25 Words That English Speakers Often Confuse

Posted by , Updated on October 22, 2022

English is a notoriously hard language. The spelling is completely crazy and unpredictable. But wait, English is such an easy language. You barely conjugate verbs and you don’t have to decline anything. What!? So is it hard? Is it easy? By and large English is a relatively easy language to pick up quickly and use for basic communication. But, and that’s a big but, if you want to be proficient and really speak fluently, it catches up to the rest of the world’s languages in terms of difficulty pretty quickly. How? Well, English relies on shades of meaning, phrasal verbs, and idioms quite heavily. Furthermore, it is a very widely accented language with everything from Hinglish (Indian English) to Scottish and dozens of dialects in between. In fact, spelling is a challenge for even the most proficient of English speakers. And lets not even get started on punctuation, using commas, or structuring sentences. It quickly turns into an art form more than anything. Oxford comma or no Oxford comma, what is your preference? And that is why today we are going to be diving right into the depths of this phenomenon. These are 25 words that English speakers often confuse.


less vs fewer

less vs fewerSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Fewer is used when talking about things that can be counted. For example, Mike has fewer water bottles than Rob (not less because you can count water bottles). Less is for things that can’t be counted. Mike has less water than Rob (not fewer because you can’t count waters).


capitol vs capital

capitol vs capitalSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Capital refers to the city while capitol refers to the building. To remember just try to imagine the “o” as being the dome on top of the building.


disinterested vs uninterested

disinterested vs uninterestedSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Disinterested is an adjective that means unbiased while uninterested refers to someone who is not interested.


its vs it's

its vs it'sSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

“It’s” is the contraction of “it is” while “its” indicates possession. People often confuse these because typically an apostrophe indicates possession after a noun.


e.g. vs i.e.

e.g. vs i.e.Source: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

The letters e.g. are a latin abbreviation meaning “etcetera” while i.e. is a latin abbreviation meaning “that is”. If you are giving examples or listing options use e.g. (Mark hates fruit, e.g. bananas, oranges, berries). If you are clarifying something use i.e. (Mark missed school, i.e. he was sick).


borrow vs lend

borrow vs lendSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

You borrow money “from” people, you don’t borrow money “to” people. You lend money to people.


criteria vs criterion

criteria vs criterionSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Criterion is singular while criteria is plural.


among vs between

among vs betweenSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Among is used for three or more while between is used for two.


aid vs aide

aid vs aideSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Aid is help given to people while an aide is a person who helps.


desert vs dessert

desert vs dessertSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

A desert is a barren wasteland with little or no precipitation. A dessert is sweet food eaten after a main meal.


principle vs principal

principle vs principalSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

A principal is the head of a school while a principle is a belief.


may be vs maybe

may be vs maybeSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

“May be” as two words means “might be”. “Maybe” as one word means “perhaps”. If you have any questions about their meaning just substitute their synonymous meanings in. For example, “the shirt may be (might be) on the couch” vs “maybe (perhaps) the shirt is on the couch”.


breath vs breathe

breath vs breatheSource: wikipedia, Image: twentysevenphotos via flickr

Breath is the noun. Breathe is the verb.


stationary vs stationery

stationary vs stationerySource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Stationary means “still”. Stationery is writing materials such as paper.


lay vs lie

lay vs lieSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Lay is a transitive verb. This means it needs an object. For example, Mike (the subject) can lay a book (the object) down. The verb makes no sense without an object though. To say “Mike lays down” is incomplete. Mike lays what down? For this scenario, the word you are looking for is the intransitive verb “lie”. “Mike (the subject) lies down”. No object is required.


farther vs further

farther vs furtherSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Farther is used with distance, as in “how much farther?”. Further means “additional”, as in “can you give me further directions?”.


hanged vs hung

hanged vs hungSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Hanged is the past tense of hang if you are talking about hanging somebody, as in an execution. Therefore, outlaws were hanged in the wild west. Hung, on the other hand, refers to things, not people.


a while vs awhile

a while vs awhileSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Although they mean similar things, “a while” is a noun phrase that typically follows a preposition (He said that he would be home for a while). Awhile is an adverb that basically captures the preposition in its meaning. For example, you could restate the above sentence as such: “He said that he would be home awhile.”


each other vs one another

each other vs one anotherSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Each other refers to two objects. One another should be used if there are more than two.


won't vs wont

won't vs wontSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

For most cases “won’t” is the correct choice. It is a contraction of “will not”. Wont, however, is actually a word as well. It means “to be used to”. For example, Ryan was wont to doing his homework right after school. This word is not as common though.


whose vs who's

whose vs who'sSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Who’s is the contraction of “who is”. Whose is the possessive form of “who”. To tell which one you should use just substitute “who is” into the sentence and see if it makes sense.


divers vs diverse

divers vs diverseSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Divers is an archaic adjective meaning “many” or “several”. Diverse means “varied”.


bi- vs semi-

bi- vs semi-Source: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

These prefixes are hard to use. “Semi” always means half. “Bi”, however, can mean “every two” or “twice”. So the prefix “bi” is ambiguous. Biweekly could mean twice a week or every two weeks. If you mean the former, then you can use “semi” in order to avoid the ambiguity. With years, however, the rules change. “Biannual” always means twice a year. If you want to say that something happens every two years then you need to use the special word “biennial”.


sometime vs sometimes vs some time

sometime vs sometimes vs some timeSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

Sometime refers to an indeterminate time in the future (e.g. He will go to school sometime next year). Sometimes is an adverb meaning occasionally, as in “He goes to school sometimes”. Some time is a phrase that refers to a period of time. For example, “He has already spent quite some time in school”.


allot vs a lot

allot vs a lotSource: wikipedia, Image: wikipedia

A lot is a phrase that means “much”. Allot is actually a verb that means “to give or apportion something to someone”.

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