Commonly Confused Words In English

Commonly Confused Words In English

There are lots of words in English that are commonly mixed up or confused (by learners and even native speakers of English), mainly because of very similar pronunciation.

However, the spelling of two similar sounding words can be very different. For example, think of ‘accept vs except

On the other hand, some words are frequently used incorrectly as there is a confusion over the true meaning… for example, there is the issue over ‘borrow vs lend

Accept v Except

Accept is a verb. Pronunciation is /əkˈsept/

1) to receive, to agree to take something

The packet was accepted by someone working in the office reception

I accept your apology

2) to say yes to an offer

They gave her a bigger salary, so she accepted the job in London.

Except is a conjunction or preposition. Pronunciation is  /ɪkˈsept/

Everyone was at the meeting this morning except Alex.

The library is open every day except for Sunday.

Affect v Effect

AFFECT is a verb: Pronunciation  /əˈfekt/

Affect means ‘to change or influence something’

Will the new rules affect me?

The medicine affects my grandad’s heart rate so that it doesn’t speed up too much.

She was deeply affected by the death of her mum… they were very close.

EFFECT is a noun: Pronunciation  /ɪˈfekt/

Effect means ‘a change that is produced in one thing by another’

Diesel engine pollution has a damaging effect on the environment

Yoga can reduce the negative effects of modern-day stressful lifestyles.

The new tax laws will come into effect on the 1st January.

PLEASE NOTE: effect can also be a verb, (Example: ‘They effected radical change in the company‘) but it is not used very much these days and mainly just in Business English writing)


If you can remember this sentence, it might help you remember that effect is a noun and affect is a verb.

The effect of the alcohol affected him quite strongly.

Breath v Breathe

‘a breath’ is a noun, ‘to breathe’ is a verb

Different pronunciation: breath /breθ/  vs to breathe /briːð/

BREATH (noun): Take a deep breath! / After my run this morning I was really out of breath.

BREATHE (VERB): I’ve just eaten some garlic, so I’m sorry if I’m breathing all over you. / Breathe deeply and try to relax

Borrow v Lend

to BORROW: someone TAKES something (for a temporary period, not permanently) from somebody else

to LEND: someone GIVES something (temporarily, not for ever) to somebody

Could I just borrow your pen for a minute?

I will lend you the money but I need it back by Friday, OK?

Desert v Dessert

Note that these two words have 3 different meanings and 2 different sounds


desert (noun): /ˈdezət/ – a large hot place with sand and no rain

The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world.

to desert (verb): /dɪˈzɜːt/ – to leave someone behind/without help or to run away from the army


/dɪˈzɜːt/  – The sweet sugary food that you eat at the end of a meal

Its v It’s

It’s (with an apostrophe): the short way of writing it is

It’s so nice to meet you. /  You won’t need your jacket it’s really warm outside.

Its (no apostrophe): belonging to ‘it’, like his/her shows belonging to he/she

My dog plays with its favourite toy every night.

For a full explanation and grammar test on it’s v its please CLICK HERE

Lose v Loose

‘to lose’ is a verb  –  /luːz/ (rhyming with SNOOZE)  – the opposite of ‘to win’

We can’t lose any more games this season if we want to win the league.

‘loose’ is an adjective  –  /luːs/ (rhyming with MOOSE) – the opposite of ‘tight’, or not constricted or contained

Last year I lost a lot 10 kilos and now my jeans are really loose around my waist.

Of v Off

OFF – is the opposite of ‘on’. Pronunciation is /ɒf/


Please turn off the lights when you leave. (Here, off is a preposition and forms a phrasal verb)

SGI is just off Oxford Street… only 5 mins walk from Oxford Circus. (Here, off is a preposition)

After the accident the car just drove off! (Here, off is an adverb)

Ooh God, this milk is off – it smells awful! (Here, off is an adjective)

OF – has lots and lots of meanings and uses. Pronunciation is /əv/


She always takes up more than her side of the bed.

The colour of that house is really interesting.

I don’t really know him. He’s just a friend of a friend.

Of course!

Practice v Practise

In British English, there is a different spelling – practice (with a ‘c’) is a noun and to practise (with an ‘s’) is a verb.

Both spelling variations have exactly the same pronunciation: /ˈpræktɪs/

NOUN: John broke his leg in football practice last night / Practice makes perfect!

VERB: She practises the violin for 4 hours a day  / As a parent it’s hard to practise what you preach.

Stationary v Stationery

Stationary (with an ‘a’) means ‘not moving’

Stationery (with an ‘e’) is paper, pens, pencils, envelopes that are used for writing

Both words are pronounced /ˈsteɪʃnriː/  or  /ˈsteɪʃənriː/

Both ways of saying the words are correct and depends on where the speaker grew up, not on which version/meaning of the word they are saying.


Since v For

For example sentences and a grammar quiz on SINCE vs FOR please CLICK HERE

So v Such

For clear definitions, examples and grammar test on SO vs SUCH please CLICK HERE

Some v Any

For a full explanation and grammar test on SOME vs ANY please CLICK HERE

Their v There v They’re

THEIR (determiner): /ðeə/  Meaning: belonging to ‘they’, a group of people – Is that their car?

THERE (function word):  /ðeə/  Can be used as a pronoun, adverb, or as an interjection.

Pronoun (to introduce the subject of the sentence): There’s a strange man knocking on the window downstairs.

Adverb: Have a seat there and I’ll be back in a minute

Interjection: There, that wasn’t too bad, was it? 

THEY’RE (contraction – short form way of writing ‘they are’):  The thing I don’t like about The Rolling Stones is that they’re too old!

For a full explanation and grammar test on it’s v its please CLICK HERE


To v Too v Two

TO (preposition) meaning ‘in the direction of’

TOO (adverb) meaning also / more than enough / extremely

TWO is a number

For a full explanation and grammar test on TO vs TOO vs TWO please CLICK HERE


Your v You’re

For clear examples and definitions with a grammar quiz on YOUR vs YOU’RE please CLICK HERE

What English level am I?

To take the full online SGI Grammar Test please CLICK HERE.  

Agitated Young Woman Looking Up In Frustration

There are 40 questions that start off easily and get more difficult with each question. 

You get your results immediately at the end of the test and it can give you an idea of your overall English level in terms of grammar knowledge.

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