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It's time to remember: 13 pairs of English words that Russian speakers confuse

It seems that for successful communication in English, it is enough to master grammar, memorize a lot of words and learn to understand speech by ear. But very often all successes are spoiled by similar words. It's time to remember them once and for all, writes

Desert - "desert", dessert - "dessert". Photo: Shutterstock

1. On time & in time

Subtle prepositions in these phrases cause a lot of inconvenience not only for beginners. Especially due to the fact that both expressions can be translated into Russian as "on time". But on time - when something happens at the scheduled time, on schedule, and in time - when something happens at the best time for this, before some action or moment so that everything goes well.


  • The train was on time. - "The train arrived on time (on schedule)."
  • I need to get home in time to take a shower before the party. "I need to get home on time (at some convenient time) to shower before the party."

2. Gold & golden

Gold can be both a noun and an adjective, while golden can only be an adjective. Both words can mean something made of gold, and golden is also golden in color, in a figurative sense.


  • She has beautiful gold / golden ring. "She has a lovely gold (made of gold) ring."
  • This place is famous by its golden beaches. "This place is known for its golden (gold-colored) beaches."

3. Hard & hardly

You can stop confusing these two words if you remember that hard contains 2 parts of speech at once: this is both “hard / difficult” and “hard / difficult” depending on the context. It can be confusing that many adjectives are converted to adverbs with the -ly ending, but hardly is a completely different word that means hardly, almost not.


  • That's a very hard question. - "That's a very difficult question".
  • The movie had hardly started when he left. "He left as soon as the movie started."

4. Tell & say

It is confusing that both verbs are associated with conversation, with communication. But say is someone's remark, the very fact of a statement, and tell is a full-fledged "story, narration." It is important to remember that tell is the transmission of information to someone, so a verb is often followed by a pronoun.


  • Say something about it! - "Say something about it."
  • Tell me about it! - "Tell me about it".

5. Recipe & receipt

Which word refers to cooking and which to spending money? The T at the end of the receipt may be confusing, reminding the Russian "recipe", but this is a snag, and receipt [rɪˈsiːt] is a "cashier's receipt" or "bill" at a restaurant. But recipe [ˈrɛsɪpi] translates as “recipe”.


  • You have to follow the recipe to cook this dish. "To make this dish, you must follow the recipe."
  • Here is your receipt, sir. "Here's your bill, sir."

On the subject: Speak like an American: what idioms and turnovers will help to become “yours” in the USA

6. Study & learn

Sometimes these verbs are used interchangeably, but if they are close in meaning, then why make 2 separate words? Study means "to delve into study, research, analyze, comprehend, read literature on the topic." Therefore, “studying at the university” is a study. And learn is a more general word about skills, about the fact of learning itself, as well as the result: learned / not learned.


  • Learning Russian is easy but I don't like studying new words and vocabulary. - "Learning Russian is easy, but I don't like to learn (memorize) new words and expressions."

7. Chips & crisps

This is where the differences between British and American English are misleading. If you are in England, then chips are “french fries”, if in America they are “chips”, which, in turn, sound like crisps to the British.


  • A packet of salt and vinegar crisps. (UK) - "Packing of chips with salt and vinegar."
  • Fish and chips. (UK) - "French fries with fish".
  • I want some chips with sour cream and onion. (US) - "I want some chips with sour cream and onions."

8. Advise & advice

You need to be careful, because one letter here changes the part of speech. Advise is the verb to advise, and advice is a noun derived from it. Try to remember this: where at the end of C, there is the noun "advice".


  • John gave me some good advice. “John gave me good advice. (Note, advice has no plural!)
  • I think I'd advise him to stay at the company. “I’ll probably advise him to stay with the company.”

9. Chief & chef

The hardest part is that these 2 words are close in meaning. One of them, chief, is "chief, main" or "leader, commander", and chef is "chief cook, chef." Here you need to watch out for the context and the letter I.


  • The chief problem I have is lack of confidence. - “My main / main problem is lack of self-confidence”.
  • He is one of the top chefs in Russia. - "He is one of the best chefs in Russia."

10. Do & make

Both words can be translated into Russian as "to do", but there are important nuances. Do means "to perform some action", it is closest to the Russian translation, and make means "to create something from scratch" or "operate with objects and non-material concepts."


  • There isn't much I can do about it. "There is not much you can do about it."
  • She makes chocolate cakes. "She bakes (creates) chocolate cakes."

On the subject: 40 most common mistakes in English that Russian speakers make

11. Desert & dessert

These two words have more differences than meets the eye. In addition to doubling S, you need to monitor the pronunciation: in the word desert, the stress is on the 1st syllable, and this is “desert”, but in dessert, the stress is on the 2nd syllable, and this is “dessert”.


  • It is so hot in the desert! - "It's so hot in the desert!"
  • What would you like for dessert? - "What do you want for dessert?"

12. Sometimes & sometime

Not only beginners to learn English can use one of these words instead of the other, forgetting their semantic differences. Sometimes - "sometimes", "infrequently", and sometime - some point in time. If you want to evasively respond to someone's proposal, say sometime - "sometime".


  • She cooks sometimes. “She cooks sometimes.”
  • We should meet sometime soon to discuss the detail. “We need to meet sometime to discuss the details.”

13. Clean & clear

Again the difference is in one letter - and the meaning changes significantly. Clean - "clean, not dirty, without stains." From this word, the names of all cleaning products such as Kleenex are formed. Clear - "transparent, clear, understandable for understanding, hearing or seeing."


  • The kitchen was absolutely clean. "The kitchen was completely clean."
  • It became clear, that she doesn't understand me. “It became clear that she did not understand me.”

Bonus: quite & quit & quiet

These words can confuse anyone. Pay close attention to the letter E: if it is not there, then this word is quit [kwɪt] - a verb that means "stop doing something", "quit", "leave." If E is at the very end, then it is quite [kwaɪt] - "quite enough", "quite". And if in a different position, then quiet ['kwaɪət] - the adjective "quiet", "silent".


  • The two colors are quite different. "These two colors are quite different."
  • I don't know why he quit his job. "I don't know why he left work."
  • This is very quiet neighborhood. "It's a very quiet area."

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