9 English Word Pairs That Confuse Absolutely Everyone
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.
- 9 English Word Pairs That Can Puzzle Even Native Speakers
- Know the differences and don’t get confused
9 English Word Pairs That Can Puzzle Even Native Speakers
1. Lose and Loose
We spell them differently and we pronounce them differently, but English speakers still use these words incorrectly. Luckily, they’re easy to distinguish.
Lose – pronounced with a “z” sound – is a verb meaning to not have something anymore, to be unable to find something or to not win. You lose your cell phone, or you lose your way while driving somewhere.
- 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 – on the other hand, 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.
Another common mistake people make is with the word loser, meaning a stupid, uncool or unfortunate person. You can say “You’re a loser.” But don’t call someone “a looser.” If you do that, then you’ll be the loser!
2. Resign and Re-sign
This one is a little tougher. These two words have identical spellings – except for the hyphen – and opposite meanings.
Resign — without the hyphen — means to quit your job and the “s” is pronounced like a “z.”
- My boss didn’t want to increase my salary so I decided to resign. This will be my last week of work.
Re-sign — with the hyphen — means to sign a contract again and it usually also means that you’ve decided to stay in your current job! In re-sign, the “s” is pronounced as an “s,” and you emphasize the first syllable.
- I love my current job, so I happily re-signed for another year.
3. Advice and Advise
With these words we have similar spellings, similar meanings and only a slight difference in pronunciation.
Advice — with an “s” sound — is a noun. You can give your friend some advice.
- My father gave me one piece of advice – “Always be on time.”
Advise — with a “z” sound — is a verb. With this word, you can advise your friend. The meaning of the two words is basically the same.
- She advised me to invest my money more carefully.
4. Affect and Effect
Again, with these two words the main difference is grammatical, although they’re pronounced slightly differently. Usually, affect is a verb and effect is a noun, and they’re used when talking about the results or consequences of particular actions.
- I’m worried that your lazy habits will affect your studies (your lazy habits will have a bad effect on your studies).
- Before you start an argument with your boss, consider the effects of your actions (before you start an argument, consider how your actions will affect the situation).
5. Compliment and Complement
Compliment — If someone says to you “I really like your shirt” then they’re complimenting you. In other words, they’re giving you a compliment. As a verb and noun, compliment means saying something nice about someone.
- I complimented my sister on her delicious cooking (verb).
- I gave my sister a compliment on her delicious cooking (noun).
Complement — is when two things go well together, or complete each other. This word is often used in food and in fashion to describe matching styles or ingredients.
- My blue tie really complements my white shirt (my blue tie and white shirt go well together).
- That wine complements the meat dish well.
6. Disinterested and Uninterested
Many native speakers use these two words with the same meaning – bored, or not interested. That’s certainly the meaning of uninterested, but it’s not the meaning of disinterested. The real meaning of disinterested is impartial, objective or not taking a side in an argument. A judge hearing a court case should be disinterested, but definitely not uninterested!
- The children wanted to play outside and were very uninterested in doing any studying.
- Sometimes a stranger can make a disinterested and fair decision more easily than a family member.
These days, many people believe that disinterested can also mean uninterested. But it’s still helpful to know the difference.
7. Bear and Bare
Bear — as a verb — has several meanings, including to hold up or support a heavy weight and to suffer or endure difficulties. We’re not talking about big hairy bears that live in forests.
- Don’t stand on that old chair, it cannot bear your weight.
- I cannot bear to see my son in pain.
Bare, meanwhile, is 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).
8. Further and Farther
These two are very confusing. Further and farther both have the same meaning but are used in different situations. They’re pronounced in a similar way too, but with a difference – fur and far.
Farther — with far — is used when we’re talking about physical distance.
- As a passenger in a car, you can ask the driver “How much farther until we reach our destination?”
- In a race, you can say “She ran farther and faster than him.”
Further — with fur — is used for more abstract situations.
- The human resources representative told me: “If you have any further complaints, please tell me.”
- The professor told us: “If you have any further questions you can ask me at the end.”
In those examples, complaints and questions are not physical things, so you cannot use the word farther. Take one more look at the difference between this two words in context:
If we drive any farther tonight we’ll be too tired to continue driving tomorrow.
We should discuss this topic further before we make a decision.
9. Hanged and Hung
The difference between hanged and hung can be deadly.
Hung is the past of the verb to hang, most of the time.
- I hung the painting on the wall and I hung my clothes on the clothes line.
Hanged is the deadly exception, as it’s the past tense of hang in one very particular situation. Hang can also mean to execute a criminal by hanging them with a rope. In that case, the past tense of hang is hanged.
- The judge sentenced the murderer to be hanged.
- The criminal was hanged in the prison.
Know the differences and don’t get confused
English words like these can be very confusing, can’t they?
Fortunately, knowing the differences makes it easier to avoid making mistakes. Especially 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, which uses authentic English videos equipped with interactive subtitles so you can see which word is being used at the appropriate time. You can click on a word to see its definition and example usages in sentences and other clips, then review spelling and speaking vocabulary with quizzes.
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!
Richard Whitten is a freelance English teacher, editor and writer. He has lived and worked in South Korea since 2010.