Recently and belatedly, I came across this article about what they call the 10 most commonly confused words in English. I happened to find the lead sentence interesting.

Here is the link: https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/the-10-most-commonly-confused-words-in-the-english-language-according-to-microsoft-a3490606.html

I gave it a try and ended up finding three mistakes in the sentence in question. Microsoft's data was a great help, but I can't find the last one. It's a little frustrating not to find it after all the clues given. Can you find it? If you did, what is it?

The following is the statement in question. The writer says there are four mistakes:

There's nothing more embarrassing than having someone point out a writing mistake and realizing you've been making it everyday. I mean, it's probably effected your professional relationships for awhile. So take my advise — have someone proofread your report before you submit it to your boss.*

Also, I did research and was wondering why English speakers would rather choose to say "commonly confused words" than "commonly confusing words" when, in fact, people are confused, not words. That means words make people confused, words are confusing (to people). I know this is a tricky one and I'd appreciate any help. The word "commonly" can modify both "confusing" and "confused" because it's an adverb.

  • Are you confused by the object appearing in the place of the subject? This can happen with a lot of verbs. I broke the window => The window broke. I think the technical term is "unaccusative verb". Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 18:23
  • Tell us the three, so we that our effort is not useless.
    – user22427
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 6:17

4 Answers 4


The four mistakes are among the ten listed at the bottom of the article:

  • everyday should be every day
  • effected should be affected
  • awhile should be a while
  • advise should be advice

We say the words/phrases are confused because people confuse them, that is, they use one where they should use the other.

The errors in themselves do not cause much confusion in the listener, so they are not confusing anyone.

  • The movie is boring. The movie makes you bored. The word is confusing. The word makes you confused, not confusing. Why "confused words" instead of "confusing words"? That's confusing and makes me confused. Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 16:21
  • Returning to part of your question English speakers would rather choose to say "commonly confused words" than "commonly confusing words". The noun word is preceded by one of the two adjectives confused and confusing. The words are not confusing (the meaning of the sentences remains clear), they are confused (between two alternative spellings). Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 16:25
  • 3
    It might help to mention that "confuse" is being used as an attributive verb (I think?) Identify wrongly; mistake instead of an adjective Bewildering or perplexing. Even more confusing, we could say "she was easily confused for her sister", meaning that she and her sister are easy to mistake for each other, and "she and her sister were easily confused", meaning either both were often bewildered, or they were easy to mistake for each other.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 16:34
  • I'm afraid I'm still confused. For example, again, Boring is an –ing adjective that describes a thing or person that causes this feeling. Bored is an –ed adjective that describes the person that feels the effect of this feeling. The result is that I know people, not things, are confused. Are you saying things like "words" can be confused? Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 16:37
  • That is what Microsoft is saying. Although it is not the words themselves which are confused (being inanimate) but their usage which is confused, by the writer. Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 16:38

Both uses are correct, they just mean different things.

Part of the problem is that you are mixing up different senses of the word.

— These words are confusing. —

This means that the words cause confusion in people who read them.

From the Merriam-Webster definition of the verb confuse:

3 a : to make indistinct : BLUR
// Stop confusing the issue.

In this case, confusing is acting as an adjective, assigning the quality of something that causes confusion to the noun.

In the same way, you could say this:

This food is nausea-inducing.
This exercise is fatiguing.

In this particular usage, the people are confused in the following Merriam-Webster sense:

1 a : being perplexed or disconcerted
// the confused students
1 b : disoriented with regard to one's sense of time, place, or identity
//The patient became confused.

— These words are confused. —

This means that the words themselves are confused.

However, it doesn't mean confused in the previous sense of perplexed.

From Merriam-Webster's definition of confused:

// a zigzag, crisscross, confused trail
— Harry Hervey
3 : being disordered or mixed up
// a contradictory and often confused story

In short, the English words are not perplexed, but they are instead mixed up.


The key here is the word "commonly", an adverb that sounds more idiomatic modifying the verb "confuse" than the adjective "confusing".

These words commonly confuse people. People are commonly confused by these words.

We simply don't say something like "these words are commonly confusing". Instead you might use a different adverb like "frequently" or "very".

These words are frequently confusing

Although this still sounds clumsy to my hears. Words are either confusing or they aren't. It's the people who determine the frequency of confusion, e.g.:

These words are frequently confused

to mean "people frequently confuse how to use these words."

It would not be wrong to title the article:

The 10 most confusing words in the English language.

but this focuses on the words themselves, rather than on the people who are confused by them. The article is about how to be a better business writer, so it makes more sense to focus on the human element rather than the linguistic element.


I think you are making distinctions that don't exist in English, in any real practical sense, „commonly confused words“ and „commonly confusing words“ are synonymous and can be used interchangeable. Native speakers would never notice the difference. I doubt even publishing companies would notice the difference. Some professor at a University teaching that there is a difference is simply wrong and likely relying on an a rule invented by some Bishop in the 17th century that bears no relation to reality and no one pays any attention to. „ If you have to be taught something about your own (native) language and how to speak it correctly, the odds are about 100% that what you are being taught is wrong. It has to be taught, because it`s NOT your language. In fact, no language can be that way.“ Naom Chomsky, PhD, Linguistics, Professor Emeritis, MIT

  • It's just that I was confused. I wasn't trying to make distinctions. I appreciate your comment. Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 18:12
  • Too many people here are trying to find distinctions that simply dont exist in English and perpetually confuse „style“ from „grammar rules.“ We need standard spellings and „grammar“ to publish uniform writings and to teach others the language. But no native speaker speaks „incorrectly.“ Thats simply a myth. Native speakers define what the grammar of a language is. There is no great grammar God in the sky determining how native speakers have to speak. Total nonsense. There`s good style and poor style amongst native speakers, but not „incorrect“ and „correct“ grammar amongst native speakers.
    – user93389
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 18:26
  • There are some cases where both are acceptable and there are others where that is not the case as many native English speakers here have pointed out, which is a fact acceptable and yet challenging to learn for speakers of English as a foreign language, I suppose. Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 18:50

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