English spelling can puzzle even the most conscientious of grammarians. Most spelling mistakes result from confusion over homophones, words that sound alike but have different meanings as well as different spellings. Spelling can become even more complicated when the words mean similar things. Of course, some common spelling mistakes are just silly.
You probably know that one of these words is a heavy metal, while the other is the past-tense, past-participle form of the verb “to lead.” But do you know which is which? When lead rhymes with bed, it’s a noun referring to the heavy metallic substance. Led is the past-tense, past-participle form of the verb “to lead.” The confusion stems from the fact that both words sound the same, and the noun “lead” is spelled the same as the present-tense form of the verb “led.” To make it even more puzzling, sometimes “lead,” rhyming with bead, is a noun, as in, “He got a lead in the case.” The only way to know whether you’re using led/lead correctly is to look at the context of the sentence. Just remember: Led is always a form of the verb lead, while lead sounding like led is a noun that’s a metal.
Then is a marker of time; than is a comparison word. For example, “First I saw the movie, then I read the book. The book was better than the movie.” In the first part of the statement, the speaker is telling you the order in which he did something; in the second sentence, he is contrasting the book and the movie. A lot of people find this confusing because of the similarity between “a” and “e” vowel sounds in English. A good way to keep them straight is to remember that “comparison” and “than” both have the letter a, while “time” and “then” both have the letter e.
Now this is a tricky one. Not only do affect and effect sound similar, they mean similar things. Affect means “to influence” and effect is a result. Notice that here affect is a verb and effect is a noun. So that’s pretty straightforward. However, nothing in English grammar is easy. Sometimes affect is a noun, as in when you’re talking about someone’s mental state, and sometimes effect is a verb meaning “to bring about,” which is almost the same meaning as the verb “affect.” But these uses are relatively rare, and as the Grammar Girl says, if you stick to using affect as a verb and effect as a noun, you’ll be right 98 percent of the time.
2 A Lot
Like “alright,” “alot” is a misspelling of either the phrase, “a lot” or the word “allot,” although it’s usually the former. To have “a lot” of something means you have a great number; to do something “a lot” means to do it numerous times. As you can see, “a lot” can be either a noun or an adverb. “Allot” is a verb that means to separate or to give out. “Alot” doesn’t mean anything because, like “alright,” it’s not a word.
1 All right
To quote grammarian Bill Walsh, “… alright is not all right.” Basically, “alright” is not a word; it’s a misspelling of the phrase “all right.” Some people think alright is all right because of similar “all-” phrases with “al-” words—for example, “all ready” and “already” or “all together” and “altogether.” However, in both of these cases the phrase and word mean slightly different things, and even though they sound the same they are not interchangeable. “Alright” is simply a misspelling of “all right” and is not its own word.