“Confused With” and “Confused About”
Preposition use is tricky. Sometimes a rule can be applied, as in the choice between in and into:
The dog jumped from the bank into the water. (connotes movement from outside to within)
The drowning man flailed in the water. (connotes containment within)
More often, the choice of which preposition to use is idiomatic. That is, speakers use a particular preposition with a certain word because its use has been established by custom.
From time to time, the established preposition is replaced by another. Initially, speakers accustomed to the older form express outrage, but in time, as the old-timers die off, the new preposition achieves acceptance. An example of such a change in progress is the use of excited followed by unconventional for instead of the customary about or by.
A similar change seems to be in progress regarding the expression “confused with.”
The verb confuse, with its participle form confused, has more than one meaning. If I say, “I always confuse Barbara with her sister,” the meaning is “fail to distinguish, erroneously regard as identical, mistake one for another.”
This is clearly the definition that applies to the prepositional phrase in the following headlines, but in each case, the writer has used the preposition for instead of with:
Knife attack confused for performance art at Art Basel Miami Beach—CNN
Local Doctor Confused for Razorback Football Player—Fox16 news
Liam Payne Still Gets Confused For Louis Tomlinson—MTV
A possible explanation for this growing usage is confusion with another expression close in meaning: “mistaken for.”
The knife attack was mistaken for a performance. The doctor is mistaken for the football player. Liam Payne is mistaken for Louis Tomlinson.
The preposition switch in this idiom is not as noticeable as the one that uses “for” with excited, and it does not provoke the same amount of outrage. Only one reader has ever commented negatively on the use of “confused for.” My post on “excited for,” on the other hand, garnered twenty passionate comments and 427 “Likes.”
“Confused for” may be destined for acceptance, but at present, it is simply careless writing.
An even more blatant preposition error with confused is to follow it with of.
So far, I’ve noticed this misuse chiefly in badly expressed readers’ comments on tech sites and in social media, but there is a song with “confused of” in the lyrics—always a bad sign.
Here are some examples of the incorrect use of “confused of”:
I’m aware that there’s [sic] licensing fees and such and all this ATHP stuff. I’m confused of the requirements and how to know when you need to register and pay.
I am 25 years old and I am confused of what to do in the future professionally.
I feel confused of the PlayerSetup.cs in Multiplayer FPS tutorial #3.
For the few that are confused of what is a hero or have courage visit the wounded Warrior Website and find the true answer.
We fight and love so much
Sometimes I get confused of who we are,
—“We Fight/We Love,” by rapper called Q-Tip
In each of these examples, “confused about” would be the correct usage.
Browse all articles on the Expressions category or check the recommended content for you below:
Improve your English in 5 minutes a day! Subscribe to our Writing Tips and Exercises via Email
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!