Commonly Confused Words: The Six Ws

witchIn English we use the expression “the five w’s” when we want to make sure we have asked – or addressed – all of the questions at hand. Corresponding to the first initials of the language’s most common question words – who, what, where, when, and why – this interrogative set also serves as a useful reference point for another set of “w” words that raise no end of questions for many English speakers. While we have six, not five, we hope our discussion will help make things easier for you just the same!

Weak vs Week (Weakly vs Weekly)

Both of these soundalikes rhyme with “cheek” but, this aside, they could not be more different. Weak, for example, is an adjective which means the opposite of strong (powerless), while week is simply a noun referring to a group of seven days. Interestingly enough, though, adding an –ly to both of these words further changes them: weakly, meaning “feebly” is a adverb used to modify verbs and weekly becomes an adjective used to describe something that occurs ever seven days. Thus, while “you might still be weak after only a week at the gym, if you go weekly before long you will do few things weakly.”

Weather vs Whether

It is no wonder that these two are so often confused: given that they sound so similar (both rhyme with feather) it can be difficult even for native speakers to use them correctly. The trick is simple, though: only weather, with an a, is the correct spelling for the noun that is related to rain, snow, and other conditions outside. Whether, by contrast, is simply an adverb used in conjunction with possibilities and cannot stand alone in the same way as weather. Consider this sentence as both an example and a good memory trick: “The weather is so uncertain that I can’t tell whether if it will rain or not.”

Which vs Witch

The independence of words can help you distinguish between these two as well. Though both words rhyme with ditch, only witch can really stand alone in a sentence. As a noun meaning “meaning sorceress or enchantress” it has a lot more power in a sentence than which, a word that can be used to begin a question or add detail to another part of a sentence. Thus we might ask “Which witch cast the spell which turned you into a frog?”

Head over to our commonly confused words main page for more examples!


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