying he” or “We’re studying him”?

    Him, of course. So write, “The artist whom we’re studying is coming today.”
    But write, “the artist who painted our wall,” because he painted our wall (not “him painted our wall).


Grammar Girl explains the reasons behind this trick in easy-to-understand language (she also gives a similar take on the who/whom trick).

This video will help you remember the who/he and whom/him connection (kind of weird, but definitely sticks with you).