Words We Confuse That Spellcheckers Miss, Part T2


At long last, here is the second section of  T-words that confuse our poor spellcheckers. Try to keep them straight.



A tic is an involuntary twitching of a muscle, often in the face, or an unconscious verbal habit. Tick refers to the blood-sucking arachnid or the sound a clock makes.

The very idea of getting a tick gives Sally a nervous tic.


The periodic rising and falling of water levels is tide. Tied is the past tense of the verb tie.

The boat was tied to the dock and rose as the tide came in.


Tighten is a verb meaning “to make tighter.” It is the opposite of loosen. A Titan, originally, referred to a family of gods that preceded the Olympian gods in ancient Greek mythology. As a common noun, it refers to a giant, someone of great size or influence.

Uncle Joe would tighten jar lids so tight it would take a titan to open it.


Timber refers to trees grown to become lumber, or a large piece of wood for construction. Timbre is the quality of sound made by an instrument or voice.

Lumberjack Larry was known for the strong timbre of the songs he would sing while cutting timber.


If you really want to irritate Grammar Nazis, mess these up. All three words are common, meaning opportunities to confuse them abound. If you want to appear educated and literate, memorize the distinctions between these three words.

Let’s get two out of the way. This one only refers to the number. It is the least often confused of the three.

Too is an adverb meaning “also,” “in addition,” or “to an excessive degree.”

To is most widely useful. It is a preposition indication the direction something is moving. It is also a particle used in comparisons: “compare x to y.” It is a function word used as part of an infinitive: “I love to laugh.” There are other idiomatic uses, as in “dance to the music,” “it’s five minutes to six,” “don’t go to pieces,” “this song is dedicated to Stan,” etc.

The simplest way to remember the differences between these words is to learn the particular uses for two and too. Then use to for all the rest.

Two o’clock is too late to eat lunch.


The ranine (frog-like) amphibian is spelled toad. Toed means “having toes” or driven diagonally or obliquely (That’s what we mean by a toed nail). If something is pulled along behind, it is being towed.

The ski boat towed a two-toed toad.


The weight of 2,000 pounds is known as a ton. A tun can also be a measure, though of wine or liquid, and usually equal to 252 gallons. A tun can also refer to a cask, usually for wine.

The tun of wine felt like it weighed a ton.


A tool is usually a device — often handheld — for making work more efficient. Tulle is a sheer, often stiff fabric used for veils and ballet costumes.

The dressmaker uses a special tool to apply the tulle.


Easy. A tooter is one who toots. A tutor helps you with your education.

Unfortunately, my tutor is a tooter.


Tort is a legal term for harmful but non-criminal action that can be handled in civil court. A torte is a type of cake made with lots of eggs and often nuts. Personally, I prefer torte to tort.

Barry the Baker faced a tort suit when a customer broke her teeth on one of his tortes.


Tracked is the past-tense of the verb track. Tract has several definitions. It can be a system of body parts (e.g., gastrointestinal tract, upper respiratory tract), a physical area (e.g., a tract of land), or a leaflet or small pamphlet (e.g., a Bible tract).

With a CT scan, the doctors tracked the passage of fluid through the patient’s gastrointestinal tract.


A troop is a group of soldiers and a troupe is a group of actors or singers.

Fred joined an army troop, but his twin brother Ed joined an acting troupe.


Trussed is the past tense and past participle of the verb truss, which means “to tie up in order to prevent movement.” Trust is a  noun with various definitions, the most common being “the belief that someone or something is reliable.”

We trussed the would-be burglar to a chair because we didn’t trust he’d wait patiently for the police to arrive.


A turban is a head covering made by wrapping a long cloth about the head. A turbine (which can alternatively be pronounced tur-BINE) is an engine with blades that are made to spin by pressure from air, water, or steam.

When the sheik walked past the turbine, the wind blew his turban off his head.


Links to previous posts in this series:


As always, I’d appreciate your thoughts. Add them in the Reply section below.


About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Robert Nielsen
    Robert Nielsen03-01-2014

    Might have found an error in the “tort/torte:”

    “Barry the Baker faced a torte suit”–Shouldn’t that have been “Barry the Baker faced a *TORT* suit…”(If you’re referring to the lawsuit, it’s TORT, not TORTE, as you explain). 🙂

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko03-01-2014

      Thanks, Robert. 🙂

      • Robert Nielsen
        Robert Nielsen03-02-2014

        You’re welcome, Brian. 😀

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