Are we identical? Look closely...
In the English language, there are many pairs of words that sound alike and are spelled almost alike, yet have entirely different meanings. Consequently, it's easy to write the wrong one and not realize it. To compound this problem, word processors do not recognize it as a misspelling and may not flag an incorrect usage as a mistake.
Let me give you some examples:
altar (a sacred table in a church) vs. alter ( which means to change)
born (to start life) vs. borne (to carry)
and... compliment (an admiring remark) vs. complement (an addition that improves something)
What a difference a letter makes!
Here are a few more:
accept / except...affect / effect...coarse / course...discreet / discrete...
pour / pore...past / passed...site / sight...and the list goes on.
What do you do? Well, making yourself aware of them by reading through lists of these pairs can help. Keeping a dictionary (like Thesarus.com) open in your browser so you can easily check questionable words as you write is also a good idea. In the end, though, critique partners and proofreaders comprise the final net that catches our mistakes.Sometimes it just takes fresh eyes.
For lists to review, try these: Oxford's Commonly Confused Words, Notorious Confusables, and (my favorite) Common Errors in English Usage.
And for those of you wondering, the answer is no. The twins in the picture are not identical. Those are my boys at 4 months of age.
*Blospot.com bloggers - consider turning off word verification (aka 'Captcha') to make it easier for your visitors to comment. Here's a great tutorial video that will lead you through the whole thing. Besides grammar, it's my current crusade.
What's Captcha? Not sure if you have it? You can read more about it here. :)