Last Updated on 3 October 2023

Which one is right? In what situations? These descriptions are based on numerous dictionaries.

Aw or Awe

  • Aw – interjection used to express mild disappointment, sympathy or sentiment
  • Awe – noun for an emotion combining elements of dread, veneration, and wonder

Bad or Badly

  • Bad – adjective describing a noun. “I feel bad” means you feel sick or disappointed
  • Badly – adverb describing a verb. “I feel badly” means your hands aren’t very sensitive

Capital or Capitol

  • Capital – an uppercase letter, money, or a city where the seat of a government is located
  • Capitol – the building where a legislature meets

Compliment or Complement

  • Compliment – to say something nice to someone
  • Complement – to complete or enhance something

Effect or Affect

  • Effect – usually a noun, the result of the change
  • Affect – usually a verb, to impact or change

Emigrate or Immigrate

  • Emigrate – to move away from a country
  • Immigrate – to move into a country from somewhere else

Ensure or Insure

  • Ensure – to make certain
  • Insure – to buy insurance

Farther or Further

  • Farther – greater actual distance
  • Further – greater metaphorical distance

Its or It’s

  • Its – belonging to it
  • It’s – “it is”

Lay or Lie

  • Lay – to put or place something down
  • Lie – to recline your body

Less or Fewer

  • Less – used when the quantity is measured
  • Fewer – used when the quantity is counted
  • (Some items are measured as a group when counting them, like “250 words or less” or “less than 3 miles”.)

Lightning or Lightening

  • Lightning – the electrical discharge usually accompanied by thunder
  • Lightening – a form of the verb ‘lighten’, to make lighter

Principle or Principal

  • Principle – a belief or philosophy
  • Principal – main or major or the head of a school or the main investor in a business

Shephard or Shepherd

  • Shephard – a last name
  • Shepherd – an occupation taking care of sheep

That or Which

  • That – never preceded by a comma; gives information that is necessary to the preceding noun
  • Which – always preceded by a comma; gives additional information which, if removed, would not destroy the meaning of the sentence

That or Who

  • That – pronoun used for objects. “I enjoy books that aren’t too long.”
  • Who – pronoun used for people. “I met a person who was tall.”

There or Their or They’re

  • There – generally an adverb indicating location or direction of movement
  • Their – adjective that’s 3rd-person plural possessive, belonging to them
  • They’re – contraction for “They are”

Whose or Who’s

  • Whose – “belonging to whom”
  • Who’s – “who is”

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