Free Grammar Help

Free Grammar HelpWordsMisused Words


Below is a list of words that are commonly misspelled or otherwise abused. Some of them appear on other grammar pages on this site. Use the Question form to submit more.


Common Mistake

pain or pane

pain refers to a feeling of discomfort

pane is a framed sheet of glass in a window or door

past, passed

Past is a reference to time; something happened in the past.

Passed is the past tense of the verb "to pass." I passed the slower car on the road.

peak, peek, or pique

People commonly substitute peak or peek for pique, so let's look at those words first.

Peak is a noun meaning the top of a pointy thing. Like the peak of a roof, or the peak of a mountain. Peak can also be a verb meaning the maximum achievement. (I peaked too soon.)

Peek means a quick look at something. I got a peek at the exam before the teacher handed it out.

But pique is entirely different. Pique can be a passing feeling of wounded vanity. After a moment of pique, I admitted that I had in fact probably been responsible for the accident.

The more common meaning for pique is "to arouse." The rustle in the bushes piqued my curiousity.

A pica is a small mammal related to the rabbit found in mountainous areas of Western North America.

The pica on the peak piqued my interest, so I moved closer to take a peek.

pedal or petal

A petal is part of a flower;

a pedal (noun) is part of a bicycle; to pedal (verb) is to ride a bicycle.


Next to last, or second last. The Latin root "paene" means "almost" as in "peninsula (almost island)" or "penumbra (almost shadow)." Often used incorrectly to mean the very last.

plane or plain

A plane is a flat area. Since machines that fly have flat wings, we call them airplanes, or planes. A machine that makes bumpy things flat is also known as a plane.

But plain is ordinary, or unadorned. It's not fancy; it's plain. But a plain can also be a flat area of land. Central North America is also known as the great plains.

If you have a plane that is not decorated, it could be called a plain plane.

precedence, precedent, president

A precedent is something that sets the bar that others will have to live up to: A court ruling sets a precedent.

Precedence is something that comes before something else: Senior citizens have precedence for seating on the bus.

A president is a person who is elected to a leadership position.

The present president takes precedence over the preceding president.

presence or prescience

prescience comes from the sense of the word science as "knowing". So prescience is foreknowledge. (Like ESP.)

Presence means being here. Your presence is appreciated.

preventive or preventative

Preventative is a corruption of preventive. Use preventive. This is a preventive measure to avoid grammar errors.

rational or rationale

Rational is an adjective. It describes one's state of mind. Rationale is a noun. It is the reason for doing something.