The 5 Most Commonly Confused Word Pairs in English
You’re at a fun beach gathering with friends, eating great food and enjoying the summer sun.
“This is so funny!” you say happily.
“Why? What’s so funny?” a friend asks, confused.
Huh? Isn’t he having a good time, too?
He sure is, but in English you’d actually say “This is so fun!”
There are several words describing how we feel that are easily mixed up by English learners, so we’re going to look closely at ten of these words.
Make sure you understand these little differences in the five confusing word pairs. Then you can tell your friends how you actually feel and communicate well with others!
5 Most Commonly Confused Word Pairs in English
1. Fun vs. Funny
A common mistake among English learners from many different languages is not using “fun” and “funny” correctly. Both of these words can be used as adjectives and have similar meanings, but they’re still different.
Fun (adjective or noun)
We use fun to describe someone or something enjoyable, or a good time.
- The party last night was fun. I danced a lot and made new friends.
- I love biking, I think it’s a fun sport.
- I had a great time at the concert. It was a really fun time.
Note on usage: If using “fun” as a noun, use it with the verb “to have.” For example, “I had fun at the party last night.” This is especially useful if you want to focus on the fact that the subject (such as you or your friends) enjoys something, not just that the activity/event is enjoyable.
Funny, on the other hand, describes someone or something that makes you laugh.
- My brother is very funny. He tells the best jokes.
- The movie was so funny; I laughed so much!
- Chris Rock is a funny actor.
Of course, sometimes things and people can be funny and fun at the same time. For example, my best friend is fun and funny. She’s fun because we always do activities we both love and enjoy. She’s funny because she makes me laugh when we spend time together.
So then, is going to the park fun or funny?
If you said fun, then you were correct! Way to go!
2. Bored vs. Boring
Have you ever yawned and said “I’m boring”? If so, the people around you may have giggled a little. Why? Because you should have said “I’m bored.”
So, what’s the difference then? I’m glad you asked:
You should say bored when you want to describe that you or someone else is tired or unhappy because they are uninterested in something or have nothing to do.
- Mary is always bored in math class. She thinks the subject isn’t interesting.
- I play English-learning games on my phone when I’m bored.
- My kids get bored on long flights. They need games and movies to keep them entertained.
Think of boring as the opposite of interesting. It can be used to describe the things that make us bored, things that are not interesting.
- Mary thinks math is boring. She thinks the subject isn’t interesting.
- Waiting for the train is boring, so sometimes I play games on my phone to pass the time.
- My kids say long flights are boring, but watching movies makes them more entertaining.
Basically, boring things make people bored.
I’m sure you’re a very interesting person, so next time you’re sitting around with nothing to do, tell your friends “I’m bored,” instead.
3. Tired vs. Tiring
It’s late at night. You’re yawning. You want to go to sleep. So, do you tell your friend “I’m tired” or “I’m tiring”?
Here’s another scene: You just finished a bike ride. It was difficult and now you want to rest. Do you tell your friend “the bike ride was tired” or “the bike ride was tiring”?
In the first example, use tired, because you want to sleep. In the second, use tiring, because riding bikes was exhausting.
Like bored/boring, the -ed here describes how you feel, whereas the -ing describes the thing that’s making you feel that way. We’ll take a closer look at each word now, don’t worry.
Use this to describe how you feel when you’re sleepy or feel fatigued.
- It’s 2 in the morning. I’m tired and want to sleep.
- I just finished running five miles. I’m really tired now!
- You must be tired after studying English for so long.
Tiring, on the other hand, is used to describe the activity or thing that is making you feel tired, exhausted or fatigued.
This means the structure will usually be: [activity/thing] + [is/are] + [tiring].
- Children, especially babies, are tiring. They demand so much attention!
- Running for five miles is tiring. I need to drink water and rest after I run.
- I find studying for too long tiring, so I try to study for a little bit every day.
Are you tired yet? I hope not, because we have more!
4. Alone vs. Lonely
For many cultures, being alone—with no friends or family or other people—is lonely.
To understand the difference between alone and lonely, you first need to know that for most English speakers, this is not true.
Sometimes, we enjoy being alone (by ourselves). So what exactly is the difference?
Alone (adjective or adverb)
This word means “without other people” or “on your own.”
- I don’t have any roommates. I live alone.
- She doesn’t like shopping with my friends. She prefers to go shopping alone and take her time.
- I can learn English alone, without a teacher or class!
This is a feeling we have when we are unhappy or sad because we aren’t with people.
- When my boyfriend travels and I stay at home, I feel lonely.
- She is lonely because all of her friends are too busy to go out tonight.
- My grandma was very lonely after my grandpa died.
5. Scared vs. Scary
When we speak, these two words sound almost the same. They also mean almost the same thing—almost. We use them when we are talking about things that scare or frighten us, things that make us afraid.
However, we do not use them in the same way. As always, we have explanations and clear examples below:
This word describes the feeling you have when something scares or frightens you, or you are worried or anxious.
- I don’t want to go swimming because I am scared. The waves are really big!
- My mom is scared of snakes. She screams every time she sees one.
- We get really scared when we watch horror films, like “Paranormal Activity.”
Note: “Scared” is also the past tense of the verb “to scare.”
You never use scary to describe how you or someone else feels. Rather, use scary to describe the thing that causes fear or terror—what makes you scared.
- The waves in the ocean are big and scary. I don’t want to go swimming today.
- My mom thinks snakes are scary because they bite people.
- We love watching horror films because they’re scary. Our favorite is “Paranormal Activity.”
Did that scare you? Yes? Then you could say that you were scared and the “BOO” was scary.
However, if you’re still scared that you won’t remember the difference in a truly scary situation, don’t. An easy way to remember which word to use is by memorizing the short phrase, “I’m scared of scary things, but I’m not scary.”
All right, how do you feel now?
After reading all of that, I hope this lesson wasn’t boring. I hope you learned something new and that you don’t think these words are scary anymore. In fact, I hope you thought this lesson was fun, useful and interesting!
As for me, I’m tired. Even though I had a lot of fun explaining these common English vocabulary mix-ups, writing this list was tiring and it’s time for me to say goodbye. Until next time!