10 English words that are often confused with others

There are many English words that sound the same as others but have different meanings and spellings, and which are even used incorrectly by many native English speakers. Here are 10 of the most confusing words, and examples on how to use them correctly. 

1. When to use ‘teach’ and ‘learn’ 

You can teach yourself or other people, but you cannot learn other people. People learn things, which they can then teach to others.

2. Correct use of ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ 

These words sound the same but have different meanings. 

  • Use there to refer to a place that isn’t here. For example, ‘Over there’
  • We also use there to state something. For example, ‘There are no chairs in the room’. 
  • Their indicates possession, something belonging to them. For example, ‘Their books are new’. 
  • They’re is short for ‘they are’. The apostrophe stands for the omitted ‘a’ of ‘are’. For example, ‘They’re very happy to be on holiday’.

3. The difference between ‘ie’ and ‘eg’

Ie is the abbreviation for ‘that is to say’ and is used to add explanatory information. For example: a synthetic shoe ie not made from leather.

Eg is the abbreviation for ‘for example’. For example: he loves fruit and vegetables eg apples and carrots.

4. ‘Me’, ‘myself’, and ‘I’

When referring to yourself and someone else, put their name first in the sentence. For example: ‘John and I are going to the cinema’. Do not use: ‘John and me are going to the cinema’, or ‘Myself and John are going to the cinema’, or ‘Me and John are going to the cinema’.

You only use myself if you’ve already used I, making you the subject of the sentence. For example: ‘I’ll do it myself’, ‘I said to myself’, or ‘I am teaching myself to play the piano’.

5. The difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’

You’re is short for the two words you are. The apostrophe stands for the omitted ‘a’ of ‘are’.

For example: ‘You’re going to enjoy this’.

Your is a possessive determiner and pronoun which means ‘belonging to you’. For example: ‘What’s your name?

6. ‘Its’ and ‘it’s’

The difference between these two words is often confused. Apostrophes should be used to indicate a contraction of two words together, or to indicate possession, but in this case ‘its’ is a possessive determiner like his or your so it is not required.

  • It’s is usually used as short for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. The apostrophe stands for the omitted ‘i’ of ‘is’ or ‘ha’ of ‘has’. For example: ‘It’s raining’, or ‘it’s been a while’.
  • Its indicates something belonging to something that isn’t masculine (his) or feminine (hers). For example: ‘The armchair looks great with its new cover’.

7. When to use ‘then’ and ‘than’

Confusion between then and than probably arises because the two look and sound similar.

  • Than is used in comparisons. For example: ‘John is taller than Jack’, or ‘It was more than enough’.
  • Then is used to indicate something following something else in time, as in step-by-step instructions, or planning a schedule. For example: ‘We’ll go to the cinema first and then we’ll go to the restaurant’.

8. The difference between 'affect' and 'effect'

This is another easy mistake to make because these two words look and sound so similar. Here is a simple explanation to help you remember the difference.

Affect is a verb, ‘to affect’, which means to influence or have an impact on something. For example,  ‘His job was directly affected by the organisational change’.

Effect is a noun, ‘a positive/negative effect’, referring to the result of being affected by something. For example: ‘He hoped the company’s excellent results would have a positive effect on his salary’. There is also a verb, ‘to effect’, meaning to bring something about. For example: ‘To effect a change’, but this is not commonly used.


9. 'Farther' and 'further'

Farther refers to physical distance, how far something is, while further describes the degree or extent of an action or situation. For example: ‘I can’t run any farther but I have nothing further to say’.

10. ‘Imply’ and ‘Infer’ 

To imply means to suggest something without saying it outright. For example: ‘The reporter implied the politician was lying, without directly saying so.

To infer means to draw a conclusion from what someone else implies. For example: ‘From the facts in this report, we can infer that there is a property crisis’.

As a general rule, the speaker or writer implies something, and the listener or reader infers something from it

Glossary

Confusing: difficult to understand

Possession: to have or own something

Explanatory: giving an explanation about something

Belonging: to be in the right place or a suitable place

Exception: something or someone that is not included in a list, rule or group

Indicate: to show, point or make clear in another way

This blog has been written at level Bs. Practise your reading and listening by reading the blogs below.

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