In our learning English journey we sometimes face the dilemma of which word to use. Was the guy fun or was he funny? Is it they’re house or their house? There are many words in English that tend to be mistaken for something else. Let’s take a look at some of the pairs that trouble us the most.

  • fun vs. funny

Apart from being a noun, ’fun’ is also used as an adjective in informal language, meaning ’enjoyable, entertaining’ (a fun activity). On the other hand, if something is ’funny’ it is amusing and makes us laugh. (a funny show)

  • elect vs. select

Elect means ’choose by voting’ while ’select’ is a more general word meaning ’choose’.

  • every day vs. everyday

Every day (noun+adjective) is self-explanatory (She works every day.) while ’everyday’ is an adjective that needs a noun (everyday chores)

  • open vs. opened

’Open’ means ’not closed’ while ’opened’ is the past form of the verb ’open. (The shop is open. / She opened the shop.)

  • person vs. people

When we need to use the plural form of ’person’ we will use ’people’ because ’persons’ is a very formal word used in the context of law.

  • ill vs. sick

While both words mean the same, ’sick’ is less formal and refers to a short-termed disease, while ’ill’ is usually used for long-termed or more serious diseases. In British English, ’sick’ also means ’to vomit’.

  • quiet vs. quite

Quiet means ’silent’ while ’quite’ means ’a little, but not entirely’ (quite good).

  • percent vs. percentage

Percent is always used with a number, while percentage is a more general   word that isn’t used with numbers.

  • childlike vs. childish

’Childlike’ is a positive adjective that refers to virtues typical of children (’childlike spirit’) while ’childish’ is negative and refers to being immature.

  •  altogether vs. all together

’Altogether’ means ’completely’ while ’all together’ means ’everyone/everything together’.

  •  rob vs. steal

While both of the words mean the same, ’rob’ refers to the person or place from which something was taken (The bank was robbed.) while ’steal’ refers to the thing that was taken (The jewelry was stolen.) For houses we use the verb ’burgle’(The house was burgled.)

  •  affect vs.effect 

’Affect’ is a verb meaning ’influence’, while ’effect’ is a noun that means ’the result of an influence’

  • breathe vs. breath

Pronounced differently, ’breathe’  /briːð/ is a verb, while ’breath’ /breθ/ is a noun.

  •  they’re vs. their

In this pair that often gets mixed up in writing,’they’re’ means ’they are’, while ’their’ implies that ’something belongs to them’.A tip here is to remember that an apostrophe means a letter is missing – they’re=they are.

  •  grateful vs. thankful

’Grateful’ is used to show appreciation for someone’s kindness and is often used in emails and thank-you cards while ’thankful’ shows relief because something bad didn’t happen.

  • emigrate vs. immigrate

When a person ’emigrates’ to another country it emphasizes they have left their own country (He emigrated from Russia.), while ’immigrate’ is used with the country a person has moved to. (He immigrated to Canada.)
Stay tuned for part 2 of the word pairs that confuse us the most!


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