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Commonly Confused Words for English Learners

Below is a guide containing some commonly confused words for English language learners. Read the descriptions and the example sentences, and then try this commonly confused words practice exercise.


Commonly Confused Words

work and job
work: We can use “work” as a noun and as a verb. When we use “work” as a noun, we use it is a non-count noun. We do not use “work” to talk about someone’s specific position with a company. “Work” is used to talk about a non-specific activity. Please note that we use “work” with the following expressions: go to work, get to work, arrive at work, get off work, leave work, finish work, and take off work. We cannot use “job” with these expressions.
I have a lot of work to do tomorrow (used here as a non-count noun to talk about something that is non-specific).
job: “Job” is more specific than work. We use “job” to talk about the specific position someone has at a company.
My job is too stressful, so I’m looking for another one. (used here to talk about a specific position the person has with a company)


customer and client
customer: A “customer” is someone who pays money in exchange for a product or service.
Working at the mall was really difficult because I had to deal with rude customers.
client: A “client” is similar to a customer, but we use “client” for professional services and when there is a longer relationship between the buyer and seller. For example, a lawyer would have clients, but an owner of a convenience store would have “customers.”
When he started his job selling insurance, it was difficult to find clients.


meeting and reunion
meeting: A “meeting” is when people come together or meet, usually to talk about a specific topic or topics.
We have a meeting next Friday with the entire finance department.
reunion: A “reunion” is an event that happens so people who haven’t seen each other in a long time can see each other again (a family reunion, a high school reunion, etc.).
We have a family reunion every couple of years so that we can see our extended family members who we haven’t seen in a long time.


pointperiod, and dot
point: We use “point” with numbers (decimals such as 3.14, 5.78, etc.)
The number pi is approximately 3.14 (read: three point one four).
period: We use “period” for the punctuation mark at the end of a sentence.
All sentences should end with a period, question mark, or exclamation mark.
dot: We use “dot” for websites and email addresses.
Example: (read: ebay dot com) is a website where you can buy and sell used items.


see, look at, and watch 
see: In the present tense, we use “see” for something unintentional or something that we are not concentrating on. In the past tense, the rules aren’t as strict and we can sometimes use “see” for intentional actions (I saw a movie with my boyfriend, for example).
1) I saw Karen at the grocery store today. (The speaker was not trying to see Karen. This happened unintentionally.)
2) Did you see the drawing my son made for me? (This is an example of using “see” in the past for an action that involves concentrating on something. In the present tense, we would say “Look at the picture my son drew for me.”)
look at: We use “look at” when we concentrate on something that isn’t moving (a picture, a map, the clock, a watch, another person, the floor, flowers, trees, a building etc.) It’s important to know that we use “look at” when we are intentionally focusing our eyes on something.
1) If you look at this chart, you can see that our sales have increased.
2) You should look at people when they are talking to you.
watch: We use “watch” when we concentrate on something that is moving (a movie, a play, a soccer game)
I refuse to watch that movie. It’s so violent.


listen and hear
listen: In general, we use “listen” to describe an intentional action – something we do on purpose.
What type of music do you like to listen to? (used here to talk about an intentional action here)
hear: We often use “hear” to talk about something unintentional – something we do not do on purpose. However, when we are talking about a completed action, we often use “hear” instead of listen (I heard the song, for example).
I hear strange noises every time I drive my car. I’m going to take it to the mechanic to get it checked out (used here to talk about something unintentional).


lend and borrow 
lend: The person who allows someone to use an item for a period of time “lends” the item.
I lent Karen my pen, but she never returned it. (Note: “lend” is irregular and becomes “lent” in the past tense and past participle)
borrow: The person who uses an item for a short period of time and then returns it “borrows” the item.
Their lawnmower is broken, so they borrowed one from a friend.


rob and steal 
robWe normally use “rob” for people and places.
My house was robbed last night.
steal: We use “steal” for things.
My cell phone was stolen off my desk. (Note that “steal” is irregular and becomes “stole” in the past tense and “stolen” in the past participle.)


fun and funny 
fun: As an adjective, we use “fun” to describe someone or something that creates enjoyment or pleasure. As a noun,
“fun” refers to something that creates enjoyment or pleasure.
Playing video games is fun.
funny: We use “funny” to describe someone or something that makes other people laugh.
Jim Carrey is one of the funniest actors ever.


hope and wish
hope: We use “hope” to talk about future goals and dreams.
I hope to get a better job next year.
wish: We use “wish” to talk about a present or past reality that we would like to change.
1) Mike wishes he had a better job. (In this example, Mike would like to change something about the present. He does not have the job he wants to have.)
2) Tricia wishes she hadn’t spent so much money last year. Now she’s in debt. (In this example, Tricia would like to change something about the past, so we use “wish,” not “hope.”)


history and story 
history: We use “history” to talk about a chronological collection of events that show how something has progressed, changed, or developed over time (the history of a the world, a person’s medical history, the history of the Vikings, Middle Eastern history, etc.). A “history” usually deals with political, social, or economic topics and often includes an explanation of the events.
This book about the history of Greece is fascinating.
story: A “story” is a description of an event or series of events (real or fake) and is often told to entertain the listener.
She made us laugh with her stories about her crazy family.


travel and trip 
travel: We generally use “travel” as a verb
I love to travel internationally because I like to experience new cultures.
trip: We generally use “trip” to talk about a specific voyage, journey, or excursion.
The best trip I’ve ever taken was to Disney World.


win and beat
win: We use “win” when the object of the sentence is a type of competition (a game, contest, race, the World Cup, the Olympics, etc.)
Spain won the World Cup in 2010. (Note that “win” is irregular and becomes “won” in the past tense and past participle)
beat: We use “beat” when the object of the sentence is the person or team that lost a competition.
Spain beat the Netherlands in the final game of the 2010 World Cup. (Note that“beat” is irregular. The simple past is “beat” and the past participle is “beaten.”)


miss and lose 
miss: We use “miss” for events and opportunities.
I missed the 6:45 train and I arrived late for work.
lose: We use “lose” for physical objects.
I lost my passport and I had to apply for a new one.


other and another 
other: We use “other” with 1) plural nouns and 2) when there are only two options.
1) I like my dog, but other dogs sometimes scare me. (used here with the plural noun “dogs”)
2) You’re doing it wrong. Use your other foot. (used here because there are only two options – people only have two feet)
another: We use “another” with 1) singular nouns 2) to mean “additional.”
1) I don’t really like my job. I think I’m going to look for another one. (used here with a singular noun, “job”)
2) I’m still hungry. I’m going to eat another slice of pizza. (used here to mean “an additional slice of pizza)


appointment and date 
appointment: We use “appointment” for agreements to meet someone at a specific time and place (a doctor’s appointment, an appointment with a client, etc.). We do not use “appointment” for romantic engagements.
I have a dentist appointment tomorrow at 2 PM.
date: We use “date” to talk about events with two people who have a romantic relationship or might eventually have a romantic relationship. We do not use “date” for non-romantic engagements.
My wife and I went to the movies on our first date.


expect and wait 
expect: We use “expect” when the subject of the sentence thinks that something will happen.
We are expecting some visitors tonight, so we can’t go out.
wait: We use “wait” when the subject stays somewhere or decides not to do something until something else happens.
What took you so long? I was waiting for hours.


safe and secure 
safe: “Safe” is the opposite of “dangerous.” We use “safe” to describe things that do not cause physical harm.
I think a storm is coming. Let’s go inside where we’ll be safe.
secure: We use “secure” to talk about 1) something not at risk to be damaged, lost, or intercepted or 2) someone confident.
1) I know my passport and birth certificate are secure because I put them in a locked, fire-proof box. (used here to mean “not at risk to be damaged, lost, or intercepted)
2) He’s reading an article on the internet about how to feel more secure. (used here to mean “confident”)


more or less and so so
more or less: We usually use “more or less” to mean “approximately” or “mostly.”
1) You’ve been studying English for two years, right? Yes, more of less. (used here to mean that the speaker has been studying English for approximately two years)
2) We more or less have a good relationship. (used here to mean that the speaker’s relationship is mostly good)
so so: “So so” means “okay” or “not bad.” We don’t use “so so” very often in modern American English. We would normally says “okay” or “not bad,” or something similar instead of saying “so so.”
How was your vacation? It was so so. (used here to mean “okay, but not great”)


yard and garden 
yard: In American English, a “yard” is the outdoor area of a house or other building.
Let’s go play soccer in the yard.
garden: A “garden” is an area dedicated to growing flowers, vegetables, herbs, etc.
The flowers in your garden look beautiful.


lonely and alone 
lonely: We use “lonely” to describe someone who is sad because he or she doesn’t have any friends or other companions to spend time with.
He was lonely until he met his wife.
alone: We use “alone” to describe someone or something that is separated from others.
What I have to tell you is private, so I can’t tell you about it now. I’ll tell you about it when we’re alone.


foreigner and stranger 
foreigner: A “foreigner” is someone who comes from a country different from yours.
She must be a foreigner. She has a really thick accent.
stranger: A “stranger” is someone who you do not know.
When I was a child, my mom always told me not to talk to strangers.


weather and climate 
weather: We use “weather” to talk about the atmospheric conditions over a short period of time.
The weather yesterday was awful. It was a good day to stay inside and read.
climate: We use “climate” to talk about the general atmospheric conditions in an area over a long period of time.
Jamaica has a tropical climate.


audience and public 
audience: An “audience” is the group of people watching an event (a play, movie, show, conference, workshop, etc.).
The audience stood up and applauded after the performance.
public: As a noun, we use “public” to mean “all of the people of a country, state, county, town, etc.” When used as an adjective, we use “public” to refer to mean “something exposed to or something concerning all of the people of a country, state, town, etc.”
1) The library is open to the general public. (used as a noun here)
2) Government officials are public figures. (used as an adjective here)


follow and chase 
follow: We use “follow” to mean “to go after or move behind something or someone.”
I don’t know how to get there. Can you drive ahead of me and I’ll follow you in my car?
chase: We use “chase” for both people and things. If we “chase” someone it means we are pursuing someone who is trying to escape or does not want to get caught. If we “chase” a thing, it manes we are pursuing something (something that is usually difficult to obtain). Additionally, “chase” can be used as a noun, but “follow” cannot.
1) The police chased the criminal through the streets. (used here to talk about a person who is trying to escape and does not want to get caught)
2) My dog chases cars. (used here to talk about a thing)
3) The car chase ended in a violent collision. (used as a noun here)


roof and ceiling 
roof: A “roof” is the outside protective covering of a building.
Many of our neighbors have satellite dishes on their roofs.
ceiling: A “ceiling” is the top part of a room. If you are inside and you look up, you are looking the ceiling.
I don’t like this house because the ceilings are too low. I prefer houses with high ceilings so I have more space.


shade and shadow 
shade: We normally use “shade” as a noun. We use “shade” to talk about an area outside that does not receive sunlight because something is blocking the sun.
The sun is really bright. Let’s sit under the tree in the shade.
shadow: A shadow is the shape formed when a source of light is blocked.
My dog isn’t very smart. Sometimes he fights with his own shadow.


its and it’s 
its: We use “its” to show possession.
I put everything in its correct place.
it’s: We use “it’s” as a contraction of “it is.”
It’s (it is) a good idea to keep your receipts.


lose and loose 
lose: We use “lose” as a verb to mean:
1) the opposite of “win”
2) the opposite of “gain”
3) to misplace (to not know where you put something)
1) They have lost three games in a row. (used here as the opposite of “win”)
2) This diet really helps people lose weight. (used here as the opposite of “gain”)
3) Carol lost her keys. (used here to mean “misplace”)
loose: “Loose” is the opposite of “tight.” It can also mean “not attached or fixed.”
After she finished her diet, all of her clothes were loose. She had to buy new clothes.
This part came loose. We’ll have to reattach it.


grow and grow up
grow: “Grow” means to increase in size. If something gets bigger, it “grows.”
He grew five centimeters last year. (Note that “grow” becomes “grew” in the simple past and “grown” in the past participle.)
grow up: “Grow up” means to become an adult or to mature as a person.
My son is growing up so fast. I can’t believe he’s 15 already!


game and play 
game: As a noun related to sports, we use “game” to refer to an activity done for fun in which there is usually a winner.
The game last night was very entertaining.
play: As a noun related to sports, we use “play” to refer to a specific movement in a game.
He made an amazing play to score the winning goal in the soccer game.


affect and effect 
affect: We almost always use “affect” as a verb to mean “to make a difference to something.”
Smoking can negatively affect your health. (used as a verb here)
effect: We almost always use “effect” as a noun to mean “a change that happened as a consequence of another action.”
The long-term effects of smoking are really terrible. (used as a noun here)


beside and besides 
beside: We use “beside” as a synonym for “next to.”
Matt keeps a dream journal beside his bed.
besides: We use “besides” to mean “in addition to.”
Besides studying foreign languages, she also likes to volunteer in her free time.


even, even if, and even though
: We use “even” to communicate something surprising or extreme.
Everyone’s online now. Even my 95-year-old grandmother has an email account.
even ifWe use this to introduce a condition. It introduces something that does not affect the main clause.
I come to work even if I’m tired. 
even thoughWe use this to introduce something that is true.
I came to work today even though I’m tired.  


lost and to get lost 
: “Lost” is the past tense of “lose.” We use it to mean:
1) the opposite of “win”
2) the opposite of “gain”
3) to misplace (to not know where you put something).
1) Real Madrid lost the game. 
2) She lost 20 kilos.
3) I lost my keys again.
get lost
: We use “get lost” to talk about someone who does not know where they are or has lost their way.
Sorry I’m late. I got lost and had to stop and ask for directions.


to shop and to buy 
to shop: We use “to shop” (or “to go shopping”) to talk about going to stores. If we say “go shopping” or “to shop” it does not necessarily mean that the person actually purchased something.
I’m bored. Let’s go shopping.
to buy: We use “buy” to communicate the purchase of something.
I bought a new car.


clock and watch 
: We use “clock” for any device that tells time that is not jewelry.
The clock on the wall says it’s 4:30.
watch: We use “watch” for a piece of jewelry that tells time.
Rolex makes expensive watches.


unique and only 
We use “unique” to talk about something that is unlike anything or anybody else.
Spending the summer working on a farm was a really unique experience.
onlyWe use “only” to mean “alone in its category.”
The only person who called me on my birthday was my mom.


to find out and to discover 
to find out
: We use “find out” to talk about information. We don’t typically use a noun after “find out.”
1) I found out that we went to the same high school. 

2) She’s trying to find out if she can take vacation next Friday.
to discoverWe use “discover” before nouns to talk about finding something that was hidden or unknown.
1) Astronomers discovered a new planet last week. 
2) Susan has discovered some new musical artists.