A Single Letter Can Make A Difference When Spelling Out A Word

Do you complement a lady or compliment her? Did the recession effect or affect your finances?

The English language has many ways of giving us trouble. There are countless word pairs that only differ in a single letter, frustrating young and older spellers alike each time they unknowingly misspell a word.

A single letter is capable of entirely changing the meaning of a word, and therefore of what you’re trying to communicate. If you’re a student, that increases your chances of getting lower scores on assignments and exams. If you’re a business professional who uses the internet to publish your company’s communication, then mocking comments is the least of the problems you’ll have after your error-filled content is published online.

Affect – Effect

Affect is a verb. It describes how a situation, person, or thing influences something else.

Effect, on the other hand, is a noun; it’s the consequence or result of the act of affecting something.

Side effects are the end result of taking the wrong dose or medication. Affected is what you are after overdosing or taking the wrong medication.

Complement – Compliment

“That scarf perfectly complements your entire outfit. You look so stylish!”

“I got tons of compliments on my new haircut at the office, so even though I didn’t like it at first, I’m starting to grow fond of it too!”

To complement (the word is a verb) is to make whole or supplement or improve something in a way that makes it more complete or better.

A compliment is a noun. It’s the flattering words someone says to you or you say to them.

Confident – Confidant

Another tricky pair with a single letter’s difference is the word duo confident and confidant.

Confident is an adjective that we use to describe a person who is sure of themselves and their strengths.

A confidant (the word is a noun) is someone you can share a secret with and be sure they will keep it secret. It usually means a close friend that can be trusted.

“I’m confident I will get that promotion – I’ve worked really hard and the results prove it.”

“Now that his confidant is out of town, Marion is coming to Jane for advice and friendship.”

Cite – Site

To cite (verb) is to mention or quote something someone else has said. A site is a physical place, a location. A digital site is a website – but you can cite the content that you find on it.

“He cited Martin L. King in his valedictorian speech, which provided a very moving moment.”

“The archeological site of the Leaning Tower of Pisa welcomes thousands of tourists every day.”

“The New York Times site was down this morning when I got online to check the news.”

Tricky pairs like these are the reason why there are so many misspellings out there. Become aware of tricky words that only differ in a single letter, and you will avoid making embarrassing misspellings in both official and unofficial communication. Take a minute to study the word pairs fair/fare, four/for, and than/then and be sure to come up with sentences using them so that you can easily see and remember their different spelling and use.


Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments