Word Crimes: Can You Figure Out These Commonly Mixed-Up Words?

Kevin Zed

Image: RichVintage/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Some things are better left unsaid, and that includes word mix-ups. With Merriam Webster estimating that there are about 470,000 words in the English language, it's no surprise that blunders are bound to happen. One analysis estimates that there are also approximately 6,139 homonyms — you know, those words that are spelled or pronounced the same but have different meanings. Oh, and let's not forget that something as simple as one letter can completely change a word's meaning (we see you "climatic" and "climactic"). The English language loves to mix, dice, cube, fry, sauté and bake its words at 375 degrees for 20 minutes until we're all doomed to commit a criminal diction deed.

But consider yourself lucky, because you've just clicked on your get-out-of-jail-free card. Whether you always forget the difference between "tact" and "tack" or can't figure out if "affect" is the verb or the noun, the quiz will help you overcome those word walls with varied and straightforward questions. This quiz is full of homophones, homonyms, spelling traps and good old-fashioned commonly confused words. Grab your favorite dictionary and get ready to have your mix-ups taken down!


Which option contains the wrong use of "defuse"?

"Defuse" is used when a bomb is prevented from exploding by removing its fuse. It can also refer to reducing the tension in a situation. The third option should use the verb "diffuse," which means "to spread over a big area."

Can you identify the wrong word in this sentence? "With his rein coming to an end, the King was worried his legacy would flounder. He asked his advisers to gauge the public's satisfaction with his tenure, especially considering his lack of political tact."

"Rein" in this sense refers to the strap that a rider uses to maneuver a horse. People also say "rein in" when talking about limiting or controlling something. When discussing a king or queen's rule over a kingdom, use "reign."

Which word in this sentence is used incorrectly? "Can you please re-sign the contract? You missed the last section that's further down the page. If you have any inquiries, feel free to let me know, but there's no gray area here."

No, you're not living in a simulation; "further" is wrong. When discussing a physical distance, "farther" is the correct word ("She flew farther than her mom."). Other cases, including more abstract phrases, feature "further" ("If you have further inquiries, please tell me.").

Which of the following is incorrect?

Both are adjectives, but "climactic" refers to the climax or peak, whereas "climatic" relates to the climate or weather conditions. Who would've known that a "C" can make such a big difference?

Which option contains the wrong use of "effect"?

Often confused with "affect," "effect" as a noun means "consequence." As a verb, it signifies "to cause" or "to bring about." Comparatively, "affect" is only a verb that means "to impact."

Which choice is wrong?

This seems wild, but there is actually is a difference between "uninterested" and "disinterested": The former means "not interested," but the latter refers to being impartial or refusing to pick a side.

Which of the following is incorrect?

This is another one of those cases where one simple letter makes all the difference. "Advice" is a noun, denoting "guidance" or "a suggestion." In contrast, "advise" is a verb for "to give guidance" or "to make a suggestion."

Can you identify the option with the wrong use of "complement"?

Nobody's blaming you if you're confused. "Complement" refers to something completing or enhancing another thing, whereas "compliment" is an expression of praise. This explanation complements the question!

Which word in this sentence is used incorrectly? "As a lobbyist, I hate losing, which is why I'll keep pushing for legislation until my last breath. Anyways, let's head to the third floor of the capital."

Indeed, "capital" has a variety of definitions, including money, an uppercase letter or where a government is located. The building where a legislature congregates in known as the "capitol."

Which answer contains the wrong use of "flaunt"?

This sentence should contain the word "flout," which means "to defy" or "to disregard." As you probably guessed, "flaunt" refers to showing off, but it's also less commonly used when something is waving or fluttering.

Can you identify the difference between a "gaff" and a "gaffe"?

Despite almost being spelled identically and having the same pronunciation, the two words have very different definitions. A "gaff" is also an informal term for "house" in the U.K.

Do you know the difference between "empathy" and "sympathy"?

Empathy is often known as more powerful than sympathy because it requires a deeper level of emotional engagement. Surprisingly, a "sympathizer" is someone who agrees with a particular view, not someone who feels pity.

Can you identify the wrong option?

As a noun, "principal" refers to the person in charge of a school. As an adjective, it denotes the most important thing. "Principle" is only a noun that refers to beliefs or values.

Which option is wrong?

"Horde" is a noun that describes a big group of people. "Hoard," as a verb, means that you're accumulating and storing possessions, but as a noun, it denotes a cache of valuable things or money.

Do you know the difference between "immoral" and "amoral"?

The prefix "a" usually renders the base word (in this case, "moral") neutral or makes it signify indifference. For example, the word "asexual" indicates that someone has no sexual interest in others.

Which word doesn't belong here? "Before giving her assent to the contract, she appraised him of its stipulations. She then ensured he understood and told him the contract was added to the HR team's work queue."

When you want to inform someone, use the verb "apprise." When you want to evaluate or assess, the correct verb is "appraise." This quiz is appraising your skills, while also apprising you!

What's the difference between "desert" and "dessert"?

Ah yes, the "desert" and "dessert" debacle. The former is either a noun referring to hot, barren land or a verb that denotes abandonment. The latter is just a noun. To remember the difference, think of "Strawberry Sorbet," which is a type of dessert and contains two "S"s.

Which option contains the wrong use of "duel"?

"Duel" is a fight, whereas "dual" means that something comprises two, often differing, components. For example, "duality" is used to describe contrast and juxtaposition, such as left and right or night and day.

Can you tell us the wrong choice?

Interestingly, both "forbear" and "forebear" have nothing to do with bears. The first is a verb whose definition is "to refrain," while the second is a noun that's synonymous with "ancestor."

Can you tell us the difference between "pour" and "pore"?

While "pour" is a verb, "pore" contains two definitions: It can either be a verb, as described above, or commonly used as a noun to describe tiny openings, such as those found on the skin.

Can you tell us the incorrect word in this sentence? "Let's figure out whose sweater this is, then let's return it to the owner. We'll tell them we found it in the second isle, within sight of the meat section."

"Isle" is an island, easily remembered by the fact that both words contain the same first three letters. The correct word here is "aisle," as in the famous, "Clean up on aisle two!"

What's the difference difference between "grisly" and grizzly"?

"Grizzly" is the type of bear, which can be remembered by thinking that bears need to sleep and, in other words, catch some "Z"s. By some estimates, Eurasia is home to about 100,000 brown bears, 70,000 of which reside in the former Soviet Union.

Can you identify the wrong answer?

"Prescribe" is known for its use in medical contexts, but it can also be used as a verb when stating a rule authoritatively. Comparatively, "proscribe" is a verb that means "to forbid."

Do you know the difference between "stationary" and "stationery"?

"Stationary" is an adjective and "stationery" is a noun. You can remember this difference by thinking that "writer" and "stationery" both contain an "ER," and stationery is used for writing.

Can you tell us which one contains the wrong use of "aid"?

When talking about a helper, "aide" is the correct term. Even though a committee is comprised of people, the last option is correct because "aid" in this context refers to monetary help, not a monetary helper.

Which option contains the wrong use of "moot"?

"Moot" has a few meanings, but the last option should contain "mute," as in "to silence." As a verb, "moot" means "to suggest," and as an adjective, it can mean either "debatable" or "irrelevant."

What's the difference between "amuse" and "bemuse"?

On the surface, it's easy to think that "bemuse" is simply the opposite of "amuse," but it's slightly different. Just as the verb "to amuse" has a noun counterpart, so too does "bemuse," in the form of "bemusement."

Which word doesn't belong here? "Incensed by his failure to assemble the table, he pulled it apart. He decided to call a customer service rep, who assured him a helper would arrive eminently."

"Eminently" essentially means "very," with its adjectival counterpart, "eminent," meaning "noteworthy" or "famous/respected." The option should've been "imminently," which means that something will happen soon.

Do you know which answer is wrong?

An "allusion" is an indirect reference to a person or event. For example, if talking about your mother-in-law, you might say, "The woman who makes me deeply unhappy," without explicitly saying her name.

Which answer incorrectly uses "admission"?

"Admission" is an acknowledgment of truth, but it also refers to the right to entry or process of acceptance. "Admittance" also refers to entrance, but only in a physical sense, such as, "Admittance into the room is prohibited."

Can you tell us the incorrect answer?

"Allude" is the verb of "allusion," an indirect reference. "Elude" means "to avoid" or "to escape from," sometimes used in the context of ideas, such as, "This concept eludes me." "Illude" refers to tricking or deluding.

Which word doesn't belong? "You absolute angel! Thanks for restoring my tree's bow. Can you also help me find my brooch? It has four carats so it's pretty valuable."

"Bow" has various meanings, including a type of knot or the front part of a boat, but the correct word in this context is "bough" (pronounced like "wow" but with a "B."). It's the main branch of a tree.

Do you know why "bazaar" and "bizarre" are different?

How bizarre is it that the word "bazaar" even exists? It's a marketplace of small stores, often found in the Middle East. It's also an event where money is raised for a donation, just like a fundraiser.

Which contains the wrong use of "lead"?

Do you feel mis"led"? "Lead" can either be a metal or the present tense of the verb "to lead." Plot twist: When using it in its past tense, the correct spelling is "led." Who would've known?

Which word is wrong? "I caught my breath, then I kept running. I saw a bird cheeping away and a man playing some weird cord on his guitar."

A "cord" can either refer to the folds of throat tissue known as "vocal cords," or to the strings made from multiple twisted strands, like a phone cord. When talking about the musical notes that an instrument produces, use "chord,"

About Zoo

Our goal at Zoo.com is to keep you entertained in this crazy life we all live.

We want you to look inward and explore new and interesting things about yourself. We want you to look outward and marvel at the world around you. We want you to laugh at past memories that helped shape the person you’ve become. We want to dream with you about all your future holds. Our hope is our quizzes and articles inspire you to do just that.

Life is a zoo! Embrace it on Zoo.com.

Explore More Quizzes