As an English learner, you probably find that you sometimes struggle with grammar. Well, don’t worry too much and don’t get discouraged. The truth is that many native English speakers frequently make grammatical mistakes as well. English grammar is not easy. Besides even if your grammar is good, many little mistakes go unnoticed especially if you do your own editing.
English has many commonly confused words. Some words look alike or sound alike, others both sound and look alike but have completely different meanings, while others look and sound different but have similar meanings. It’s sometimes really hard to decide which is the right one to use in a particular sentence so that you get the desired meaning.
In order to help you prevent some of these errors, I’ve decided to compile a list of “30 Commonly Confused Sets of Words in English.” In this way, you will have them all together in one place to study and learn them. If you’re a non-native speaker, you can learn them by paying close attention to the meaning of each individual word and memorizing it. Once you know them, you will be able to prevent some of the common errors made by many. Native-speakers can also benefit from this list as it offers a review of what was learned in school.
Pay close attention to each one of these sets of words, see which mistakes you make regularly and then try to correct them in your future writing assignments.
These word groups are in no particular order.
So, let’s get right into it.
1. Its vs. It’s
Let’s take a closer look at these two little words. What do they each mean and what are the differences between them?
“Its” is the possessive form of the third person singular noun it, while “it’s” is the contracted form of the verb “to be” conjugated in the simple present used with the third person singular. Many people make the mistake because usually, the apostrophe (‘) is used to show possession. Both of these words sound the same when being pronounced.
- I love the style of that dress but hate its colour. (the colour of the dress)
- It’s a beautiful, sunny day ( It is a beautiful, sunny day.)
2. To vs. Too vs. Two
In this instance, we have a set of three words that spell very similar and are pronounced practically the same. Let’s look at the differences between them.
“To“ can be a preposition or it can sometimes be part of a verb in the infinitive.
- She is taking the bus to school.
In this sentence, we can clearly see that “to” is a preposition.
“Too“ means also or very.
- I’m too sick to go to work today. (very)
- I’m going to lunch too. (also, as well)
The final word is “two” which is the number 2.
- She has two dresses that are exactly the same colour.
3. Your vs. You’re
These two words sound the same and their spelling is very similar but they have different meanings. “Your” is the possessive form of the pronoun “you” used when we want to indicate that something belongs to you. “You’re” is the contracted form of “you are” which of course, is the conjugation of the verb to be in the simple present. Here it is conjugated with the third person pronoun “you.”
- Is this your book? (Does the book belong to you?)
- You’re a very nice person. (You are a very nice person)
4. Borrow vs. Lend
These two words, as you can see, look and sound different but they both deal with someone using something that doesn’t belong to them. Their meaning is very similar and it’s important to clarify when each one should be used. Let’s take the example of two students in a classroom, one needs a pen but doesn’t have one while the other student has an extra pen. If you are the person that need to get a pen from your friend you would “borrow“ the pen, use it and then return it to the owner. The person who has the extra pen and lets you use it “lends” it to you.
Now, these two words are a bit complicated. Like I mentioned before if you get a pen from someone to use and later return, you “borrow“ it but depending on how you phrase your sentence you can also use the word “lend“ to ask for the pen. Following you will find some example sentences which I hope will make the differences and uses of the words clear to you.
- I need to borrow a pen from my friend Mary ( ask for a pen to use)
- My friend Mary will lend me a pen. (gives me a pen to use)
- Mary, could you lend me a pen? (let me borrow your pen)
In the final example, you can see that the sentence is worded in a way which allows us to ask for the pen using the word lend.
5. Desert vs. Dessert
These two words look very similar but have a different pronunciation. The first word of our group is”desert“, which means a dry hot sandy place such as the Sahara Desert. The second word is “dessert” which is referring to the final course of a meal, such as cake, ice cream or pie.
- He lives very near to the desert.
- I just love having ice cream for dessert.
6. Buy vs. By vs. Bye
Here we have a set of three words that look very similar to each other and sound the same.
The first word, “buy” means to purchase something. The second word is a preposition while the third word is used when we leave a room and wish to say farewell.
- He is going to buy a new car. (purchase)
- I have to finish my report by Friday ( preposition – before)
- I’m going home now, bye (good bye, farewell)
7. Lose vs. Loose
The words “lose” and “loose” are very often confused because as you can see their spelling is quite similar. There is only a difference of one letter. Also, they are both pronounced the same. So what is their difference?
“Loose“ means something that is not tight, like clothing. “Lose“, with one “o” is a verb which means to fail to keep, or fail to win.
- Mary lost so much weight that all her dresses are really loose on her.
- Tony, did you really lose $100 on the bus?
8. Principal vs. Principle
Once again we can see that these two words are very similar in spelling and they are pronounced the same. Let us look at each to determine their meaning.
“Principal“ is usually used as an adjective and it means the most important. This word can also be a noun meaning the head of a school or college, a leading performer in a ballet, opera or play. It can also be used when referring to a sum of money invested or lent for which you get interest.
- We have a new principal at our school. He seems really nice.
- Tony was the principal singer in the opera.
- When the deposit expires we will be able to get both the principal and the interest.
“Principle“ is a noun which means a general rule or idea. It can also refer to a rule about correct or incorrect behavour.
- Our teacher discussed the principles of chemistry.
9. Precede vs. Proceed
These two words have a similar spelling but the pronunciation is not the same although it is somewhat similar. “Precede“ means to come before something or someone while “proceed“ means to continue doing something.
- Sometimes a heart attack is preceded by chest pain.
- Although everyone thinks I’m wrong, I have decided to proceed with my wedding plans.
10. Hanger vs. Hangar
“Hanger” and “hangar” are pronounced the same and have very similar spellings so it’s really easy to confuse them. To clarify let’s look at their meaning. A “hanger“ is the item used to put your clothing on before putting them away in the closet, it’s a noun. A “hangar“ is also a noun. It refers to a large building usually used to house airplanes.
- I need to put away my new dress but I can’t find any hangers.
- The airplane was taken to the hangar for repairs.
11. Site vs. Sight
“Site” and “sight” are two words that again have a similar spelling. The pronunciation, however, is exactly the same.
“Site” is a place where something is located while “sight” is referring to the ability to see.
- The architect got to the construction site early today to make sure the work was progressing.
- If you have problems with your sight you should visit your ophthalmologist.
12. Stationary vs. Stationery
In the case of these two words, we can see how easy they are to get confused. Their spelling is almost identical having only a one letter difference while the pronunciation is the same. They are homophones.
When we make reference to an unmoving object, we use the adjective “stationary“. The word “stationery“ with an “e” is a noun used to refer to paper, envelopes, pens and other office supplies.
- For my daily workout, instead of running, I prefer doing one hour on my stationary bike.
- I’m so happy the new stationery arrived, I was already running out of printing paper.
13. Than vs. Then
Once again we have a set of homophones. These two words sound exactly the same and have very similar spellings.
“Than “with an “a” is a conjunction which we use when working with comparatives. “Then” with an “e” means afterwards.
- Tom is so much taller than Mary that they look funny when they are together.
- We are going out to dinner, and then to the movies.
14. Ate vs. Eight
These two words are known as homophones because even though they sound exactly the same they have different meanings and in this case, they also spell differently.
Let’s fist look at “ate“; It’s the past tense of the verb “to eat”. “Eight” of course is the number 8.
- Tommy ate so much cake at his birthday party that he is now sick.
- He has to be at work at eight o’clock.
15. A lot vs. Allot
The final group of words we will look at today sound exactly the same but have completely different meanings.
“A lot ” means a large amount or extent of something. The verb “allot” means to assign, appoint or distribute.
- I sure have a lot of work to do today.
- Pioneers were allotted large parcels of land by the government.
Note: In the second sentence we see the word allot used in the past tense.
All right, there you have 15 sets of commonly confused words. Since my list of 30 is extensive, I’ve decided to stop here. I’ll continue with the remaining 15 sets of words in my next post. Make sure you visit the site soon and read all about other commonly confused sets of words in English.
Until then, read and study the words in the list above so that you can become a better writer by eliminating some of these mistakes.
If you have any comment or questions feel free to post them below.
Thank you for reading.