Confusing words

Yes, there are many confusing words when learning another language and of course English is no exception. Some are confusing because they are very similar to other words from student’s L1, however, they are used differently (false friends), while others confuse us because, either the spelling or the sound is very similar to another word that has a slight or even a very different meaning.

Here are some of these words, although I must say that only one or two uses of them have been included as this page doesn’t intend to be a dictionary. In a near future, I’ll be adding some more words. Promise 😉

actually/at the moment

Actually (Adv) has a meaning associated to ‘really’ or ‘in fact’ when we want to correct some information in a polite way.

  • Actually, we enjoyed the concert a lot. (Maybe they weren’t expected to have enjoyed it)
  • Actually, we’re from Belgium, not France.

We also use this word to emphasise that something is true.

  • I don’t want to say anything until I actually know all about the whole issue.

At the moment- at present – currently

These expressions refer to the present moment.

  • I’m really busy at the moment. Can I call you later?
  • Currently, about twenty students are enrolled in the course.

Activity

Ache/hurt/pain

Ache (verb) meaning that a part of your body hurts in a continuous and dull way. Ache (noun) referring to a continuous dull pain. This word is usually used in combination with the part of body that is in pain.

  • Stomach ache, toothache, headache, or my stomach aches.

Hurt (verb transitive and intransitive) to cause physical pain to yourself/somebody. This verb doesn’t give information on the type of pain/ache it only explains that somebody is in a certain degree of pain or that somebody/something is causing it.

  • Stop! You’re hurting me!
  • Yesterday I fell over. Now my leg hurts/I hurt my leg.

Pain (noun) Not usually used as a verb. Meaning referring to physical suffering in general, often more severe than ‘ache’, used with parts of the body. e.g. pain in my leg, arm, shoulder etc.

  • He was clearly in pain.
  • This should help relieve the pain.

Activity

after/later/afterwards

After (Prep) meaning later than something, or following another event in time. This form is used in front of a noun phrase.

  • We’ll leave after they call.
  • They lost contact after their grandmother’s death.

Later (Adv) Meaning after the time of speaking

  • See you later!

Later (Adj) Meaning after something else or in the future or an advance period of something.

  • The taxi arrived an hour later than expected.
  • The concert has been postponed to a later date.
  • She wrote her most interesting poems in her later life.

Afterwards ( is used when referring to an action followed by another one.

  • We went out to dinner and afterwards we went to the theatre.

Activity

advise/advice

Advise /əd’vaɪz /  (verb) Notice that these two words have a different pronunciation

Meaning to tell somebody what you think they should or shouldn’t do in a particular situation. Here are some patterns for this verb.

  • Advise somebody: His brother couldn’t advise him because he was far too busy.
  • Advise something: The government has advised extreme caution.
  • Advise somebody to do something: I would advise you to check this essay before handing it in.
  • advise that: They advised that a bottle of water should always be carried with visitors.
  • advise doing something: I’d advise booking your table in advance.

Advice / əd’vais / (uncountable noun)

Meaning  the  information  that is given on a particular issue.

  • Advice on health care.
  • Ask your teacher for advice/ask your teacher’s advice.
  • Take my advice. Let me give you a piece of advice/some advice.

Activity

Although/despite/in spite of

Although is followed by a subordinated clause

Despite and ‘in spite of’ are followed by a noun/ a pronoun (this, that, what, etc) the fact that/-ing form.

Compare the forms.

  • Although she had all the necessary qualifications, she didn’t get the job.
  • Despite having all the qualifications, she didn’t get the job.
  • Despite her qualifications, she didn’t get the job.
  • Despite the fact that she had all the qualifications, she didn’t get the job.
  • In spite of her qualifications, she didn’t get the job.
  • I couldn’t eat anything, although I was very hungry.
  • Although I was very hungry, I couldn’t eat anything.
  • Despite/In spite of being very hungry, I couldn’t eat anything.

Activity

another/other

Another (determiner, pronoun) Meaning one more or an extra person or thing.

  • Would you like to watch another film?
  • I’ve already had a beer, but I’ll have another one.
  • Oh no! Not another parking fine!
  • Sorry, I have another question.

 Other (adjective, pronoun) used to talk about additional things or people that are added to those that have already been mentioned.

  • Do you have any other questions? Compare Yes, I have another question (the speaker has already asked some questions)
  • Some books are better than others.
  • More buildings were destroyed in other explosions.Compare There were more buildings destroyed by another explosión.

Activity

avoid/prevent

Avoid (verb transitive) to miss something on purpose ‘to avoid something bad from happening/to avoid somebody/to avoid doing something.

  • She was deliberately avoiding me.(keeping away from me)
  • He always avoided hard work.
  • She quickly turned the wheel and avoided hitting the wall.(prevented something bad from happening)

Prevent (verb transitive) To stop something from happening/to stop somebody from doing something. This word can usually be substituted for ‘stop’ where ‘avoid’ cannot.

  • They prevented her from writing a letter of complaint.
  • Her husband took steps to prevent a scandal.

Activity

beat/win

beat  (verb transitive) Meaning to defeat somebody at a game/battle/competition

  • Germany beat England.
  • Jane beat me at badminton.

win (verb trans – intransitive) Meaning to be the most successful in a game/competition/war/etc.

  • Which team won?
  • Who won the competition?
  • He won at cards.
  • France won by four against Belgium.
  • Spain won two medals.
  • The Republicans won two seats from the Conservatives.

Activity

carry/wear

Carry (verb) meaning to support of something/somebody on you.

  • She always carried a suitcase to work.
  • He hurt his back carrying heavy furniture when he moved home.

Wear (verb) meaning to have something on your body such as a piece of clothing or because you need it/them (glasses) or for decoration (badge) or for security reasons (helmet, seat belt).

  • She was wearing a bright yellow hat.
  • He never wears his seat belt.

earn/win

Earn (verb transitive, intransitive) Meaning the amount of money somebody gets for a job.

  • Their wages are quite good. They earn quite a bit.
  • They need to do something in order to earn a living.

Earn somebody something

  • His victory earned him $ 100.000

Earn something

  • He very quickly earned the company’s respect.

Win verb (trans – intransitive) Meaning to be the most successful in a game/competition/war/etc.

  • My neighbour won the lottery.
  • Who won the competition?

Activity

especially/specially

Especially (adverb) meaning associated to particularly.

  • I love summer, especially during the holidays.

Especially meaning something done for a particular purpose.

  • I ordered this dress especially for the wedding.

Especially, very much, to a particular degree.

  • He wasn’t feeling especially happy last night.

specially (adverb) for a particular purpose, person, etc. This word is usually followed by a past participle.

In British English, especially and specially are often used in the same way. However, specially is less formal.

  • They had their outfits specially designed in France.
  • She bought the cake specially for your birthday.

job/work

Job (countable noun) meaning the action somebody does in order to earn a living or for a result. We usually use an article, a determiner or an adjective in front of this word.

  • I hear you were looking for work. Did you manage to get a job?
  • You did a very good job with the engine!
  • This job is so tedious. I don’t know if I’ll get it done on time.
  • Lots of jobs are available at this website.

Work (uncountable noun)  Meaning something that a person does, especially to earn money.

  • There’s not a lot of work available nowadays.
  • He’s been out of work for two years.

Work (uncountable noun) meaning the place where people do things to earn a living. We don’t use an article in front of ‘work’

  • We’ve had a lot of stress at work recently.

Work  (countable noun)

We can use this word as a countable noun when talking about the creation of somebody.

  • This painting by Velazquez is one of his greatest pieces of work.
  • At the exhibition, you will be able to see many works of art.

Work (verb intransitive) meaning the action of doing something, usually involving a physical or a mental effort, especially as part of a job.

  • She’s always working until late hours.

Work (verb intransitive) meaning associated to a  machine/device.

  • The phone isn’t working. I need to get it repaired.

Activity

lay/lie/ lie

Lay (verb transitive) to put somebody or something in a particular position. Verb form: laid/laying

  • She laid her hand on my head.
  • The dog laid back its ears.
  • She was laying the table when I called her.
  • The cloth should be laid on the table more carefully.

Lie (verb intransitive)  meaning to be in a flat horizontal position or when something is in or referring to where something is to be located (places). Usually followed by a preposition. Verb form: lie/lay/lain/lying.

  • She has been lying on the bed all day.
  • The book lay open on the desk.
  • He had lain down because he was exhausted.
  • The village lies on the coast.

Lie (verb intransitive) to say something that you know is not the truth.

  • You could see that he was lying about the whole thing.
  • You shouldn’t have lied to me!
  • The camera cannot lie.

Activity

little/a little, few/a few

little (determiner, pronoun) used with uncountable nouns to mean ‘not much’

a little use with an uncountable noun to mean ‘a small amount’ or ‘some’

  • After doing the shopping, I only have little money left, but if you want I can lend it to you.
  • I have a little money if you want to go somewhere for a coffee.
  • He speaks so quickly that I understood little of what he said.
  • I’ve done a French course so I think I will be able to understand a little of what they say.

few (determiner, adjective) used with plural nouns and plural verb to mean ‘not many’

a few used with plural nouns and plural verb to mean ‘a small number’ or ‘some’

  • Few people can speak the language nowadays.
  • Very few people stayed at the party until late.
  • A few people stayed at the party after Mike had left.
  • I’ve got a few coins left. Care for a coffee?

Activity

lose/miss

Lose (verb transitive) meaning to be unable to find something or somebody. Another meaning is to have something removed due to a penalisation/accident/age, etc.

  • She lost her passport and had to have it renewed.
  • The team lost four points.
  • He lost his leg in a car accident.

Miss (verb transitive) Miss has many associated meanings, but here it is being compared with ‘lose’ because this second word is frequently used instead of ‘miss’ when we want to talk about ‘arriving late’ to something. When meaning that we have arrived somewhere late and consequently, we haven’t been able to do something, ‘lose’ isn’t correct.

  • We missed the flight because we were held up in a traffic jam.
  • If you hadn’t been preening yourself, we wouldn’t have missed the beginning of the film.

Activity

Marriage/wedding

Marriage (countable) the legal union between two people. e.g. happy/unhappy marriage, a previous marriage, an arranged marriage.

  • All their children’s marriages ended in divorce.

Marriage (uncountable noun) the state of being married.

  • My parents are celebrating their thirtieth year of marriage.

Wedding (countable noun) meaning referred to the ceremony when two people get married and to the meal or party that usually follows this ceremony and to the typical items included.  e.g. wedding cake, wedding dress, etc.

  • She looked beautiful in her wedding dress.

 

rise/raise

Rise (verb intransitive) verb form: rise/rose/risen. This verb generally means to move upwards or to move to a higher position.

  • The water rose after the floods.
  • Rise to get up from somewhere
  • She rose to her feet

Raise (verb transitive) verb form: raised.

Raise something. To increase the amount of something such as money.

  • The organisation has raised charity for the needy.
  • Taxes have been raised several times in the last decades.

Raise people/animals. To look after people or animals from when they are very young.

  • Nowadays, many children are raised on hamburgers.

Activity 

say/ tell

Both are verb associated to communication but both are used quite differently. Look at some of the examples of use.

say

say something/say something to somebody/say  as a reporting verb.

  • Ask him to say something in English.
  • She didn’t say anything to him about the party
  • She said that she liked it very much.

Say in impersonal passive structures

  • It is said that many lost their lives in WWII

Say + what/how/when/why

  • He didn’t say why he had come.

Tell

 tell somebody something / tell somebody to do something

  • She told him a bedtime story
  • They told me to get the job done as soon as possible.

tell somebody about something/tell a joke or a story

  • The company manager told them about the strike.
  • Mike told us this really funny joke.

We don’t  use say to somebody.

  • She said to me that I couldn’t go. She told me that I couldn’t go.

It is much more common to use ‘tell’ for orders

  • The fireman told us to be careful.

Activity

sensible/sensitive

sensible (adjective) Meaning that a person is able to make good judgements using reason instead of emotions.

  • I think that’s the most sensible idea.
  • He was always a sensible person.

Sensitive ( adjective). Meaning being aware of and to understand people’s feelings.

  • They were very sensitive towards Pat’s problems and gave her a new work Schedule.

so/such

 So and such make the meaning of an adjective stronger. The have very similar meanings but they are used very differently.

  • I didn´t enjoy the film. The film was so stupid
  • I didn´t enjoy the film . It was such a stupid film.

So is also very frequently used before an adjective or an adverb to make the meaning of the adjective or adverb stronger and reflects emphatic usage.

  • Why are you so lazy? I asked you to give me a hand.
  • There was traffic jam on the motorway and it took me so long to get to my house.

 So is used before an adjective alone, and adverb or a quantifier. We can’t use such or so after a determiner.

  • They are so silly.
  • I’m glad you’re doing so well.
  • She’s got so many cars.

Such which has a similar meaning is used with nouns or with adjective + noun.

  • It’s such a hot day today! Why don’t we go to the beach?
  • It was such an interesting book that I read it twice.
  • She is such a difficult child and he has such patience

 So + adjective/ adverb + (that)

  • It´s a lovely day. It´s so warm that we are going to the beach.
  • He speaks so quickly that I can hardly understand what he’s saying.

Such  + a/an+ adj + Noun (countable, singular)+ (that)

  • He told us such a weird story that we couldn´t believe him
  • Such+ adj + Noun(plural countable/ uncountable) + (that)
  • There were such nice students in class that I made friends very quickly
  • It was such lovely weather that we spent the whole day on the beach

 So long/such a long time

  • I haven´t seen her for so long I´ve forgotten what she looks like
  • I haven´t seen her for such a long time

So far/ such a long way

  • I didn´t know that place was so far
  • I didn´t know there was such a long way to get to that place

 So much +Noun (uncountable) + (that)

  •  There was so much snow that some villages were cut off.

So many+Noun (countable plural)+ (that)

  •  So many people came to the party that there weren’t enough chairs for everyone.

Such a lot of + Noun

  • Why did you buy so much food?
  • Why did you buy such a lot of food?

Activity

rob /steal

rob something from somebody/rob somebody/robe something.

  • The four men robbed $2.000 from the company.

steal something

  • My watch was stolen.
  • Yesterday she had her handbag stolen.

Activity

travel/trip/ journey

travel (uncountable noun) term used to refer to the act or activity of travelling.

travel (verb intransitive transitive)  to go from one place to another. When meaning long distances, we usually use travel instead of trip. We also use this word when we talk about travelling for a reason such as work, etc.

  • I love travelling – I’d love to travel around the world – Tomorrow I have to get up early. I’m travelling.

trip (countable noun) an excursion or a journey somewhere and back, especially for pleasure.

  • We went on a boat trip to the island.

journey (countable noun) the act of travelling from one place and another. Here the focus is placed on talking about what happens between the beginning and ending of these points. For example, if going from Madrid to Paris on a train, you enjoyed it because it was quick, you had a good meal and a nice nap, you would say something like ‘your journey was nice’. But if you had bad weather, the food was horrible and the person on the seat next to you, kept dropping off, snoring almost all the way, you’d probably say that your ‘journey was horrible’.

Activity

used to/to be used to/ to get used to

Used to Is an expression used to talk about things that usually happened in the past and no longer happen in the present. We use ‘did not’ for negative sentences and ‘did’ for questions.

  • When I was a child, my father used to read stories to me before going to bed.
  • Did you use to visit your grandmother every Sunday?
  • He didn’t use to smoke as much as he does now.

To be used to Meaning that something has become familiar with somebody.

  • I didn’t like vegetables before, but now I eat them every day, I’m used to them.
  • He wasn’t used to being talked to like that.

To get used to referring to the process of becoming used to something. After this form, we use a noun phrase or a -ing form.

  • They got used to living in a small house.
  • I suppose I’ll eventually get used to the idea.

Activity