The English language is, without a doubt, a challenging one. Because English is packed with exceptions, unclear rules, homonyms, synonyms, and needlessly difficult spelling, there is a lot of potential for a technical mistake. Regardless of these unpleasant truths, it is much more awful when someone makes these common errors. They may make or break your chances of landing a job, indicate sloth, or make you appear illiterate. Keep these widely overused terms and phrases in mind the next time you write a cover letter, prepare an email to your professor, or write a term paper.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should at least get you started on recognizing the small differences between words.
Here are what I consider to be the top ten most confusing word pairs:
1. Lose and Loose
We spell them differently and we pronounce them differently, but English speakers still use these words incorrectly. Luckily, they’re easy to distinguish.
Lose – pronounced with a “z” sound – is a verb meaning to not have something anymore, to be unable to find something or to not win. You lose your cell phone, or you lose your way while driving somewhere.
- I don’t want my football team to lose the game.
- She will lose her money if she gambles with it.
Loose – with an “s” sound – on the other hand, is an adjective that means free, unattached or not tight. It’s also a verb meaning to untie or let go of something.
- The door handle fell off because it was too loose.
- A loose sweater feels very comfortable.
2. Advice and Advise
With these words, we have similar spellings, similar meanings, and only a slight difference in pronunciation.
Advice — with an “s” sound — is a noun. You can give your friend some advice.
- My father gave me one piece of advice – “Always be on time.”
Advise — with a “z” sound — is a verb. With this word, you can advise your friend. The meaning of the two words is basically the same.
- She advised me to invest my money more carefully.
3. Affect and Effect
Again, with these two words the main difference is grammatical, although they’re pronounced slightly differently. Usually, affect is a verb and effect is a noun, and they’re used when talking about the results or consequences of particular actions.
- I’m worried that your lazy habits will affect your studies (your lazy habits will have a bad effect on your studies).
- Before you start an argument with your boss, consider the effects of your actions (before you start an argument, consider how your actions will affect the situation).
4. Compliment and Complement
Compliment —If someone says to you “I really like your shirt” then they’re complimenting you. In other words, they are giving you a compliment. As a verb and noun, compliment means saying something nice about someone.
- I complimented my sister on her delicious cooking (verb).
- I gave my sister a compliment on her delicious cooking (noun).
Complement — is when two things go well together, or complete each other. This word is often used in food and in fashion to describe matching styles or ingredients.
- My blue tie really complements my white shirt (my blue tie and white shirt go well together).
- That wine complements the meat dish well.
5. Bear and Bare
Bear — as a verb — has several meanings, including to hold up or support a heavyweight and to suffer or endure difficulties. We’re not talking about big hairy bears that live in forests.
- Don’t stand on that old chair, it cannot bear your weight.
- I cannot bear to see my son in pain.
Bare, meanwhile, is an adjective that means naked or uncovered, or a verb that means to uncover or reveal.
- Visitors to the temple must not have bare arms or legs, so wear long pants and a jacket (adjective).
- I bared my arm to show them my new tattoo (verb).
Make sure you understand the differences so you don’t get confused.