YOU can easily acquire an American, Australian, British or Canadian accent with speech training or from living several years abroad and come across as someone fluent in English. But you give yourself away if you use words wrongly, especially in e-mails, faxes and reports.

In the online world of blogging or chatting, such errors are easily forgiven but they are unacceptable in the business or educational environments.

Homophones, words that sound alike but convey different meanings, form many of these confusing pairs. Used wrongly in writing, they reflect someone with a poor grasp of grammar or a confused writer.

Be mindful of these cunning couples and be confused no more!

Accept (v.) — to agree to take something.

Except (prep.) — not including.

“Boss, I accept all your free books except ‘1,000 Ways to Manage Houseflies’,” said Pee Nang to Kay El.

Advice (n.) — one’s opinion about what somebody else should do or how they should behave.

Advise (v.) — to give advice to somebody or to recommend something to somebody.

“Are you sure, Pee Nang? I’d strongly advise you to reconsider the manual. You may regret not taking my advice if you’re suddenly faced with flies,” Kay El said.

Affect (v., pronounced uh-fekt) — to have influence on something or somebody.

Effect (n., pronounced ee-fekt) — a change produced by an action or a cause.

“Yes, I’m positive, Kay El,” Pee Nang answered. “If my mother’s way of handling house flies has affected them greatly by reducing them to zero, I don’t think I need to know the effect that 999 other ways have on them.”

All ready — completely prepared.

Already (adv.) — previously or by this time.

“Ahh … looks like your house is all ready for living,” Kay El praised. “To tell you the truth, although I’ve already read the manual twice, I’m still having problems at my home!”

Beside (prep.) — at the side of somebody or something.

Besides (prep.) — in addition.

Pee Nang laughed. “I’ll be happy to tell my mother about your housefly problem. Since she lives beside my house, she could drop by your place later. Besides, she will be excited to have you try the apple pie she baked today.”

Complement (v.) — to add new or contrasting features which show the best qualities of something or which improve it.

Compliment (v.) — express praise, admiration or approval.

“That will be wonderful!” Kay El said. “I always forget to compliment your mother on her apple pie. It will be the perfect complement to the vanilla ice cream I’m having for dessert tonight.”

Dessert (n., pronounced dee-zert) — any sweet food eaten at the end of a meal.

Desert1 (n., pronounced deh-zert) — a large area of land that has very little water and very few plants growing on it, e.g. the Sahara Desert.

Desert2 (v., pronounced dee-zert) — to go away from a place without intending ever to return.

“Ice cream for dessert?” Pee Nang exclaimed. “Your place doesn’t exactly sound like the depressing desert1 you always portray it to be. You make it seem as if the whole world has deserted2 you!”

Maybe (adv.) — perhaps.

May be — to express possibility.

Maybe I could have exaggerated my situation a bit. But seriously, I may be having a rather serious house fly problem,” Kay El explained in a doleful tone.

Breath (n., pronounced breh-th) — the air you take into and let out of your lungs.

Breathe (v., pronounced bree-th) — the act of taking air into and letting out of your lungs.

“Okay, take a deep breath,” Pee Nang assured Kay El with a smile. “I may have been too hard on you. Once my mother works her magic at your place, I’m sure you’ll breathe easier after that.”

Coincident (adj.) — happening in the same place or at the same time.

Coincidence (n.) — similar event happening at the same time by chance.

“Talking about breathing, isn’t it a coincidence that the houseflies started appearing the day after you came over with those pungent prawn crackers?” Kay El remarked. “I remember reading that the presence of house flies is coincident with the presence of dried seafood.”

Loose (adj.) — not tight.

Lose (v.) — present tense for “lost”.

“Now, now, Kay El, let’s not lose track of the discussion here,” Pee Nang said hurriedly. “We were talking about fixing your house fly problem.”

In an undertone, he muttered, “And not about a loose pack of prawn crackers disappearing in your home …”

Later (adv.) — afterwards.

Latter (adj.) — the second of two things or people already mentioned.

“You were going to confirm the time my mother could drop by later. Now you’re going back to a visit I made in the past,” Pee Nang reminded Kay El. “Let’s not confuse the former with the latter, shall we?”

Personal (adj., pronounced as per-suh-nuhl) — private.

Personnel (n., pronounced as per-suh-nell) — staff members

“Anyway, let’s not take things personally,” Pee Nang said cheerily. “By the way, the Personnel Department is questioning me about being away from the office for three hours yesterday.”

Principal (n.) — administrator.

Principle (n.) — guiding rule for personal behaviour.

“I’m sure you were on company business. I know you to be a man of principle,” Kay El said. “The head of the Personnel Department is always acting like a school principal.”

Quiet (adj., pronounced kwai-yuht) — silent.

Quite (adv. Pronounced kwait) — very or actually.

“You are quite right I am!” Pee Nang replied emphatically. “Now that we are all settled, I’ll just slip away quietly.”

Than (conj.) — used after a comparative like “faster”, “cleaner”, “healthier”, etc.

Then (adv.) — referring to a time in the past or future.

Waving goodbye, Pee Nang called out, “I’ll see you later then!”

As Kay El waved in return, he wondered if managing his house fly problem would be easier than managing his young employee.

By: CHRISTINE JALLEH

Note:  Christine Jalleh is a communications specialist with a Master’s degree in English Language studies. She blogs about communications and business English at http://christinejalleh.com