Commonly Confused Words to Know for the ACT

act commonly confused words

You may have heard from our other post that the ACT tests vocabulary in context, and that memorizing vocabulary lists is not the best strategy for the English or Reading sections. This is TRUE! However, there are tons of tricky, commonly confused words that the ACT will test you on or expect you to know how to use properly. So to help you clear up any words you may be mixing up (affect vs. effect, anyone?), we created this big list of Commonly Confused Words to Know for the ACT!

This is not a list to memorize, but to reference. The goal is that you would learn to use each word correctly over time. Learning how to use these words correctly will not only help you answer questions more confidently on the ACT Reading and ACT English sections, but help you become a better writer and reader overall! 

Affect vs. Effect 

Affect is usually a verb describing influence. 

“The gloomy weather affected everyone’s mood.” 

Effect is usually a noun that refers to the achievement of a result.

“As an effect of the bad weather, we got little done this afternoon.” 

Ambivalent vs. Ambiguous

Ambivalent means having or showing simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward something or someone.

“Sarah seemed ambivalent about her prom date John, for although she had eagerly agreed to go with him, she would always ignore his texts.”

Ambiguous means capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways.

“Because the question was so ambiguous, it was difficult to choose the correct answer.”

Among vs. Between 

Among expresses being in the midst of something or an association with something. 

“I found many hole-in-the-wall restaurants among the tall skyscrapers in NYC.”

Between expresses a common action engaged in by people or things.

“My mom divided the dinner leftovers between us equally.” 

Could’ve vs. Could of

Could’ve is a contraction of “could have”.

“They could’ve left earlier, but Jenna forgot her phone in the lobby.”
“I could’ve scored higher if I’d studied more.”

Could of is the improper form of “could’ve”. Since “could of” sounds very similar to “could’ve” when spoken, it is commonly misused in place of “could’ve.” “Could’ve” is the correct word to use instead.

Explicit vs. Implicit 

Explicit means fully revealed or expressed without vagueness, implication, or ambiguity.

“My parents’ terms for grounding were explicit: if I took the car without asking, I would be grounded for the rest of the school year.”

Implicit means capable of being understood from something else without being fully expressed. 

“Her high esteem of the natural world is implicit in her writings.”

Imply vs. Infer 

Imply means to express indirectly, to hint at something. 

“My teacher’s sigh as the bell rang implied she was ready for class to end.”

Infer means to deduce a conclusion from facts.

“From the smell of smoke in the wind and the billowing black cloud in the distance, we inferred a fire had broken out.”

Indifferent vs. Objective

Indifferent means marked by impartiality; no special liking for or dislike of something.

“The author seemed indifferent to those who criticized him; the only opinions he was concerned with were his own.”

Objective means expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations. 

“The author took an objective tone when describing the various perspectives on the issue, never sharing or hinting at her view on the matter.”

Its vs. It’s vs. Its’

Its, relating to it or itself especially as possessor, agent, or object of an action.

“My room has its own bathroom.”
Its vines hung over the balcony.”

It’s is a contraction of “it is” or “it has”

It’s never too late to start.”
It’s been too long since I’ve seen you!”

Its’ is the improper form of “Its”. It is not a real word.  

Than vs. Then

Than is used to compare or indicate difference. 

“Cora would rather walk the dog than clean the bathroom.”

Then is related to time sequences, indicating what happens next.

“I told myself I’d take a quick nap and then get to work studying.”

Their vs. There vs. They’re 

Their is the possessive form of “they.” Their conveys ownership.

Their furniture arrived yesterday.”
“I went to their house to drop off some cookies.”

There is about location or place, both literally and figuratively.

“I love to go there to study.”
“He promised he’d always be there for me.”

They’re is a contraction of “they are”.

They’re never going to make it on time.”
They’re both delicious flavors of ice cream.”

To vs. Too vs. Two

To is used to indicate motion in a certain direction, and also creates the infinitive of a verb. 

“I’d love to go with you to the park today.”

Too means in addition or “very”.

“I’d like a coffee too. But not too hot, please.”

Two is a number.

“There are two flamingos in the zoo.”

Weather vs. Whether

Weather refers to measures of the environment.

“The balmy weather on the California coast can’t be beat.”

Whether is used to indicate alternatives or possibilities.

Whether or not you study for the ACT, you will have to take it in order to apply to colleges.” 

Were vs. We’re

Were is the past tense second-person singular of “be”.

“You were walking in the park last night.”
“Is it true you were in the Army?”

We’re is a contraction of “we are”.

We’re going to the pool later.”
We’re inviting a few more people.”

Who vs. Whom

Who is used to refer to the subject of a sentence. 

“Do we know who is coming tonight?”

Whom is used to refer to the object of a sentence.

“There are those whom you never thought would care about grammar going around and correcting one’s use of the word “who.”

Here’s a simple way to remember how to use who and whom: if you can replace the word with “he” or “she,” use who. If you can replace the word with “him” or “her,” use whom.

Who’s vs. Whose

Who’s is a contraction of “who is”.

“Do we know someone who’s good at math?” 

Whose is the possessive of who or which.

Whose sweater is this?”

Your vs. You’re

Your relates to one’s self, particularly as a possessor. 

Your car is so cool.”
“What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday?”

You’re is a contraction of “you are”. 

You’re going to do so well on that test.”
“It’s better to know when you’re bested.”

Remember, this is not a list to memorize, but to reference. The goal is that you would learn to use each word correctly over time.

Put your new vocabulary prowess to practice on the Reading and English sections of The Olive Book’s online ACT course. With dozens of practice questions to try, you’ll start acing the sections in no time. Head to to get started right away!

Further Reading:
How to Ace the ACT Reading Section
Fall Reading Round-Up
How to Read for Fun Again (and Why it’s Important)
Get a 36 on the English Section

2 thoughts on “Commonly Confused Words to Know for the ACT”

  1. Such a helpful list, with clear definitions and examples. I personally found among/between and imply/infer most helpful because after reading this article I realized I don’t always use those correctly.

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