As an editor, one mistake I come across fairly often is passed/past. Passed is used when a car is going around another. When that car has passed far enough by the second car, it is past. OR My grandparents lived in the past.
Another is farther/further. This is a difficult one. FARther refers to distance. How much farther is it to the beach? FURther refers to additional time, amount or other abstract matters (I don’t want to discuss this any further. OR …to further (advance) a cause.)
Then there is rein/reign. Rein is what you use to control your horse. Reign is what kings do. Try to remember the difference by thinking of “Reign” as a bigger word. A king’s power is bigger than a rider’s.
Sole and soul are pronounced the same, but have far different meanings. Hint to remember: The sole of your shoe has a hole in it. Soul is the spiritual principle of life or the embodiment of a quality.
Weak/Week and Peak/Peek are difficult. Sometimes I even find my fingers typing the opposite of what I mean and I have to stop and think about it. Maybe if you think of being Weak as Ailing (Weak has an A in it.) Peek can mean “to peer” and both have double “E’s”.
Shudder/Shutter: Shutter is to “shut” as in close the shutters on the window. So the tremor that goes through you that some refer as “someone walking across my grave” would be shuddering.
Bear and Bare. I think you just have to memorize this one. Bear is the big furry animal that lives in the woods or it is a verb meaning to carry. Maybe think of a Bear as difficult to bear (carry). Bare is gettin’ nekked.
And then there is there/their/they’re. I’ve suggested to editing clients who have trouble to just print out a list and tape it to their computer.
Their—possessive. (Their house, their dog etc.)
They’re—contraction of they are.
Here's a good on-line article with other examples of Commonly Misused Words and Phrases.
Like I said earlier, there are pages of these examples. What are some of your problem words?
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing, and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.