Avoid “D”-bate by Understanding the Differences between these English Words

ice cream sunday476490995With more than a few words that sound the same, look the same, or actually are the same – the word “set” along has more than a dozen definitions! – English can certainly be confusing at times. Fortunately, we are here to help you spot some differences between these English words that commonly get mistaken:

Descent / Dissent

These two are as difference as their spelling (and yes, pronunciation!) reveal. Though both are nouns, descent – which is a journey in a downward direction – is pronounced with an “eh” sound of egg in the first syllable. By contrast, dissent – which means disagreement – has the “ih” sound of did. To keep these two words apart, just remember this: “there was a lot of dissent about how we should start the descent down the mountain.”

Desert /Dessert

What a delicious difference a letter can make! Though again both desert and dessert are nouns,* they mean wildly different things. For example, the “single s desert” is a dry, sandy place while the “double s dessert” is the sweat treat after a meal. To help you remember the difference, just think of the second s as the cherry on top of your sundae: it is the little extra that makes all the difference!

* Desert can also be a verb that means “to abandon” as in the following sentence: the traitor deserted his squadron in the middle of the battle.”

Device / Devise

These two words are cousins but don’t let that trip you up. A device (noun) is a tool or machine while to devise (verb) is to plan or create. Moreover, as the spelling of device suggests, it rhymes with “ice” while devise rhymes with “eyes” – a small but crucial difference. To help you remember, just try to “devise a device to make ice” and you will be well on your way!

Want to learn more about other confusing words? Check out our other blog posts on commonly confused words and our Learn English section.


ETS Scandal May Lead To Wider Reforms in UK

exclamation mark462307749Breaking News:

An expose by the BBC investigative news program Panorama has not only shamed the US-based Educational Testing Service (ETS) but also has caused many to call for tighter immigration controls in the UK. The investigative report, which came to light in early February, shows test center employees at two locations in the UK offering undercover reporters a “guaranteed pass fee” of £500. As a result the UK Border Agency has suspended the test in question – the Test of English for International Communication, better know as the TOEIC – as well as another ETS exam – the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

What This Means For You:

As a result, the UK Border Agency has suspended all Tier 4 student visa applicants that are currently in process and used an UK-based, ETS-delivered exam to demonstrate their English proficiency. Applicants already in the country will be permitted to stay pending a larger investigation and those affected will be notified by the department and provide with additional details. While such scandals occasionally occur in other countries, in an unusual turn of events the Border Agency announced that international students who took the exams outside Britain would not be affected.

Because of these events – and pending an end to the moratorium- many counselors are advising that would-be international students take other approved English proficiency exams (such as the IELTS) in lieu of the more well-known ETS exams. For a complete list of approved exams, check the UK Border Agency’s official list here.

The Effect Beyond Students

The affair, meanwhile, has affected more than students. Border Agency officials are facing demands to put stricter controls not only on testing facilities but on student visas in general. Theresa May, the UK home secretary who was already an advocate of tighter restrictions, has already stopped some 700 colleges from bringing students into the country and now suggests that a greater emphasis on face-to-face interviews may be in the works in order to combat fraud. This ETS scandal may lead to wider reforms in the UK, after all.


Commonly Confused Words: Homophones are Here!

letter h453135085Maybe it is just a coincidence that some of the most commonly confused words in English begin with the same letter, causing much of the confusion when it comes to homophones. It is easy to keep these hard-to-distinguish h words straight, though, if you remember the following rules:

Hear / Here
Although both of these words rhyme with near and beer, they mean radically different things. In fact, one is a verb and the other is an adverb! Hear, the verb, means to sense sound by ear while here, the adverb, is used to describe something in this place. To understand the difference, see how the two words are use in the following example: “Because of the construction here I cannot hear well.”

Heard / Herd
Given that these two words, by rhyming with bird, not only sound alike but also differ by only a letter, this set might seem more like a spelling error than a homophone. Let us be the first to assure you, however, that heard – the past tense of the verb “hear” – is quite different from the noun herd – a group of animals. To keep the verb and noun clear in your mind just consider when was the last time you heard a herd?

Hole / Whole
You would be amazed at how often even native speakers confuse this pair! You can stop yourself from making the same mistake by recognizing that, even though both rhyme with goal, a goal has a hole (or opening ). Whole, meanwhile, meaning complete, would be used to describe how much of your birthday cake you want to eat – the entire thing!

Human / Humane
Though these two are not technically homophones they look so much alike that they might as well be. Human, rhyming with “new man,” is a noun relating to the species homo sapiens. Humane, on the other hand, rhymes with “blue cane” and is a adjective synonymous with compassionate. It makes sense, though, in a way: To be humane is one of the best human qualities!

Want to learn more about other confusing words? Check out our other blog posts on commonly confused words and our Learn English section.


Idioms In Depth: More Idioms From Numbers

numbers188149437If any unit on idioms is going to have a sequel it should be those based on numbers. After all, while there are not exactly “countless” examples of such expressions in English, there are a lot. Here are a few more of our favorite idioms from numbers:

At First Sight
As you might expect, this expression is used to describe what you think or feel immediately after you see something for the first time. “Love at first sight” is a related expression used to describe that instant connection some people seem to feel when meeting someone for the first time. In general, though, you can just remember that your initial impression about “at first sight” was probably correct!

On Second Thought
This idiom is almost the opposite of “at first sight” because it describes what happens when people change their minds about something after careful consideration. While “at first sight” is an instant (maybe even emotional) reaction, “on second thought” is based more on thoughtful reconsideration. “On second thought,” for example, “idioms might not be so hard!”

Of Two Minds
To be “of two minds” is to have mixed or uncertain feelings about a subject. If you are having difficulty making a choice between two competing options because both seem equally good – or bad! – then you are probably “of two minds” about it.

Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other
Not that being “of two minds” is always a bad thing. After all, sometimes the choices you are presented with really are equal. If so then you understand the expression “six of one, half a dozen of the other” even if you have never heard it before. A little explanation will prove that this one looks harder than it really is. Because a dozen is the same as 12, half a dozen is the same as six – which means that, as you might have guessed, someone who offers you “six of one, half a dozen of the other” is really offering you the same thing!

For more about learning English, check out the Learning English section for more information on how you can improve. Want more Idioms In Depth, check out these related blog posts.