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English Vocabulary for ESL learners 


Confusing Words in English.

Words that are often confused or misused in English.

  • accept / except
    • Accept means to agree to or say yes to something.
      "What forms of payment do you accept?"

    • Except means ‘but not’, ‘not including’.
      "We accept all forms of payment except credit cards.”"

  • adapt/adopt  
    • Adapt means to change in order to suit different conditions.
      "He brought light clothing with him to adapt to the hot climate."

      Adopt means:
    • 1)  to change your habits and start to do or use something different.
      "He decided to stay and adopt the lifestyle of the local people."

    • 2) to take another person's child as one's own
    • "The couple decided to adopt a child whose parents had been killed during the war."

  • advise/advice 
    • Advise is a verb meaning to make a recommendation.
      "I would advise you to dress warmly. It's very cold today."

    • Advice is an uncountable noun meaning a recommendation.
      "My uncle gave me some really good advice."

  • alight/a light
    • The verb to alight means to descend and come to rest.
      “The bird alighted on the tree.”
      “Tom was the only passenger to alight from the train”


      The adjective alight means that something is burning or illuminated.
      “Several cars were set
      alight by the rioters.”
      “The sky was
      alight with hundreds of fireworks.”

    • The noun light means ‘a source of brightess or fire’.
      “She opened the shutters to let in the light.”

  • along/a long
    • Along is a preposition meaning ‘beside’ or ‘parallel to’.
      “She strolled along the bank of the river.”

    • Long is an adjective referring to the length of something.
      “He used a long piece of string to tie up the parcel.”

  • allusion/illusion
    • Allusion means to hint at or refer indirectly to something.
      "The poem is full of allusions to Shakespeare."

    • Illusion means a deceptive impression or a false idea.
      "A large mirror can give the illusion of extra space."

  • all ready/already 
    • All ready means all prepared.
      "Let's go! We are all ready to leave now."

      Already refers to something that happened previously.
      "When we arrived at the station the train had already left."

  • all together/altogether 
    • All together means in a group.
      "The children stayed all together in the kitchen."

      Altogether means "completely, utterly".
      "The question left him altogether perplexed."

  • altar/alter 
    • Altar is a noun meaning a sacred table in a church.
      "She placed the flowers in front of the altar."

      Alter is a verb meaning to change or modify something.
      "The skirt is too wide. I will have to alter it."

  • anyone/any one
    • Anyone means any person at all.
      "Does anyone remember where I left my coat?"

      Any one means any single member of a group.
      "If any one of you is absent on Monday, the English test will be postponed."

  • apiece/a piece
    • Apiece is an adverb meaning ‘for each one’.
      “Copies are being sold at 50€ apiece.”

    • The noun piece means a part of something.
      “Would you like a piece of cake?”

  • assure/ensure/insure
    • Assure means to speak confidently and positively to dispel any doubts.
      "We can assure you that all the facts have been verified."

      Ensure means to make sure that something will happen.
      "Our excellent transport service will ensure fast delivery."

      Insure means to guarantee indemnity in case of damage, loss or death.
      "The boat and its passengers are fully insured."

  • assume/presume
    • Assume means to suppose to be the case, without proof.
      "I just assumed he was the owner of the car."

      Presume means to suppose to be the case, based on probability.
      "After the avalanche, the skiers not found were presumed to be dead."

  • awhile/a while
    A while and awhile both refer to a period of time, but they represent different parts of speech.

    • Awhile is an adverb meaning ‘for a short time’.
      Awhile cannot follow a preposition.
      “The passengers waited awhile for the doors to open." (no for).

    • A while is a noun meaning a period or interval of time.
      “Dinner is not ready yet. You will have to wait for a while.”

  • berth/birth 
    • Berth means a bed or a bunk on a ship, a train, etc.
      It also refers to a place for a boat to stay in a harbour.
      "She booked a berth on the ferry."

      Birth means the start of life; the arrival of a baby or an animal.
      "The young couple proudly announced the birth of their first child."

  • beside/besides 
    • Beside means next to
      "Please leave the pen beside the book."

      Besides means in addition to.
      "What else do you like besides pizza?"

  • broach/brooch  
    • To broach means to raise a subject.
      "He promised to broach the subject at the next meeting.""

      Brooch refers to a piece of jewellery.
      "The Queen wore a beautiful diamond brooch."

  • cache/cash 
    • A cache is a hidden store of items, or the place where they are kept.
      "The police found a cache of arms behind the house. "

      Cash is money in the form of notes and coins.
      "You can pay by cheque or in cash"

  • censor/censure 
    • To censor means to examine (e.g. a book/film/letter) and suppress unacceptable parts.
      "The letters the prisoner received were censored."

      To censure means to express severe disapproval or strong criticism of something.
      "The Minister was censured for not reacting more quickly to the situation."

  • coarse/course
    • Coarse means:
      1) rough or uneven
      "The coarse fabric irritated the baby's skin."

      2) rude or offensive language.
      "Not everyone likes him because he often tells coarse jokes."

      Course means:
      1) A series of classes or lessons
      "Tom is doing a computer course at the moment. "

      2) Part of a meal
      "The main course is grilled salmon."

  • complement/compliment 
    • A complement is something additional that enhances or makes something even better.
      "The music complements her voice perfectly."

      To compliment someone is to express approval, praise or admiration.
      "She complimented the actor on his performance. "

  • councel/counsil  
    • To councel means to give advice or recommend a course of action.
      "Experts were available to counsel the families of the victims."

      A council is a group of people elected to make decisions or administer an area.
      "The town council has decided not to finance the project. "

  • cue/queue 
    • A cue is a signal, reminder or prompt e.g. for an actor.
      "The door slamming was his cue to go on stage."

      A queue is a line of people or vehicles.
      "There was a long queue in front of the cinema."

  • desert/dessert  
    • A desert is a stretch of barren sandy land where there is very little rain.
      "The Sahara Desert is the largest hot desert in the world."

      A dessert is a sweet course served at the end of a meal.
      "You'll have no dessert if you don't finish your vegetables."

  • disinterested/uninterested
    • Disinterested means impartial, unbiased, not influenced by personal interest.
      "My advice to you is totally disinterested."

      Uninterested means not interested in something or not care about it.
      "The old man is uninterested in the results of the elections."

  • draft/draught 
    • A draft refers to the preparatory version of a document. 
      "The draft was altered several times."

      A draught means a current of cool air.
      "Please close the door. I feel a draught."

  • elicit/illicit 
    • To elicit means "to draw out a response". 
      "The journalist tried to elicit information from the witnesses"

      Illicit means illegal or unlawful.
      "He was arrested for selling illicit copies of the book."

  • eminent/imminent 
    • Eminent means renowned and respected in a profession.
      "The operation was performed by an eminent heart surgeon."

      Imminent refers to something about to happen or impending.
      "The area was evacuated because of imminent flooding."

  • especially/specially 
    • Especially means to single out one person or thing above all others.
      "She likes all her teachers, especially Mrs. Brown."

      Specially means for a special purpose.
      "A cake was specially made for the occasion."

  • everyday/every day
    • Everyday describes ordinary normal things or occurences.
      "I don’t wear my everyday clothes on special occasions."

      Every day means every single day.
      "Jack takes the bus to work every day. "

  • farther/further 
    • Farther refers to distance.
      "The train station is farther away than the bus stop."

      Further refers to something additional.
      "For further information please call 123456."

      (NB: In British English both 'farther' and 'further' are used for distance.)

  • forward/foreword
    • Forward means onward, ahead of you or towards the future.
      "As soon as the door opened the car moved forward "

      Foreword means an introduction to a book written by someone other than the author.
      "The foreword to his latest book was written by a famous scientist.."

  • hear/here 
    • Hear: If you 'hear' something, your ears detect the sound of it.
      "Call me if you hear the baby crying."

      Here: If something is 'here' it is near you when you speak.
      "Come and sit here beside me."

  • hoard/horde 
    • To hoard means to collect or accumulate.
      "Some animals hoard food for the winter."

      A horde means a large group of people .
      "Hordes of people turned up to see the event."

  • imply/infer 
    • To imply means to suggest something without saying anything explicit.
      "He implied that the man was dishonest without giving any reason."

      To infer means to deduce from evidence and reasoning.
      "From the facts provided we can infer that the man is dishonest."

  • lessen/lesson 
    • To lessen means to decrease, diminish or reduce.
      "The new measures are intended to lessen the risk of fires."

      A lesson is something that is taught or that you learn.
      "Max is taking driving lessons. "

  • loathe/loath 
    • To loathe means to detest or dislike intensely.
      "She loathes spiders ...in fact, insects of all sorts!"

      Loath is an adjective meaning reluctant or unwilling
      "He was loath to admit that he had failed the exam."

  • lose/loose 
    • Lose is a verb. If you lose something you no longer have it.
      "Put the address in your wallet so that you don't lose it."

      Loose is an adjective meaning not tightly fitted or unattached.
      "I have a loose tooth. I need to go to see the dentist."
      "There were two loose horses in the field."

  • made of /made from 
    • We use made of when the material used doesn’t change.
      "The wall is made of stones." (They are still stones.)

      We use made from when the material is transformed into something else.
      Wine is made from grapes. (They are no longer grapes.)

  • maybe /may be 
    • Maybe is an adverb which means 'perhaps' or 'possibly'.
      "Maybe the book I ordered will arrive today. "

      May be: ‘May’ is a modal verb and ‘be’ is the main verb.
      'May be' means 'it could happen' or 'it might exist'.
      "Be careful driving. There may be ice on the road."

  • meeting /reunion 
    • A meeting is when people get together, or meet, usually to talk about a specific topic.

      A reunion is an occasion for people who haven’t seen each other in a long time to see each other again (a family reunion, a school reunion, etc.).


  • migrate/emigrate/immigrate 
    • To migrate means to move from one area/country to another, especially in search of work.
      "Many Americans migrated to the west during the gold rush."
      "Several species of birds migrate in winter."

      To emigrate means to leave one’s country to settle permanently in a foreign country.
      "They decided to emigrate to Australia to have a better life."

      To immigrate means to come to a country to settle there permanently.
      "Ellis Island was the gateway for immigrants to the USA."

  • peak/peek/pique 
    • A peak is a pointed top or pinnacle.
      "Whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks."

      To peek means to peer through or look furtively.
      "The children peeked out the window to watch the guests arriving."

      A fit of pique is a fit of resentment or anger, a feeling of wounded vanity.
      "She stamped out of the room in a fit of pique."

  • pedal/peddle 
    • A pedal is a foot-operated lever, as on a bicycle or a piano.
      "One of the pedals came off her bike, so she had to walk home."

      To peddle means to sell goods in small amounts, going from place to place.
      "Nowadays she’s peddling miracle lotions on the internet."

  • pore/pour 
    • To pour over something means to study closely.
      "The architect pored over the plans all morning."

      To pour means to cause to flow.
      "The waiter poured water into the glasses."

  • practice/practise
    • Practice is a noun.
      "I need more practice to become fluent."

      Practise is a verb.
      "You should practise speaking English every day."

  • precede/proceed
    • Precede means come before or ahead of something.
      "A explosion n the factory preceded the fire."

      Proceed means to continue as planned.
      "The company decided to proceed with the acquisition."

  • principal/principle 
    • Principal means:
      • the first in order of importance.
        "Oil is the principal export of the country."

      • the person in charge of a school or college (UK).
        "Mr. Brown was appointed principal of the new school."

      • The original amount of money invested or lent.
        "She lived on the interest without touching the principal."

      Principle means a standard / a rule of action or conduct.
      "We try to teach our children a set of principles."


  • sceptic/septic 
    • Sceptic (US: skeptic); A sceptic is a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something.
      "People say apples clean your teeth but I’m a bit of a sceptic."

      Septic: To go septic means to become infected with bacteria.
      "She had her ears pierced and one of them went septic."

  • sensitive/sensible 
      Sensitive refers to something physical or emotional :
      • Physical : easily irritated:
        "Eva always buys sun cream for sensitive skins."
      • Emotional : susceptible, easily upset or offended.
        "Alex is very sensitive. Be careful how you announce the news."

      Sensible means having good judgment or common sense.
      Sensible decisions or sensible clothes and shoes are practical.
      • "You must be sensible and lock your door at night."
      • "When you go on a long walk it’s better to wear sensible shoes."

  • sight/site 
    • Sight means the ability to see.
      "My grandmother needs to have her sight tested."

      Site refers to a location or a place.
      "The factory was built on the site of an old warehouse.""

  • some time / sometime / sometimes 
    • Some time means for a while.
      "The witness remained silent for some time."

      Sometime means at some point in the future
      "We should arrange a meeting sometime"

      Sometimes means occasionally.
      ""We sometimes have lunch together."

  • stationary/stationery 
    • Stationary means not moving.
      "The bus has been stationary for the last half-hour."

      Stationery means writing materials.
      "Do you know where I can buy stationery?"

  • there/their/they're 
    • There is the opposite of 'here'. It means in that place, not here.
      "Where is my pen? It's there on the table."

      Their is a possessive adjective just like 'my' 'your' 'his/her/its' 'our'.
      "Their car is red. My car is blue.""

      They're is a contraction of they are.
      "They're beautiful = They are beautiful."

  • threw/through/thorough 
    • Threw is the past tense of the verb throw.
      "Jack threw the ball to Jill."

      Through means from one side of something to the other.
      "You can go through the park to get to the station."

      Thorough means complete, with nothing neglected.
      "The police conducted a thorough search."

  • to/too 
    • To is a preposition.
      "He listened to the radio."

      Too means as well.
      "Alex went to the party too."

  • waste/waist 
    • Waste means to not use something well or to use it to no good purpose.
      "The meeting was a complete waste of time."

      Waist refers to the part of the body between the ribs and the hips..
      "This skirt is too loose around my waist."



Please note that British English spelling is used on this website.

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