As many native and non-native speakers alike can attest, the letter “e” lies at the heart of many commonly confused words in English. Worse still, as the single most common letter in the language, there is no shortage of examples available to prove this! Fortunately for you, we here at ESL Directory have what it takes to help you keep things straight. Consider the following examples:
Elicit / Illicit
Elicit and illicit are often confused for one another but, in truth, it does not take much to tell them apart. Along with the obvious spelling differences come differences in part of speech, meaning, and even pronunciation. Elicit, with the e, is a verb meaning “to draw out” and that “e” at the front is pronounced the same way as the “e” in “egg.” By contrast, illicit is an adjective used to describe illegal and forbidden things whose first syllable sounds exactly like it looks – “ill” as in sickness. To help remember the difference, try this memory trick: “The educated executives elicited a lot of questions about their illegal immigration.”
Eminent / Imminent
Unlike elicit and illicit, eminent and imminent do sound the same (the first syllable of both is pronounced the same way as the first syllable in emergency) and both are adjectives but from here they go their separate ways. That is because eminent means “prominent, famous” while imminent means “soon to occur” or “about to happen.” A handy way to remember this is to remember this key phrase: “The arrival of the eminent scientist was imminent.”*
* Added bonus to help you remember: all of the words that begin with vowels in this sentence (arrival, eminent, imminent) are in order.
Envelop / Envelope
This pair is a great example of how much of a problem “e” can be! After all, not only to envelop and envelope both begin with the that troublemaking letter but it is only that letter which differentiates them. Unfortunately, in this case a single letter changes everything. While envelop is a verb meaning “to surround,” envelope is the name (noun) given to containers for letters and bills. While they should be pretty easy to tell apart, to say them correctly try to make the last part of envelop rhyme with “hop” and the last part of envelope rhyme with “hope.”