The FM Professional

A Quick Writing Guide for Facilities Managers

David Spence
October 20th, 2014

Writing Reference: 7 Easily Confused Words

1. Affect vs. Effect

“Effect” is a noun meaning “consequence.” “Affect” is a verb meaning “to have an effect on.” Even more confusing? Sometimes “effect” can also be used as a verb—meaning “to bring about” (as in, “The policy effected great change.”) But the good news is that seeing “effect” as a verb is relatively rare.


The chemical affected the mold.
The chemical had a negative effect on the mold.

2.) Lie vs. Lay

“Lie” means to rest or recline. Lay means “to put or to place something.” Or, as I like to think of it:

Lie= “rec-lie-n.”

Lay= “to put or to p-lay-ce something ”

Some further notes on lie vs. lay:


Part of what makes these two terms confusing is the fact that the past tense of “lie” is “lay.”

So, for example:

I lie in the grass. (present)
I lay in the grass yesterday. (past)


The past tense of lay, on the other hand, is “laid.” It can be an easy mistake to say “She laid down on the couch.” But that is not correct, because as we’ve seen, “lay” means to “put or to place something.” So the correct sentence would be “She lay down on the couch.”

3.) Your vs. You’re

“Your” is a possessive pronoun showing ownership. “You’re” is a contraction of “you are.”

For example:

Your dog is jumping over the fence.


You’re jumping over the fence.

4.) Advise and Advice

Much like effect and affect, these two words are closely related, but not quite the same. “Advise” is the verb, meaning “to give someone instruction.”

“Advice” is the noun, the instruction you receive.

For example:

My mentor advised me well. (verb)


My mentor gave me good advice. (noun)

5.) Except vs. Accept

“Accept” is to receive something. “Except” means “but.” So:

I accept your proposal.


I agree with every thing you said, except your proposal.

6.) Capital vs. Capitol

“Capital” has a few different meanings. As a noun, it can refer to “the seat of the government for a country or state.” It can also refer to an “amount of money or property.”

“Capitol,” on the other hand, is a “building in which a state legislative body meets.” It’s capitalized when used in reference to the building where Congress gathers in Washington, D.C.


The capital of New York is Albany.


The politicians gathered at the state capitol for the meeting.

7.) Principal vs. Principle

This one may be useful for those of you working in school settings: A “principal” is a person, the head of the school. “Principle” is a concept, a defining value. One way I like to remember which is which is by thinking of the “pal” ending of principal—a pal is a friend, a person you’re fond of.


There is a cockroach problem in the principal‘s office.


It goes against my principles to kill bugs.

Hopefully, this list will be useful for your next writing venture, though it does only scratch the surface. What words do you easily confuse?

photo credit: Skakerman via photopin cc