Commonly Confused Words in English

English is immense. It is the language with the vastest vocabulary in the world. On top of that, there are new words emerging every single day. Through wide usage, these words become so trendy that they are eventually officially recognized.

No wonder we, English learners, have words we often confuse. The reason could arise from the fact some English words are somehow pronounced the same as the words from our native language, or there is so little difference in pronunciation between some English words that, if it weren’t for the context, we wouldn’t know which word to use. There might also be no reason at all. It is often a personal matter, and we cannot account for why we often confuse certain words. 

Today, we will explore some of the commonly confused words in English. First, read and think what the meaning of each word is. Then check your answer. Once you’ve read up on these words, a challenging treat will be waiting for you! 

P.S. Where in the Cambridge exams, like B2 First and C1 Advanced, will this practice come in handy? Part 1 in the Reading and Use of English paper is the exam task where you must show control of these commonly confused words. Read more about it and see how to do it well in the following article: How to do the B2 First Reading tasks successfully (& easily)

Name the difference between these commonly confused words

Look at the groups of words below. They are often incorrectly used by English learners. Say the difference between these English confusing words, then unveil their meaning to check how close to their definition your answers are.

Confusing words sight

The way a person or a thing looks to other people; an occasion when someone appears in public

E.g. physical appearance, smart appearance; television appearance

An expression on someone’s face; the appearance of something

E.g. to have a worried look; to like the look of the (house)

Something that is in someone’s view; the act of seeing

E.g. to keep sight of, out of someone’s sight, to come into sight, to be within sight, to catch/lose sight of, at first sight

What can be seen from a particular location, especially in the distance.

E.g. the view from the top of the mountain, a panoramic view from the top of the roof, a stunning view of the mountain chain, admire the view of

Confusing words reach vs arrive

Reach a place, especially at the end of a journey

E.g. arrive at a point, e.g. school; arrive in a larger area e.g. a city/country; arrive back

Arrive at a particular place

E.g. get home, get to the hotel

Arrive at a place after spending a long time or effort travelling; get to a particular level, especially a high one

E.g. reach the coast, reach the top of the mountain; reach the Advanced level in English

Confused words automated and automatic

Able to operate independently for the most part.  To complete the chores, automatic things require a human component. Opposite: manual

E.g. a five-speed automatic transmission, automatic camera, automatic washing machine

Carried out by machines or computers without needing human control.  The automated things are more complex than the automatic ones.

E.g. automated check-in machine, automated driving system

Confusing words attend VS assist

To help

E.g. assist the police in a search

To go to an event or place

E.g. attend the festival, attend school

Confusing words rim vs edge

A line which is agreed to divide one country from another

E.g. across the border, be on border of (a country), the border guards

The outer or furthest point of something

E.g. the edge of the cake, the edge of the table, the edge of the village

A long, thin mark on the surface; a group of people standing one behind the other

E.g. dotted line, horizontal line; walk in a straight line, get/stand in line

The outer, often curved, circular, and deep, edge of something

E.g. the rim of the cup, the rim of the glasses, the rim of the volcano

Confusing words wear vs carry

To hold something or someone with our hands, arms, or on our back and transport it, him, or her from one place to another

E.g. carry a bag, carry a child, carry a suitcase

To have clothing, jewellery, etc. on our body

E.g. wear make up, wear glasses, wear a dress

Confusing words food

Countable noun

A part of a meal served separately from other parts

E.g. the main course, a four-course lunch

Countable noun

Food prepared in a particular way as part of a meal

E.g. a vegetarian dish

Something that is eaten or absorbed, to keep people and animals alive

E.g. buy food, snack foods

Countable noun

An occasion when food is eaten, or the food eaten on such an occasion

E.g. a heavy meal, come over for a meal

Countable noun

A flat, usually round dish, whose edges are slightly raised, that we eat or serve the food from

E.g. clean plates, a salad plate

Confusing words win vs earn

To receive money as payment for work that we do; to get something that we deserve

E.g. earn a living, earn dollars; earn a vacation

To get something that is useful, that gives us an advantage, or that is in some way positive, especially over a period of time

E.g. gain reputation, gain support, gain control, gain experience

To achieve first position and/or get a prize in a competition, election, fight, the lottery, etc

E.g. win the World Cup, win a medal, win a match

Confusing words travel vs journey

A short journey, usually made for pleasure, often by a group of people, to a place of interest

E.g. go on an excursion, a weekend excursion to the city

Noun

The act of travelling from one place to another, especially in a vehicle; a long, difficult, and often adventurous trip

E.g. go on long journey, a safe journey, the return train journey; a journey into outer space

Verb

To travel somewhere

E.g. to journey south

 

Uncountable noun

The activity of travelling

E.g. air travel, foreign travel, business travel

Verb

To move from one place to another

E.g. to like to travel, to travel free, to travel to work, to travel the world

Countable noun

A short journey to a place and back again

E.g. go on a (shopping) trip, take a trip (abroad), a business trip, a trip to Paris, a sightseeing trip

A long journey, especially by ship

E.g. on a sea voyage, a voyage across the ocean

The direction or the route

E.g. to be on the way to a place, to know my way around the city

Confusing words ticket vs fare

The money that we pay for a journey in a vehicle, the cost of a trip

E.g. the train fare, rising air fares

A small piece of paper given to us to show that we have paid

E.g. a concert ticket, a bus ticket, a lottery ticket

An amount of money, charge, paid for a piece of work or for a particular right or service

E.g. university fees, an entrance fee, the lawyer’s fee, the membership fee

Confusing words meet vs know

To learn new information about something or someone

E.g. find out about a surprise party, find out the bus times

To spend time with someone or something so that we gradually learn more about them

E.g. get to know each other

To already have the information bout something

E.g. know some names, know the way

To see and talk to someone for the first time; come together with someone intentionally or without intending to

Confusing words fun

If something is fun, we enjoy doing it.

E.g. have great fun, be such good fun

If something is funny, it is humorous, or it is strange, surprising or difficult to explain or understand.  

E.g. a funny story; feel funny, funny ideas

Confusing words job

Countable noun

A particular type of work or activity which we regularly do to earn money; a particular piece of work.

E.g. have a permanent job, do a well-paid job, apply for a job; do jobs around the house

Singular noun

Something that is your responsibility

E.g. It’s our job to protect the environment.

Uncountable noun

Something we do, by mental or physical effort, to usually earn money; the material used by someone at work, or what they produce; the place where we go to do our job.

E.g. have much work, start work; take the work home; commute to work

Countable noun

Something created as a result of effort, especially a painting, book, or a piece of music.

E.g. works by Michelangelo, works of art

Confusing words join vs take part

To become a member of an organization; get involved in an activity or journey with someone

E.g. join the gym; join the queue, join the family for dinner

To be actively involved in an activity with other people

E.g. take part in the play

To get new knowledge or skills

E.g. learn cooking, learn a language, learn how to use a machine

To go to classes, read books, etc to try to understand new ideas and facts

E.g. study at school, study Physics, study animals’ behaviour

To give new knowledge or skills to someone

E.g. teach English to foreign students, teach at school

Confused words lie vs lay

Transitive verb. It must take an object.

To put something in especially a flat or horizontal position, usually carefully or for a particular purpose

E.g. She laid the baby on the bed. I laid the tray on the table.

Intransitive verb. It does not take an object. lying, lay, lain

To move into a horizontal position

E.g. lie in bed, lie on my side, lie awake

To direct our eyes in the direction of something and pay attention to it

E.g. look at a picture

To notice something using our eyes

E.g. A newborn kitten cannot see.

To look at something that is changing or moving for a period of time

E.g. watch TV, watch a football match, watch people walking past

Confusing words miss vs lose

To no longer have something because we don’t know where it is

E.g. lose the keys

To arrive too late to get on a bus, train, or plane; to not go to something; to not see or hear someone or something

E.g. miss the flight; miss school; miss the start of the meeting; miss school

Confusing words occasion

An event, or a time when something happens.

E.g. on special occasions, a historic occasion

A situation which gives us the possibility to do something that we want.

Synonym: a chance to do something

E.g. have the opportunity to travel, opportunity of seeing stunning views

A chance that something may happen or be true. It is followed by “of” or “that”-clause. 

Synonym: a chance of (doing) something

E.g. the possibility of working

Confused words raise vs rise

Transitive verb. It must take an object.

To lift something to a higher position; to cause something to increase, or become bigger, better, higher, etc

E.g. I raise my hand. They raised the prices. She raised her voice.

Intransitive verb. It does not take an object. rise, rose, risen

To move upwards, to stand, to get out of bed

E.g. The sun rises. Taxes rise.

Commonly confused words CHALLENGE

You are now ready to put to test your knowledge of these commonly confused words. We have prepared three quizzes for you. Looking for a clue? Click on the hint button. It is there for you, ready and waiting!

Quiz ONE

Quiz TWO

Quiz THREE

How’s it been? Are you right on the money?! Any mistakes? Cheer up! You will do it better next time!

I hope you have found in the list we have prepared for you those confusing words you personally still make mistakes with. I have included the most commonly confused words, those that my students, throughout my teaching experience, were again and again making mistakes with. But let me tell you one thing, you’ve made a mistake once, the same mistake twice, three times, it’s OK, we are ALL learning. This is a never-ending process. Welcome and respect the mistakes.

Once you’ve realized you have used the wrong word? Self-correct yourself. You won’t believe how happy a teacher or speaking examiner is when you do so.

What other commonly confused words would you add? Feel free to let us know.

Stay tuned for more words of advice and handy material!

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