Do you often pause mid-sentence to wonder if the word you want to use is affect or effect? Are you unsure of the difference between the verbs see, watch, and look? Do you regularly find yourself typing out there in a text message or in an email only to realize too late that it should have been their? If any of these concerns sound familiar to you, you’re certainly not alone. Even fluent English speakers are often confused about the same words!
Here is a list of some commonly confused words and how to differentiate between them:
1. a. advise: to offer a suggestion or an opinion
Example: I would advise you to confirm your booking before you board the bus.
b. advice: a suggestion or an opinion
Example: Whenever I have difficult decision to make, I ask my best friend for her advice.
2. a. affect: to make a difference to someone or something
Example: The bad weather will definitely affect our holiday plans.
b. effect: something that happens as a result of something else that has occurred
Example: The effect of the tsunami on the small beach town was unimaginable.
Tip: if you are still confused about which one to use in a sentence, try to substitute affect or effect with either alter or result. If the word alter fits the sentence better, use affect. If result makes more sense, use effect.
3. a. look: to direct your eyes in a particular direction
Example: Do not look directly at the sun.
b. see: to notice or to become aware of something or someone using your eyes
Example: I can see a red car approaching us.
c. watch: to look at something or someone for a period of time and to pay attention to what is happening
Example: Let’s watch this film tonight.
5. a. historic: something which is or will become an important event in history
Example: Joe Biden won the historic US presidential election in 2020.
b. historical: something that belongs to an earlier period in history
Example: When I visit a new city, I like to explore its historical sites.
6. a. assure: to remove someone’s doubts or concerns about something
Example: I assure you, your luggage is safe here.
b. ensure: to make sure something happens – to guarantee it
Example: The hosts ensured that the guests had a good time.
c. insure: to cover something with an insurance policy
Example: This policy will insure your family against any medical emergencies.
7. a. some time: a period of time
Example: I’ve been waiting for her for some time now.
b. sometime: an indefinite point in time
Example: I’ll give you a call sometime soon.
c. sometimes: on some occasions, but not always or often
Example: I like to drink coffee sometimes.
8. a. stationery: things needed for writing such as paper, pens and envelopes
Example: Robert loves to buy stationery even though he doesn’t need any more.
b. stationary: unmoving or unchanging
Example: The train remained stationary at the station for a long time.
9. a. lose: to misplace something
Example: Please put my keys in your bag, I don’t want to lose them.
b. loose: (of clothes) not fitting closely to the body
Example: It was a warm summer day so I wore a loose dress and sandals for comfort.
10. a. empathy: the ability to understand someone else’s perspective and feelings
Example: We teach our children the importance of showing empathy for those less fortunate than they are.
b. sympathy: feeling sorrow for someone’s suffering
Example: We feel deep sympathy for those who lost their homes and possessions in the flood.
11. a. it’s: a contraction of it is
Example: It’s really cold today.
b. its: belonging or relating to something that has already been mentioned
Example: I love Uzbekistan and its fascinating culture.
12. a. who’s: contraction of who is
Example: Who’s at the door?
b. whose: used to ask about or state which person owns or is responsible for something
Example: Whose book is this?
13. a. principal: the person in charge of a school
Example: The principal of our school will make a speech today.
b. principles: used to ask about or state which person owns or is responsible for something
Example: It is important to stick to your principles.
14. a. breath: the air that we inhale and exhale
Example: He took a deep breath and began his speech.
b. breathe: the action of inhaling and exhaling
Example: It is a pleasure and a relief to be able to breathe the fresh clean mountain air every day.
To gain confidence about using these and other confusing words in English, join an online speaking course at Burlington English. Our expert tutors will help you understand the differences between similar sounding words and our patented Speech Trainer® technology will help you to improve your pronunciation and speak English fluently.