Common English Errors: Confused Words, Cs

English has many words that sound similar, and are even spelled similarly, but have quite different meanings. In this article, we look at some such words, starting with C, and explain the differences between them.

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Many of the words below have multiple meanings, and subtle shades of meaning. I've not included absolutely every single definition, but have concentrated on the main uses of each word.


CAPITAL — a noun meaning "the most important city in a region", "assets contributed by someone to a project", or "an upper case letter". As an adjective it means "liable to the death penalty", or "of greatest importance". In Britain, it is an exclamation used to express approval. We drove to the state capital. Oli invested a lot of capital in getting the duck army off the ground. Remember to use a capital letter at the start of people's names. Capital, old chap!

CAPITOL — a noun, "a building that houses a legislative assembly". The squirrels held their demonstration outside the Capitol.


CEILING — a noun meaning "the upper inner surface of a room", or "an upper limit". The ducks kept flying up to the ceiling. Our pay hit the wages ceiling, and that was that.

SEALING — present participle of the verb seal, meaning "setting, fastening, securing". When you've finished sealing that box, come out for a coffee with me.


CELL — a noun, "a prisoner's room" or "the smallest structure of an organism", among many definitions. The mastermind duck was locked up in a tiny cell after his trial. Catherine looked at the plant cells under the microscope.

SELL — a verb, meaning to "hand over something in exchange for money". Troy would never sell his jelly snake collection.


CENSURE — a verb meaning "to express extreme disapproval of someone or something". Dylbert was censured for his outrageous behaviour during the Great Squirrel Uprising of 2011.

CENSOR — a noun, meaning "an official who examines material and suppresses parts that are considered obscene or otherwise unacceptable". As a verb, it means "the action of examining material officially and suppressing its unacceptable sections". The censor banned Debbi's novel. If you keep writing that filth, I will censor your posts and delete them from my Wall.


CENT — a noun meaning "a monetary unit equal to one hundredth of a dollar". I only have ten cents; I can afford only one jelly snake.

SCENT — a noun meaning "a pleasant smell". The roses gave off a beautiful scent.

SENT — the past tense of the verb, send, meaning "to dispatch, or cause to move from one place to another, especially by mail". Wendy sent me a surprise package.


CEREAL — noun, which is "a food grain, such as wheat, oats or corn", or "a breakfast food made with grains". Cereals are important crops worldwide. Make sure you eat a bowl of cereal before you go to school.

SERIAL — an adjective meaning "consisting of or part of a series" or "denoting a repeated action or behaviour pattern". As a noun it means "a story that appears in regular installments". It was a serial publication. Jonesy was a serial monogamist. Dickens's novels were first published in serial form in magazines.


CHEWS — a verb, meaning "works food in the mouth with the teeth". Brett chews his dinner so noisily, I can't stand sitting next to him.

CHOOSE — a verb, meaning "to select or pick out". I choose you to run the duck rebellion!


CITE — a verb, meaning "to quote as evidence to support  an argument" or "to mention as an example". I often cite Dr Knight's work in my papers, to support my theories. 

SIGHT — noun, "the ability of seeing" or "a thing that can be seen". No-one wants to lose their sight. When friends visited, Zain showed them around the local sights

SITE — noun, "a place where a building or town is constructed", or "where an event is taking place". As a verb, it means "fix or build in a particular place". Masses of bamboo had to be cleared from the site before work could start. The site of the annual Jelly Snake Festival is my backyard. We have to figure out where to site the new duck sculpture.

COMPLEMENT — a noun, "something that completes something", or "the number needed to make a group complete". As a verb, it means "add to something in a way that enhances it". Kieran's coffee is the perfect complement to his exquisite chocolate mousse.

COMPLIMENT — a noun, "an expression of praise or admiration", and as a verb it means "to politely praise someone". I must compliment you on your superb cooking.


COMPLEMENTARY — an adjective meaning "completing" or "combining in a way to enhance each other's qualities". My computer came with the complementary software on disc. The violin part was complementary to the piano part.

COMPLIMENTARY — an adjective meaning "expressing a compliment" or "given free of charge". The duck's leader was very complimentary about Josh's proposed evil plan. The hotel left complimentary jelly snakes on the pillow every day.


CONSCIENCE — a noun, "an inner voice providing a guide as to the correctness of one's behaviour". My conscience tells me that it's not a good idea to join the rebel duck army.

CONSCIOUS — an adjective, "aware and responding to one's environment", "awake", "aware", or "concerned with a particular matter". Michael gradually regained consciousness after being whacked on the head by the terrible people. Rita was conscious of the implications of her secretive actions. 


COUNCIL — a noun, meaning "an advisory board" or "an assembly for consultation". The ducks' war council met every Thursday night.

COUNSEL — a noun meaning "advice". As a verb, it means "to give advice", "give professional psychological help", or "recommend".  After what the ducks did to me, I had to go to counselling for years. 


CURRANTnoun, "a small dried fruit". Use currants for the eyes on gingerbread men.

CURRENT — as an adjective, it means "belonging to the present time". As a noun, it means "a body of water or air moving in a particular direction" or "a flow of electricity". I'm always interested in current events. Swim across the current if you get caught in a rip. 

To learn these tricky words, you might like to use some software, such as the very popular vocabulary-improvement software Ultimate Vocabulary, to help get these words under your belt!

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Last modified on Saturday, 28 November 2015 08:05
English Language Skills (Denise)

English Language Skills (Denise)

I'm a syndicated puzzle writer, with 8 puzzle books to my name, including Word Searches for Dummies and Cracking Codes and Cryptograms for Dummies (with Mark Koltko-Rivera). I have a background in science and graphic design, and am a trained indexer. My favourite puzzles are cryptic crosswords. and my favourite books are murder mysteries and cookbooks. I am also a very keen knitter.

I write a blog all about puzzles, called Puzzling.

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