That’s “E”nough of That!

Colorful font letter E460870025As 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.”

Is that not “e”nough of that? Want to learn more about other confusing words? Check out our other blog posts on commonly confused words and our Learn English section.


Pronunciation and Patience Pay!

cup of coffee181764721Not all of the commonly confused words in English look or even sound alike. Nevertheless, the quick tempo of modern life – and the language itself – often obscures these distinctions. The letter p, for example, has a number of these example where two distinct words appear to be almost twins.

Past vs Passed

While many people often believe these words sound the same, a more careful pronunciation of each reveals their distinctions. When both are said aloud, for example, the final letter of each should be clear. Past, which means at an earlier time, ends with a nice crisp t while passed, the past tense of pass, ends with the softer d. Remember things clearly this way: “Dee passed the tea in the past but now we drink coffee!”

Patience vs Patients

Even native speakers confuse these two but the differences should be quite clear to all. Though they do, in truth, sound the same, patience with a c is an adjective used when people tolerate annoyances well. Patients, on the other hand, are people under medical care. Thus while patients often need patience, the opposite cannot be true!

Peace vs Piece

Though these two nouns sound just about the same – both rhyme with niece, lease, and fleece – they are used to describe wildly different things. Peace, for example, describes a state of being without war while a piece is simply a part of a whole. Thus we could say that peace is the most important piece of tranquil international affairs.

Plain vs. Plane

Though both of these words rhyme with insane, you do not have to be to keep them apart! Plain with an i is an adjective meaning “ordinary” while plane with an e is a shortened version of the noun “airplane”. Thus while a plane could be described as plain, the opposite is grammatically impossible!

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


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.


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.


Commonly Confused Words: It’s all O”K”

texting148186581With words that originate from a variety of cultures and contexts, English has few obvious spelling rules.  As result of the strange and wonderful history of English a single letter can account for some interesting – and commonly confused words – word pairs. K, especially the silent kind (as in knife), is one such letter and here are a few of the most common mistakes to look out for:

Know / No
These two are pretty hard to confuse but, in the age of instant messaging and texting, native speakers do occasionally take a shortcut with the four-letter know and write it as the two-letter no. Just because native speakers do it does not make it right, however! Though the two sound the same they look nothing alike and the verb (know) should always have four letters – silent k and all.

Knew / New
These two words are more commonly confused, both rhyme with “shoe” and may sound exactly the same but there the similarities end. The k in knew, though silent, makes this the past tense of the verb “to know” (mentioned above), while the three-letter new is adjective meaning recent or fresh. To keep things straight just remember the following helpful hint: “A K is a very important letter – you just never knew it!”

Knead / Need
Although the k and a might throw you off, both of these sounds-alikes rhyme with “seed.” The five letter version, however, is only ever a verb,* while the four letter version can be both a verb and a noun. In that case “to need” is the same as “to require” and, in like manner, “a need” is the same as a requirement. Keep them apart using following trick: You may only see knead in a baker’s recipe but when you do you will certainly need it!

*And a very specific one at that, as it means to mix and combine bread dough.

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


Commonly Confused Words: Playing “Fair” with Homophones!

carnival156356939English can be confusing even at the best of times. Not that homonyms (which are words that are spelled the same but mean different things) such as read [which occurs today] and read [which happened yesterday] or homophones (which are words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same way ) like read and red make things any easier! For today’s English tips entry, though, we will concentrate on homophones that begin with f and g. Here are a few of the most common:

Fair / Fare
With fair and fare we have a great example of two common words that sound exactly the same but actually mean not two or three but four different things. Both rhyme with “air” and “care” but fair can be both a adjective and a noun. As an adjective it means either pale or honest and as a noun it is another name for a festival or carnival. It might sound confusing but context certainly helps! Meanwhile, fare is always a noun meaning money for transportation (as in bus fare). To help keep things straight try this example sentence on for size: “Fair Claire thought the bus fare to the fair was fair.”

Forth / Fourth
While fair and fare might be a bit complicated, this next set is not. Though both sound exactly the same – and rhyme with “north” – forth is synonymous with forward while fourth is used when describing number four in a group or list. Thus we could say “James put forth his fourth idea when he presented another good suggestion at the meeting.”

Gorilla / Guerilla
It might seem easy to confuse these two but we can assure you that they are quite different. Indeed, gorilla (with an o) is the name of the large animal you can visit at the zoo while a guerrilla (with a u) is a soldier that specializes in surprise attacks. Though technically pronounced differently they sound similar enough to confuse even native English speakers. To keep things straight just remember that only “u” can be a guerilla – no matter how much you like bananas!


Commonly Confused Words: A Little Goes A Long Way

illusion167592280From a phone call on your birthday to an extra point on your final exam, as we all know, sometimes it is the little things that make all of the difference. This is equally true in English spelling, where sometimes a single letter can completely change the meaning of a word. Fortunately, even if such mistakes are commonly confused words, they are also easy to fix.

Aisle/Isle
While both are nouns – and pronounced in a way that makes them both rhyme with “dial” and “mile”, the removal of the “a” from aisle – which is the space between rows – transforms the work into isle – which is synonymous to island. Use this trick to help you remember: “aisles” are found in the grocery store while ‘isles” are found at sea.

Allusion/Illusion
Though both allusion and illusion are nouns, their pronunciations – and meanings – are quite difference. An allusion – pronounced “Uhllusion” – is an indirect reference while an illusion – pronounced “Illusion” – is a misleading or false idea. Allusions are often seen in literature while illusions pop up mostly in magic shows, so to help you remember, just remind yourself that even though they make look similar, any resemblance between allusion and illusion is exactly that – an illusion.

Altar/Alter
Though the difference between altar and alter does little to distinguish their pronunciation, the change of the second “a” to an “e” transforms a noun meaning a sacred place (altar) into a verb meaning to change (alter). A good memory trick – and idea in general! – would be to never alter an altar.

Accent/Ascent/Assent
Though these three words look similar, they too have their own unique meanings and pronunciations. Accent, for example, is a noun that refers to the system pronunciation common to an area and is itself pronounced aKcent. Ascent, on the other hand, has a softer sound – aHscent – but, as a noun meaning the act of rising, is a more difficult activity. Assent, finally, has the same pronunciation as ascent but is a verb meaning to agree. It may be hard to keep these all straight but here is an illustrative example: “we all assent that as we continue the ascent up the mountain the native’s accents will be thicker.”

Though it make seem hard at first, a little practice will help you to mind your p’s and q’s (and all of the other letters, too!).


Commonly Confused Words: “B” Careful If You See These Common English Mistakes

letter b87777000As we saw with our last installment on common English mistakes, a small change – like swapping a “c” for an “s” – can make a big impact (as in accent and ascent). In much the same way, the addition of a letter can also change the meaning of a word. Here’s a quick with the same letter s:

Beside/Besides
While beside and besides are both prepositions with similar pronunciations, the addition of the “s” to beside – which means close to or next to – changes it into besides – a word which means except for or in addition to. Thus, while we might say that “the bakery is beside the shoe store” we would say that “no bakery besides them makes that kind of cake.”

Breath/Breathe
The example of breath and breathe proves that “s” is not the only time you should mind those extra letters. While breath (air taken in) is a noun pronounced in a manner similar to the name Jeff, breathe (to take air in) is a verb which rhymes with seethe. Thus, while you can ask someone to “hold their breath” just as you can hold most things (you can only hold nouns, not verbs) when you do so you are asking them “not to breathe” (the action).

Brake/Break
As the case of these two commonly confused words illustrates, though, an extra letter is sometimes not even necessary. Although both of these words are comprised of the same letters and pronounced in a way that rhymes with lake they are otherwise quite different. Confusing the two is all the worse because not only do they mean different things but also one – brake – is a noun while the other – break – is a verb! A “brake,” you see, is a mechanical device used for stopping (as found in a car) while “to break” is the act of destroying or making into pieces (as in a break-in). To help you remember, try this trick: the brake was a break-through because without it we would never stop!


Commonly Confused Words: Let Us Help You “C” The Difference

letter c 91366659As the following look-alike pairs prove, English is a confusing language. Worse still, there is seemingly no pattern to the madness. Fortunately, with our help you work past the clutter and clear up any concerns you might have over these commonly confused “c” words.

Clothes/Cloths
A single letter – e – makes for some major differences in the case of clothes and cloths. Though both are nouns, clothes – which has the same “o” sound as the words “hose” and “nose” – are garments people wear while cloths – which has the same “o” sound as “moth” and “sloth” – are just pieces of fabric. An easy trick to remember this is to know that cloths might be used to make clothes, but you would never wear cloths!

Corps/Corpse
The letter “e” is also behind this commonly confused pair. Corps, a French word which rhymes with “more”, is a regulated group and, accordingly, is often capitalized as part of proper nouns like Peace Corps and Marine Corps. Corpse, by contrast, which sounds the way it is spelled, is word that is used to describe dead bodies. As grisly as it may seem, then, an easy way to distinguish the two is to remember that corps, with its silent letters, is the far less serious of the two! Continue reading “Commonly Confused Words: Let Us Help You “C” The Difference”


Commonly Confused Words: Maybe you do this every day?

200322623-001Having good grammar can do more than make your English teacher happy – it can also help you land the job of your dreams. Take, for example, Kyle Wiens, CEO of the online repair community iFixit. Wiens is unwilling to overlook an applicant’s grammar mistakes even if they are otherwise an ideal fit for the position because, as Weins says, his employees “need a serious commitment to attention to detail” and simple grammar mistakes on covers letters and other applicant correspondence are ample evidence to the contrary. So, if you want to work for Wiens or any of the growing number of executives use this same criteria for screening job applicants in today’s ultra-competitive job market, here are some common confused words to fix before sending off that next e-mail:

Everyday/Every day
Though many people often use these two words interchangeably, they actually mean radically different (if related) things. “Everyday,” for example, is an adjective meaning ordinary or common and, when used, suggests that something is done so often that is considered usual. An example sentence – “These are our everyday clothes, we would never wear them to the opera” – clearly shows how different it is from “every day”, a two word phrase which means each day. In fact, you could even say you wear your everyday clothes every day!

Maybe/May be
Maybe” and “May be” are another set that is often confused but easily understood. The single word “maybe” means the same thing as perhaps while the verb phrase “may be” is synonymous to “might be”. To figure out which one works best, try plugging in their equivalents. After all, you would never say “Might be we will win the next game” because, perhaps – and therefore the single word version of maybe – fits better. Likewise, if “perhaps” sounds off then try “might be” and go with the two word version. If you do that you “may be” off to a successful career in no time!