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Confusing Words in English: 49 English Word Pairs That Confuse Even Native Speakers

We all know English is a crazy language.

Lots of different words share the same spellings and pronunciations.

Some of these words are confusing even for native speakers, especially in writing.

To help you out, we’ve created this list. On it, you’ll find some pairs of similar sounding English words that confuse people all the time.

Contents

49 English Word Pairs That Can Puzzle Even Native Speakers

1. Accept and Except

Accept means to agree to take something that is offered. You probably see this word all the time when you visit websites or sign contracts ( “I accept the terms and conditions.” ).

I accept that this bad thing has happened.

Except means that the word after “except” is not included in a group. Often (but not always), “except” is written as “except for.

Everyone is going to the park except for Sarah.

2. Advice and Advise

Advice, with an “s” sound, is a noun that means words meant to help someone.

My father gave me one piece of advice: “Always be on time.”

Advise, with a “z” sound, is a verb. It refers to the act of giving advice.

She advised me to invest my money more carefully.

3. Affect and Effect

Affect is a verb that refers to how particular actions will cause certain results or consequences.

I’m worried that your lazy habits will affect your studies.

Effect is a noun that refers to the results or consequences of particular actions.

Before you start an argument with your boss, consider the effects of your actions.

4. Aid and Aide

Aid is a noun that means help or assistance.

The Red Cross provides aid to disaster victims.

Aide is a person who assists or helps. They typically work for people who are considered important.

The president’s aide handed him important documents.

5. Aisle and Isle

Aisle means a passage between rows of seats in a building, like in a church or a theater.

Someday, I will walk down a church aisle and get married.

Isle means a small island.

We visited a beautiful isle during our vacation.

6. Allude and Elude

“Allude” and “elude” sound the same when you’re saying them fast. But when you’re saying them slowly, the first syllable of “allude” has an “ah” sound, while the first syllable of “elude” has an “eh” sound.

Allude means to mention something indirectly or briefly.

She alluded to her favorite book in the conversation.

Elude means to escape or avoid, usually in a skillful or clever way.

The clever fox was able to elude the hunters.

7. Altar and Alter

Altar is a noun that refers to the table used in religious ceremonies.

The priest delivered his sermon with the church altar behind him.

Alter is a verb that means to change or modify.

She decided to alter her dress so it would fit her better.

8. Bear and Bare

Bear is a verb that has several possible meanings. It can mean to hold up or support a heavy weight, and to suffer or endure difficulties. It can also be a noun that refers to the big, hairy animal that lives in forests!

I cannot bear to see my son in pain. (verb)

That chair is too old to bear your weight. (verb)

Getting between a mother bear and its cub is dangerous. (noun)

Bare, meanwhile, can be an adjective that means naked or uncovered, or a verb which means to uncover or reveal.

Visitors to the temple must not have bare arms or legs, so wear long pants and a jacket. (adjective)

I bared my arm to show them my new tattoo. (verb)

9. Break and Brake

Break is a verb that means to separate into pieces or to interrupt.

Be careful not to break the vase.

Brake is a noun that refers to a mechanism used to stop or slow down a vehicle.

To stop the car, press your foot on the brake pedal.

10. Breach and Breech

Breach can be a noun that refers to a gap. It can also be a verb that refers to the act of breaking something.

There was a breach in the company’s security system. (noun)

The invading army breached the walls of the city. (verb)

Breech refers to the part behind a gun barrel.

He carefully cleaned and inspected the breech of his gun.

11. Breathe and Breath

Breathe is a verb that means to  inhale (take in) and  exhale (let out) air.

Breathe deeply and relax.

Breath is a noun that refers to a single inhalation (act of taking in air) or  exhalation (act of letting out air).

He took a breath before speaking.

12. Canvas and Canvass

Canvas is a noun that refers to the heavy fabric used for painting or making sails.

She painted a beautiful picture on the canvas.

Canvass is a verb that means to  solicit (seek) opinions or votes.

Volunteers went door to door to canvass support for the candidate.

13. Capital and Capitol

Capital refers to the city that usually serves as the center of government of a country.

Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States.

Capitol, on the other hand, refers to the building where a  legislative body (group of people who make laws) meets.

The lawmakers gathered at the capitol to discuss new laws.

14. Censor and Censure

Censor is a verb that means to examine and remove inappropriate material (like those that contain scenes with violence, sex or offensive language). It can also be a noun that refers to the organization or group doing the censoring.

The movie was censored to make it suitable for all audiences. (verb)

The censor approved the novel for publication, even though it contained statements that are offensive to minority groups. (noun)

Censure can also be a verb and noun. The verb is the act of expressing disapproval or criticism, while the noun is the disapproval or criticism itself.

The star employee was censured when the board of directors found out he was using company funds illegally. (verb)

The politician faced strong censure for his remarks against minority groups. (noun)

15. Cite and Site

Cite is a verb that means to quote or mention as evidence or example. If you are at school, you’re probably encouraged to do this to avoid plagiarism (copying other people’s words or ideas in a way that violates rights or laws).

You should always cite your sources in your essays.

Site is a noun that refers to a location or place.

The construction site is noisy during the day.

16. Compliment and Complement

Compliment can be a verb and a noun. The verb refers to the act of saying nice things to someone, while the noun refers to the nice things being said.

complimented my sister on her delicious cooking. (verb)

I gave my sister a compliment on her delicious cooking. (noun)

Complement is a verb that talks about two things that go well together or complete each other. This word is often used in food and fashion to describe matching styles or ingredients.

My blue tie really complements my white shirt.

That wine complements the meat dish well.

17. Desert and Dessert

Desert can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it refers to a hot, sandy area, and is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable. As a verb, it refers to the act of leaving something (like military service), and is pronounced with the stress on the second syllable.

I felt thirsty after traveling through the desert for a long time. (noun)

To desert the army during wartime is a serious offense. (verb)

Dessert, on the other hand, is always a noun. It refers to the (usually sweet) food you eat after a main course or meal.

We had fresh fruits for dessert.

18. Device and Devise

Device is a noun that refers to a tool, gadget or machine. It is pronounced with an “s” sound.

His smartphone is a useful device for communication.

Devise is a verb that means to plan, create or invent. It is pronounced with a “z” sound.

She was able to devise a clever solution to the problem.

19. Discreet and Discrete

Discreet is an adjective that means to show caution or care about what is being said or done.

She was discreet when sharing her private information.

Discrete means separate or distinct.

The book is divided into discrete chapters.

20. Disinterested and Uninterested

Disinterested means impartial, objective or not taking a side in an argument.

Often, a stranger can make a disinterested and fair decision more easily than a family member.

Uninterested, on the other hand, means not interested or bored.

The children wanted to play outside and were very uninterested in doing any studying.

21. Dual and Duel

Dual is an adjective that refers to having two parts.

The car has dual exhaust pipes.

Duel is a noun that refers to a formal fight between two people.

In the old days, people would engage in duels to settle arguments.

22. Elicit and Illicit

Elicit is a verb that means to draw out a reaction or information.

The teacher tried to elicit answers from the shy student.

Illicit is an adjective that means illegal, forbidden or against the law.

He was involved in illicit activities and got into trouble with the law.

23. Flare and Flair

Flare is a sudden burst of light or fire. When it’s used in the phrase flare up,” , it means something that suddenly appears and gets more intense or worse (like a disease).

The fireworks produced a colorful flare in the sky.

Breathing the city smoke caused Andrew’s asthma to flare up.

Her temper flared up after what he said.

Flair means a natural talent or  distinctive (unique or different) style.

My sister has a flair for interior design.

24. Forth and Fourth

Forth is an adverb that means to go forward.

He stepped forth to accept the award.

Fourth is the number or position that follows “third.”

The fourth book in the popular fantasy series was just released.

25. Further and Farther

Further, with fur, is used for more abstract situations.

The professor told us: “If you have any further questions, you can ask me at the end.”

Farther, with far, is used when talking about physical distance.

How much farther until we reach our destination?

26. Gorilla and Guerrilla

Gorilla refers to a large and powerful ape.

The gorilla at the zoo was very strong.

Guerrilla refers to a member of a military force that is smaller and less organized than the ones run by governments.

The guerrilla group was made up of ordinary citizens who chose to fight.

27. Hanged and Hung

Hung is the past tense of the verb “hang,” most of the time.

I hung the painting on the wall.

Hanged is also the past tense of “hang,” but it has a very different meaning. It means to execute a criminal by hanging them with a rope.

The judge sentenced the murderer to be hanged.

28. Hear and Here

Hear is a verb that means to perceive sound with the ears.

Can you hear the birds singing outside?

Here is an adverb that refers to a location close to the speaker.

Come here and sit next to me.

29. It’s and Its

It’s is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.”

It’s a sunny day outside.

Its is a possessive pronoun that  indicates (shows) something belongs to “it.”

The dog wagged its tail happily.

30. Lay and Lie

Lay means to put something down in a horizontal position. It can also mean to produce eggs.

Please lay the blankets on the bed.

They wanted the chicken to lay a lot of eggs, but it didn’t.

Lie means to recline or be in a resting position. It can also be a verb that means to tell something that is not the truth, or a noun that means the act of not telling the truth.

I want to lie down and take a nap. (verb)

Please do not lie to me. (verb)

The boy told one lie after the other. (noun)

31. Lightening and Lightning

Lightening is a verb that means to make something lighter in color or weight.

She’s lightening her hair for the summer.

Thank you for lightening my load for me.

Lightning is a noun that refers to the bright flash of light you see during a thunderstorm.

The thunderstorm was accompanied by brilliant lightning.

32. Lose and Loose

Lose, pronounced with a “z” sound, is a verb that means to not have something anymore, to be unable to find something or to not win.

I don’t want my football team to lose the game.

She will lose her money if she gambles with it.

Loose, with an “s” sound, is an adjective that means free, unattached or not tight. It’s also a verb meaning to untie or let go of something.

The door handle fell off because it was too loose.

A loose sweater feels very comfortable.

33. Mantel and Mantle

Mantel refers to the shelf above a fireplace.

The family photos are displayed on the mantel.

Mantle refers to a cloak or a covering.

The man wore a mantle made of fur.

34. Moral and Morale

Moral can be a noun that refers to a lesson on right and wrong, or an adjective that means showing good conduct.

The story teaches an important moral. (noun)

He is proud of being a very moral person. (adjective)

Morale is a noun refers to the emotional or mental state of a group of people.

The team’s morale was high after winning the championship.

35. Palate and Palette

Palate can refer to the roof of the mouth or a person’s taste in food.

I had my palate checked by the dentist, and it turned out it was infected.

Her sophisticated palate enjoys a variety of flavors.

Palette is a flat surface used for mixing or holding paints.

The artist mixed colors on his palette.

36. Peek and Peak

Peek is a verb that means to glance quickly or secretly.

She took a quick peek through the window.

Peak is a noun that refers to the highest point of something.

The mountain’s peak is covered in snow.

37. Pedal and Peddle

Pedal is a noun that refers to the lever operated by foot in vehicles.

Press your foot down on the gas pedal to make the car move.

Peddle is a verb that means to sell goods or services.

He tries to peddle his handmade crafts at the market.

38. Principle and Principal

Principle is a  fundamental (basic) belief or rule.

Honesty is an important principle to live by.

Principal can refer to the head of a school or a main amount of money.

The principal of the school greeted the students in the morning.

My mother, who is good with money, told me that I should keep the principal of my investment safe as much as possible.

39. Rein and Reign

Rein can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it means the strap used to control a horse. As a verb, it means to restrain or control something, and usually appears in the phrase rein in.”

Hold the reins firmly while riding the horse. (noun)

They could not rein in their rebellious son, so he got into a lot of trouble. (verb)

Reign can also be a noun or verb. It can refer to the rule or authority of a monarch or the act of ruling by that monarch.

The king’s reign brought stability to the kingdom. (noun)

The cruel king reigned over his people in a way that made them fear him but not respect him. (verb)

40. Resign and Re-sign

Resign, without the hyphen, means to quit your job and the “s” is pronounced like a “z.”

My boss did not want to increase my salary so I decided to resign.

Re-sign, with the hyphen, means to sign a contract again. In re-sign, the “s” is pronounced as an “s,” and you put stress on the first syllable.

I love my current job, so I happily re-signed for another year.

41. Stationary and Stationery

Stationary is an adjective that means not moving or fixed in one place.

The car remained stationary near the traffic light.

Stationery refers to writing materials like paper and pens.

I bought some new stationery for writing letters.

42. Tail and Tale

Tail can be both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it refers to the thing that extends out of the rear end of some animals’ bodies. As a verb, it means to follow something or someone.

A lizard has the ability to cut off its own tail when it is in danger. (noun)

The detective tailed the person his client asked him to follow. (verb)

Tale is a noun that refers to a story.

She told an interesting tale about her adventures.

43. Aloud and Allowed

Aloud is an adverb that means orally and not silently.

Allowed is the past tense of the verb allow, which means to give permission for something.

The student was allowed by the teacher to read his poem aloud to the class.

44. Right and Write

One definition of right is that something is correct.

If someone asks you a question, you will try to give the right answer. 

Right can also refer to a direction or location—it is the opposite of left. If you are facing north and you turn east, you are facing to the right.

Take a pencil from the cabinet on your right. 

By contrast, write means to inscribe or compose.

Write the essay again, and this time use the right words!

45. Die and Dye

Die means to cease to live.

Their cat is sick and might die soon.

Dye is to change the color of something using paint or chemicals.

If you dye my hair the wrong color, I will just die!

46. Than and Then

Than is used in comparisons where one thing has more/less of a quality than the other. When used in the phrase “other than,” it becomes a preposition that means “except.”

She is taller than her brother.

Other than you, I do not see anyone in this room. (preposition)

Then, on the other hand,  is an adverb that indicates a specific time or consequence.

Finish your homework, and then you can play.

47. Their , There and They’re

Their is a possessive pronoun. It indicates that something belongs to a person or group other than you, the person you are talking to and the group you belong to.

John and Jane brought their dog to the park.

There is an adverb that refers to a location that is far from the speaker.

The park is over there, by the trees.

They’re is a contraction of “They are.”

They’re not going to be happy once they find out what their son did.

48. To and Too

To can be a preposition or part of the infinitive verb form. As a preposition, it indicates a direction that something or someone is going toward. As part of the infinitive verb form, it is written as “to + verb.”

She walked to the store. (preposition)

She walked to the store to buy some groceries. (part of the infinitive phrase “to buy”)

Too is an adverb that has two meanings. It can mean having more of something than is necessary or “also.”

He is far too nice for his own good.

My daughter wanted ice cream, too.

49. Your and You’re

Your is a possessive pronoun. It means something belongs to the person you are talking to.

Is this your phone?

You’re is a contraction of “you are.”

You’re not going to believe what I’m about to say!

Know the differences and don’t get confused

English words like these can be very confusing, can’t they?

Fortunately, knowing their differences makes it easier to avoid making mistakes. When you’re speaking English, most people won’t notice if you mix up these similar sounding words. In fact, native speakers do it all time. But when you’re writing, you should look out for these words and be careful that you’re using the correct one.

Remember to double check your spelling and think about the situation you’re in. Did you say something nice to someone? That was a compliment, not complement. Are you resigning from your job, or are you re-signing? Being aware of the differences in context can help you avoid any mistakes. Context (along with practice) is key!

Certain language learning programs can help with context-based practice. One example is FluentU.

 

Constant exposure really is the best way to master these words. Once you’re confident with them, feel free to show off your knowledge to the native speakers who still fall for these words’ tricks!

And One More Thing...

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:

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If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.

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FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:

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FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

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FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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