Choose Wisely: Commonly Confused Words

Tasting the rainbow

Got a rainbow on your tongue? If you’re tasting many colors, you have a palette on your palate!
Photo by Andrea Allen (Flickr)

The English language is full of spelling pitfalls. We’ve looked at some vowel traps before, words that can be confusing to spell because they’re only one vowel different than another word with a different meaning. Here, we’ll take a look at some more words that are easy to mix up, either because their spellings are similar or because they sound similar when spoken aloud.


If you are discreet, you are trying not to be noticed, being tactful or modest or unobtrusive.
Something that is discrete is a separate thing, a singular, unconnected object or a distinct entity.


If someone scares you, you might cry out, “Eek!”
However, if you’re trying to stretch or increase something, like your budget, you want eke: You eke out a living.


A hurdle is an obstacle that you have to jump over; to hurdle is to surmount something either physically or metaphorically.
While hurdling implies going up and over something, if you’re just moving really quickly in one direction, usually either forward or downward, you’re hurtling.


When you flounder, you’re moving sort of like the fish would out of the water: You’re struggling or flailing about clumsily. A small child might try to flounder their way through a snowdrift.
When you founder, you fail or sink. A business could founder due to fiscal mismanagement.


Your palate is literally the roof of your mouth, but this word is often used figuratively to indicate your sense of taste: Someone who appreciates fine foods might be said to have a refined palate.
A palette is a board held by a painter in one hand and used to mix colors of paint together, and this word is often used to refer to the range of colors that said board might contain. When you decorate, you might choose a new color palette for a room.


Parameters are the limits or boundaries or something in a figurative sense. One should set parameters for a project, detailing the rules of how something should be done and the requirements for the end result.
A perimeter is the limits or boundaries of a physical space: You might install a fence around the perimeter of your yard.


A regimen is a routine or plan of action. Someone might follow a morning beauty regimen to get ready for their day.
A regiment is a military unit. Regiment can also be a verb, meaning to strictly control something (like you might do with a military unit).
A regime is a government, like the Castro regime, for instance.

Are there any commonly confused words like these that always trip you up? Let us know about them in the comments!

Mindy Young, an editor for Online Writing Jobs, got her start as a newspaper copy editor after earning her B.A. from Russell Sage College in Troy, NY. She spent nearly 13 years editing stories, writing headlines, and putting together pages for daily newspapers, and along the way, she also had the opportunity to write food columns and restaurant reviews. After earning a pair of Associated Press awards and a Suburban Newspaper Association award, she left journalism for the world of content marketing, where she puts her skills to work every day for OWJ clients and writers.

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