Get Help with Some of the Most Confusing English Words

Confusing English Words: Help with a few pesky English words – especially for Nederlanders
Copyright 2016 Brenda de Jong-Pauley

A or An
A door. A book. An elephant. An insect. Easy, right?

But we also say “an hour” and “a university.” Why? Because the rule that controls A or AN is sound-based, not spelling-based.

The rule: If the next word sounds like it starts with a consonant sound–if it has a medeklinker klank–use A. Otherwise, use AN.

A university.
A united front.
An honest man.
An hour.

Advice, Advise
Advice is a noun. Advise is a verb.
She gave me some good advice. (noun)
I will advise her to carefully study the document. (verb)

All ready, already
All ready means “klaar.”
Already means “al.”
We are all ready to have lunch.
Oh no! We’re late and they already started the meeting.

Affect and effect
Affect is most commonly used as a verb. But in psychology, it can also be used as a noun to refer to emotions.
Effect is noun and refers to a result.
The weather always affects the equipment. (verb)
Her affect was flat (noun)
The effect of the speech was immediate. (noun)

Because and Since
These two words are sometimes used interchangeably, but because since can also refer to a moment in time (I have known her since I was a kid), I recommend because.

Bring and Take
These are always used from the perspective of the speaker. You bring something here and you take something there.
Please bring the paper to me and take the stapler to her.

Capital, capitol
Capital is a noun referring to money. It also refers to the principal governmental city in a state or country.
A capitol is the official building for government meetings.
Do you have enough capital for the new company?
The capital of the USA is Washington, D.C.
The dome on the capitol building is very beautiful.

Fun and funny
Fun refers to an amusing activity or entertainment. Funny refers to something humorous or strange.
After the roller coaster ride, “Wow, that was fun!”
That was a very funny joke you told.
OMG! Don’t eat that. It smells funny.

Farther and further
Farther refers to literal distance. Further refers to continuing an action or figurative distance.
Let’s not drive any farther today.
Let’s not speak of this any further.

Its and it’s
Its shows possession. It’s is a contraction (short form) of “it is.”
Its limbs were damaged in the storm. (Refers to the limbs of the tree.)
It’s going to explode! (It is going to explode!)

Learn and teach
Teachers teach, learners (students) learn.
I learned a lot from that professor. He teaches so well!

Loose and Lose
Loose is an adjective. It means not tight or unattached.
Lose is a verb that means to fail. To lose is the opposite of to win.
Lose also means to misplace something.
Pronunciation tip: The words start the same. but loose is pronounced with an s sound and lose is pronounced with a z sound.

Unlike NL, you cannot say that something stands in the text. Use is or is found or can be found.
That passage is on page 100 in the text. The poem can be found on page 200.
Use “stands” to talk about a person, coat rack or tree.

They’re, there and their
Pronunciation tip: They are all pronounced the same.
1. They’re is a contraction of they are
They’re almost ready.

2. There is used for a location and also like “er zijn” in NL.
There are some cookies on the table.

3. Their is used to show plural possession. It tells us who owns something. Their coats are in the closet, but their shoes are in the hall.

Late and too late
Too late does not mean very late. It means that you have missed something because you were late. One can be late and still not be too late.
I was late for the appointment but she still met with me.
I was too late for the concert. The doors were locked. I totally missed it.

Shall and should
In modern English, shall is most often used in a polite question when one hopes or expects to get agreement; “Shall we conclude the meeting?”
Should is much more common, and is used to express opinion or give advice.
You should include this information in your report.

Emigrate and Immigrate
Emigration is about leaving. Immigration is about arriving.
Emigrate: to permanently leave one’s own country.
Immigrate: to permanently move to another country.

Read, read, read
Pronunciation tip: Both words refer to reading. Just be sure to pronounce the past and perfect tense versions so that it rhymes with red.
I read the newspaper every day.
Yesterday I read (sounds like red) the newspaper.
He has read (sounds like red) the newspaper every day this week.

Rare means uncommon. Rare also means undercooked.
This is a rare example of an ancient coin.
That steak is too rare. You should send it back.

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