Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

7 Commonly Misused Words You Need To Stop Mixing Up

I’m saving the flowery lead-in chit-chat for another post. We both know why you’re here. Open my post on parts of speech in another tab, and let’s do this.


This is wrong:

I can insure you that this zombie repellent works.

This bat will assure that we can decapitate the undead.

I can’t ensure my house against zombie uprisings, because they’re not considered an act of God.

I'd rather have Flo insuring my property, thank you very much.

Real definitions:

Insure (verb): To provide compensation in the event of loss, destruction, damage or otherwise agreed upon compromise of insured item

Assure (verb): To relieve someone of his/her doubts, convincing a person to be confident on an uncertain matter

Ensure (verb): To make circumstances certain, to make certain of obtaining/providing

Here’s how they’re different:

He assured her that the flesh-eating bacteria was not contagious.

The difference between insure and ensure:

Ensuring makes a guarantee while insuring provides compensation.

The difference between assure and ensure:

Assuring someone is saying everything will be all right; saying everyone will make it out alive because you have a pitchfork is ensuring their safety.

The difference between assure and insure:

You can assure your brother that you won’t drive his car into a ditch; if you do, the car had better be insured.

Quick and dirty tip: Is the confidence that everything will be okay based on compensation in the event of loss (insure), a solid reason (ensure), or merely persuading someone (assure)? Also, you can assure only people.

Like you didn't see this coming.

Here’s how to do it right:

I can assure you that this zombie repellent works.

These cans of Ensure will ensure that we can drown the undead. Good thing we are Extreme Couponers.

I can’t insure my house against zombie uprisings, because they are not considered an act of God.


This is wrong:

Supersonic mooing would be catastrophic to the planet, so President Eisenhower accepted cows from taxation in exchange for peace.

I hope you except that cows are the most superior beings on this planet.

I will not accept one more gift I need to take care of.

Real definitions:

Accept (verb): To agree to receive or undertake, to acknowledge

Except (verb*): To exclude

Here’s how they’re different:

The difference between accept and except: *Except is generally used as a preposition (I like all ice cream except butter pecan) or a conjunction (I would hork down this brownie except I just started my diet. FML.). You would accept an apple if it meant someone offered it and you wanted a bite, but you would except an apple from your dinner menu if you had a bunch of food on the table and wanted that healthy crap away from your brownies. See how awkward except is as a verb?

Quick and dirty tip: When except is used as a verb, it means almost the opposite of accept. If you’re ruling something out, you’re excepting it. If you’re agreeing to it or getting it, you’re accepting it.

They excepted him from the group for being too juicy.

Here’s how to do it right:

I accept the consequences of my poorly timed burp during the vows and will sit outside the chapel for the rest of the ceremony.

We excepted the Martins from the guest list because of their history of special occasion streaking.



This is wrong:

If the emotional ending of Die Hard doesn’t effect you, you are a robot.

The kryptonite has a weird affect on Superman.

Real definitions:

Affect (verb**): To make a difference (including emotionally), to infect

Effect (noun**): A consequence, personal belongings, state of being operative

Here’s how they’re different:

The difference between affect and effect: **Affect is almost always a verb, and effect is almost always a noun. Thinking about the role the word you’re confused about plays in your sentence helps you decide which one to choose. You affect something, which results in an effect.

Quick and dirty tip: If you can substitute the word consequence, you’re looking for effect.

Here’s how to do it right:

Commonly Misused Words - Affect

Commonly Misused Words - Effect

All right – ‘fess up: which ones have you been using incorrectly? What other words do you confuse? Are any of the examples unclear? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!


P.S. Don’t get on my case about the preposition at the end of this title. That BS rule doesn’t apply when it results in a sentence up with which it would be f#!@ed. Plus, the title isn’t even a sentence. Back off.


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  1. Chase Pennell

    I am so bad at grammar….I am sorry to my customers…. But i know my promotional products!

    • Jana Quinn

      You’re also the guy that approves the text that goes on their promotional products. 😉

  2. Scooby DOO!

    I want more!! Check out:

    for more examples to compliment, er, i mean, complement your post! ;]

    • Jana Quinn

      Excellent resource! I advise EVERY writer to review it and bookmark it.

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    Excellent tips here, Jana! Again, love the humor. It’s pretty much guaranteed that the pictured meteor will affect Bruce Willis, though hopefully he’ll prevent it from affecting the earth (with Ben Affleck’s help, of course).

    I come across misuses of “insure” and “ensure” all the time, even on reputable sites. Content developers everywhere would do well to take a look at these tips (and to view our blog more often, that’s for sure). 🙂

    • Jana Quinn

      I wrote this as a relief to my personal daily rage fits over these types of errors and as an easily-bookmarked guide for those to whom the gift of grammar was not genetically encoded. I think future browsers should come preloaded with this and other grammar/spelling resources in the Bookmarks menu.

  4. JPorretto

    I am proud to say that I do grammer really good. Probably as an affect of all my schooling. But of course I still make mistakes. Its tough for me too except when I do do make those, but I insure you I will do my best to fix it.

    And I really love you’re blog today! Keep the good work up!

    • Jana Quinn

      Die in a fire.

    • ASneed

      OMG. Jeff, you would do all that wouldn’t you?? It is confusing to read and look at. Well done, lol. =)

  5. Tony Promo

    Also, nothing chaps my hide more than people who cannot spell “tomorrow” properly… it isn’t “tomarrow”. There are also many people who, for some reason, cannot distinguish the difference between “they’re” and “there”.


    • Jana Quinn

      That one drives me nuts as well. I simply remind people that it’s three words: Tom, or, row.

      The contractions get me pretty annoyed, too. The apostrophe is there to replace a letter. When you replace the letter and make two words, does the sentence make sense? No. THEN USE THE OTHER ONE.

  6. Peemo

    I can insure you, this is fantastic.

    I excepted everything you were saying and the affect of it really effected me in an ensured way!

    For srsly, great post!

  7. Myrtle

    I speaks good english fo-real!

  8. LK

    As many times as I read and re-read this blog I still will have to ask Jill when it comes time for me to use affect/effect.

    I do however like the substituting “consequence” for effect tip, maybe that will help..

    • Jana Quinn

      Basically, affect is a verb and effect is a noun.

      But there are exceptions:

      Affect as a noun is a perceived emotional state. It’s used often in psychology or social work, where the writer/speaker does not want to leap to the conclusion of a subject’s internal feelings but can report observations. Saying someone has a “happy affect” (emphasis on the first syllable, which is a short “a” as in “cat”) implies that the person appears to be happy but may not actually feel that way.

      Effect as a verb means “to cause.”

      For example, saying our government policies “effect” a situation means that our policies directly CAUSE a situation. Saying our government policy affects a situation implies there’s an unintended or indirect consequence.

      Want your mind blown?

      The prisoner’s cheerful affect affected the psychologist who prescribed medicine that effected an effect on the prisoner.

      • Michael Heartfield

        I’m glad I saw this in the comments; I was about to say gotcha on the affect/effect outliers. It comes up quite a bit in legal documents like “cause to effect” which would bust the noun/verb rule of thumb. But I now bow down to your grammar superiority. Thanks for the great post.

        • Jana Quinn

          You are a loyal grammar servant. Go forth and educate!

          I could do a whole section on obscure word meanings that are actually quite mainstream in specific industries. Language and words have always been fascinating to me. I’ve only recently gone from being a descriptivist (a word means what it says it means in the dictionary) toward a less conservative descriptivist with hints of prescriptivism (language is ever-evolving and the simple widespread acceptance of a new meaning – however rooted in error it may be – is worth noting).

          I see you run a time management blog. Do you find it more efficient to learn grammar on your own or to pay an editor and wait for proofreading?

          • Michael Heartfield

            From an efficiency standpoint, I’d say it is far better to have a proofreader for a blog, especially now that there is a whole economy for it with Elance and other similar services. It is far more expensive to have a blog rife with errors that scares away potential clients.

            I say that I lean on my proofreader in one breath but honestly I have also recently just picked up Strunk and White on the Kindle last week. It is amazing how much I have forgotten since grade school!

            • Jana Quinn

              Oops, it looks like I didn’t word my question clearly. There go those darn words again! 😉

              I was asking if you thought that acquiring proofreading skills on your own (knowledge of spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.) would be more efficient than just pouring your writing out onto a page, unedited, and having a proofreader on standby paid to look over and correct the post.

              I think that if written language is a particular difficulty for you and turning writing services over to another person is not an option, having a proofreader on standby is a good idea. For the vast majority of bloggers, though, I think reviewing basic grammar and punctuation rules and running a spell checking program (though none are perfect) would save valuable resources – both time AND money.

  9. Angela

    My biggest pet peeve is when people use “your” instead “you’re.” Your welcome. My welcome what? GRRRRRRRRRR!!

    • Jana Quinn

      “My welcome what?”

      “Their dancing what?”

      It saddens me that it does not surprise me anymore when these errors are made. I would like to blame technology (Autocorrect/spell check/grammar check) for making people feel like they don’t need to learn rules or proofreader.

      As Watson’s run on Jeopardy proved, computers are NOT perfect when it comes to analyzing grammatical structure. Word processing programs are not designed with a finite number of approved sentences to use and the rest are underlined with a green squiggly. General word combination rules are programmed and are not only not catching some fairly obvious errors but also mark perfectly appropriate clauses and sentences as errors.

      Technology is a supplement, not a replacement.

      • Jill Tooley

        I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time my Word grammar checker told me to change grammar that was undeniably correct in the first place. It’s told me to change “who” to “that,” “your” to “you’re,” and it constantly wants me to pluralize words that shouldn’t be plural in that particular sentence. I feel sorry for the people who rely on the grammar checker and just hit “change” to everything it suggests. Yikes!

        I <3 this post. I can assure everyone that grammar affects us all, and its enforcement should never be excepted from our daily routines!

  10. Lisa

    “Die in a fire”!!! I laughed out loud on that one. I personally love “I seen a ….” Finger nails on a chalkboard for me.

    • Jill Tooley

      Ugh, I’m with you there! “I seen it” makes me cringe!

      • ASneed

        Agreed! And it’s even worse when they’re saying it that way because they think it sounds cool.

        • Jana Quinn

          A little PSA here: There are dialectical DIFFERENCES within a language that are not the same as just being wrong (like mixing up the words above).

          For example, African-American Vernacular English (ebonics) is a rule-based system of grammar that includes distinct features like auxiliary verb deletion (“I going” instead of “I am going”) and sound substitution (“f” for “th” and in “toof” for “tooth”). This is not Standard American English or considered appropriate for professional use, but it is still correct within the confines of its own dialect.

  11. Mandy Kilinskis

    Am I the only one that wants to crack skulls when people ask if “I can borrow them a pencil”? I could lend you a pencil or you could borrow one from me, but no, I cannot borrow you anything. Who in the world thinks that sounds right/intelligent/normal?

  12. ASneed

    Great blog Jana! =)

    I am generally pretty good at using all these, but when I am having trouble with them (or any others), I just change the word I use….but now, I can just reference your blog I suppose. Thanks!

    • Jana Quinn

      Yes! I think that it’s MUCH smarter to just change a word you’re not sure about to a word you’re sure about rather than just guessing.

  13. Robert

    Hey Jana,

    You are quite the one for picking grammar and typos! LOL

    Good post, sure it will be useful to many people writing online. In recent years there has been a rapidly increasing trend towards being a good writer and achieving online success, particularly in the “Make Money Online” industry. I think that it is important that people communicate correctly when they write, although the occasional error is allowed 😉 .

    • Jana Quinn

      Haha! That’s my job (and true passion!)!

      Some people renovate their homes, some people maintain their cars, and I fix language!

      I am thoroughly convinced that 97% of all the world’s problems could be solved by communicating clearly. The most frustrating thing for me is watching two people arguing when, in fact, they might actually be on the same page if they chose their words more carefully. That’s not about typos or misspellings; it’s about using broader words and not qualifying absolutes that really stir the pot.

      Thanks for the comment!

      If you’re interested in more grammar fun, check out my zombie-ridden post on parts of speech:

  14. Matt C.

    I love everything about this. Being a die hard grammar nerd I do my best to keep my pretensions to myself; however, once every six or seven months or so one little mistake sets off a grammarsplosion in my brain and I am forced to alienate all around me. This usually devolves into me sobbing in a corner, quietly wiping my tears with the tattered pages of my well worn copy of the CMS (14th edition).

    Also, you will love this for its perfection:

  15. Candice J.

    I absolutely, positively, can NOT stand people who use words incorrectly. It is not that difficult to pick up (or look up online) the meaning of a word, and the correct way to use it. If we are educated enough to use a computer, or pick up a book or paper then we are educated enough to know what we are saying and the proper way to say it. I admit I’m not perfect and my grammar could definitely use some improvement, but I will not say something without knowing what I’m saying first. Great post, I loved reading this!

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