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Words that even native English speakers confuse: how to understand and remember

It doesn't matter what level you have. In these words, everyone makes mistakes, notes Lifehacker.

Photo: Shutterstock

1. Lay and lie

It is the pearl of all grammatical mistakes. And all because the words are similar in meaning and sound. But still there are nuances. To lie is translated as "to lie", "to be located", "to lie down".

  • I love to lie down in front of the fire and read - I like to lie near the fireplace with a book.
  • But lie is an irregular verb, in the past tense it turns into lay.
  • The town lay in ruins - The town lay in ruins.

And this form is written and pronounced in the same way as an independent verb to lay. The main meaning of which is "to put".

  • She laid the baby on the bed - She laid the baby on the bed.

In a word, the confusion, of course, is utter, but if you look deeply into it and remember it once, it will be much easier to avoid mistakes.

2. Continual and continuous

These words can be called paronyms: they are spelled almost the same, but differ in meaning. Continual applies to repeated actions or events.

  • I'm sorry, I can't work with these continual interruptions - Sorry, but I can't work like that, I'm constantly interrupted.
  • Continuous, on the other hand, is about something that lasts continuously.
  • He spoke continuously for more than two hours - He spoke without stopping for more than two hours.

3. Envy and jealous

Even philologists cannot always explain the difference between these words clearly. Dictionaries say that jealous is primarily about jealousy.

  • In a moment of jealous frenzy, she cut the sleeves off all his shirts - In a fit of jealousy, she shredded the sleeves of his shirts.

But the word also has a second meaning: "annoyance that someone has what you yourself would like." In other words, envy. The second word, envy, is also translated as “envy”.

  • He had always been very jealous of his brother's success - He was always very jealous of his brother's success.
  • Some of his colleagues envy the enormous wealth that he has amassed - Some of his colleagues envy his enormous wealth.

So what's the difference? Linguists admit that if we are talking about envy, not jealousy, the differences have practically disappeared, and the two words can be considered synonymous. Although earlier jealous meant a more serious, terrible and dramatic degree of envy.

On the subject: Better than 'very good': how to expressively replace hackneyed English words

4. Fewer and less

Less is used when we talk about something abstract and uncountable, or we don't mention the exact amount.

  • I eat less chocolate and fewer biscuits than I used to - I eat less chocolate and fewer biscuits than usual.
  • We must try to spend less money - We must try to spend less money.
  • Few and fewer can be safely used when talking about specific numbers or something that can be accurately calculated.
  • Fewer than 3,500 tigers are left in the wild today - No more than three and a half thousand tigers live in the wild today.
  • We received far fewer complaints than expected - We received far fewer complaints than expected.

5. Disinterested and uninterested

It seems that both prefixes - dis- and un- - denote negation. And if so, then the meaning of the words is the same. But no. Disinterested translates to impartial.

  • A disinterested observer / judgment

If we are talking about disinterest and indifference, it would be more correct to use the option uninterested.

  • He's completely uninterested in sports - He's completely uninterested in sports.

True, not all linguists are united on this issue. The compilers of the Merriam ‑ Webster dictionary, for example, consider these words to be synonyms.

6. Anxious and excited

In Russian, the word “worry” can be used not only in the negative (“I'm terribly worried about you!”), But also in a positive way (“I was so excited when I received your letter!”). Perhaps that is why when we speak English, in similar cases we try to use anxious. But this word translates as "alarmed, worried, nervous."

  • It's natural that you should feel anxious when you first leave home - It's natural to be anxious when you first leave home.

If you are happy to see your friends, telling them that you are anxious to see them would be wrong. Excited is more appropriate here. By the way, the word anxious is also appropriate if we are impatient to do something or we are striving for something very much.

  • I'm anxious to get home to open my presents - I can't wait to come home as soon as possible and open the presents.

On the subject: A worm in an ear and an elephant in a room: English idioms, ignorance of which can create an awkward situation

7. Affect and effect

To deal with this dilemma, a simple hint can be used. Affect is almost always a verb, effect is a noun. Affect can be translated as "influence, cause, lead to something."

  • Factors that affect sleep include stress and many medical conditions - Causes that affect sleep include stress and various medical conditions.

Effect is, in fact, the effect or the result of some processes or events.

  • I'm suffering from the effects of too little sleep - I'm suffering from the effects of lack of sleep.

8. Among and between

Words are similar in meaning, but still not synonymous. Between translates as "between".

  • A narrow path runs between the two houses - A narrow path runs between the two houses.
  • The shop is closed for lunch between 12.30 and 1.30 - The shop is closed for lunch from half past twelve to half past one.

Among rather means "among", "one of".

  • The decision will not be popular among students - This decision will not be popular among students.
  • She divided the cake among the children - She divided the cake between the children.

If we are talking about specific people or objects, it is more appropriate to speak between, and if it is about indefinite or generalized - among.

9. Assure and ensure

It is clear that in both cases we are talking about faith, trust or assurances. But since the words sound and spelled almost the same, it's easy to get confused. And here it is important to remember that assure is used when we want to assure or convince someone of something.

  • She assured them, that she would be all right - She assured them that everything would be fine with her.

But ensure is appropriate to use when we ourselves want to make sure of something.

  • Please ensure that all examination papers have your name at the top - Please ensure that your examination papers are signed.

10. Then and than

It is easy to confuse these words, but it is better not to do this, because then the sentence will lose its meaning. Just one letter - and what a difference in meaning! Then is an adverb that translates as "then" and "then".

  • She trained as a teacher and then became a lawyer - She studied to be a teacher, but then became a lawyer.

Than is a preposition, it is used for comparison.

  • It cost less than I expected - It cost less than I thought.

11. Lose and loose

Here, too, almost the same spelling and pronunciation are to blame for everything. The word "loser" is well known even to those who are not very good at English. Therefore, it seems that both lose and loose are about failures and losses. But it is important to remember that lose means “to lose”, “to lose”, “to lose”.

  • I hope he doesn't lose his job - I hope he doesn't lose his job.

And loose translates as "relaxed", "free", "loose".

  • A loose dress / sweater - loose dress / sweater.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York

12. A lot and the lot

Here, in general, the difference is only in the article. But in English, even he can significantly change the meaning of a word. The noun lot together with the indefinite article a translates as "a lot", "a large number".

  • I've got a lot to do this morning - I have a lot to do this morning.

At the same time, the lot is a British colloquial element, which means not just "a lot", but "everything."

  • I made enough curry for three people and he ate the lot - I cooked curry for three, and he ate it all alone.

13. Amount and number

Here the story is similar to fewer and less. Both words refer to quantity, but amount is used when we are talking about something indefinite and uncountable, and number when we are talking about objects or people that can be counted.

  • The project will take a huge amount of time and money - This project will take a huge amount of time and money.
  • A small number of children are educated at home - A small number of children study at home.

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