A Little “M-phasis” is all that’s you need!

'yes, no, maybe - hesitation concept'100843120In English, it’s important to pay close attention to the details. Indeed, small details have big implications for the language. Consider the following example as both proof and a reason to be extra careful when using the language:

Maybe vs May Be

These two look-alikes not only sound the same they are, in fact, the same – apart from a very important space, that is. Still, a space can make a big difference! The no-space maybe is an “adverb” that means “perhaps” while the two-word may be is actually two verbs and is equivalent in meaning to “might be.”* While both can be used to express uncertainty, they are used differently as the following example illustrates: “I’m not sure but it may be that a maybe is worse than an outright no!”

Miner vs Minor

These two look similar but have slightly distinct sounds – not to mention completely different meanings. A miner with a “e”, as appearance would suggest, is “a worker in a mine” while a minor with an “o” is an “underage person”. In addition to being a noun, however, minor with an “o” is often an adjective meaning “less important” (as in, “he’s a minor celebrity”). Generally speaking, though, its easy to differentiate the two through the use of context – after all, there are very few young miners these days!

Moral vs Morale

Again, a small change has lasting implications. Here the addition of the terminal “e” to the word moral (which is roughly equivalent in meaning to “ethical”) changes an adjective that rhymes with “oral” into a noun that means “attitude” and has a stressed second syllable that rhymes with “pal.” This difference can be hard to see but is in fact crucial: moral sounds like MOR-al while morale, stressing the second half, sounds more like moral. Just think that the extra “e” adds weights (and importance) to the second half of morale and the correct pronunciation will doubtless follow!

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

* In fact, it is possible to read the standalone “may” as “might” in almost every situation.

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