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Beware of “evil twins”

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Many words in the English language are commonly confused. Beware of these “evil twins.”

Accept/except. Accept means to agree, to receive something, or to assume a responsibility: “Nora accepted the package.” Except means to exclude: “Nora signed for all the packages except one.”

Farther/further. Farther typically refers to distance: “Serena can lob the ball farther than Venus.” Further typically refers to time or quantity: “No further improvements are possible.”

Its/it’s. Its means belonging to it: “The door hung crookedly, its hinges broken.” It’s is a contraction meaning “it is”: “It’s obvious that the previous tenants broke the hinges.”

Lay/lie. Lay means to place or put down: “Lay that platter on the table.” Lie means to recline: “Lie down before you faint.” (Both lie and recline have an “i.”)

Lose/loose. Lose (rhymes with booze) means to misplace something or fail to keep it: “Harvey has a tendency to lose his glasses.” Loose (rhymes with juice) means not securely fastened or restrained: “The bicycle handlebars were loose.”

That/which. That introduces a phrase that defines: “The car that cut me off in traffic was speeding.” (Which car was speeding? The one that cut me off in traffic.) Which introduces a phrase that provides additional, but not essential, information: “The car, which was red, cut me off in traffic.”

Then/than. Then conveys a sense of time: “Gloria was thinner then.” Than compares things or people: “Gloria is heavier than Rita.”

Your/you’re. Your means belonging to you: “Leave now and take your poodle with you.” You’re means “you are”: “If you and your dog don’t leave now, you’re going to be in trouble.”

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