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Commonly Confused Words

February 26, 2006

First I must thank Jake and Lee for their warm welcome messages. I have much the same range of interests as Patricia so readers should not expect too much of a clean sweep from a new broom!


I thought I would kick off with a language item. I recently heard a UK politician say that he was not “adverse” to certain measures under discussion. It struck me that English is littered with pairs of easily confused words. He meant “averse” of course. It reminded me of a football manager who talked about the “heart-rendering” result his team had produced. An aerospace executive I once taught had much pleasure in collecting examples of such faux pas from native speakers to prove that it is not only non-native speakers who make mistakes. Well, of course not . . .

. . . Personally I don’t think learners should get too anxious about their mistakes. The main thing is to be understood. Perfection can come later. But we do need to help learners navigate through the choppier seas of English usage. When you look into the topic there are really a very large number of commonly confused words. Here are a few just from the first letter of the alaphabet:

to adjoin means 'to be next to', e.g. we work in adjoining offices
to adjourn means 'to move to another place', e.g. after the meeting we adjourned to the restaurant for lunch.

adverse means 'unfavourable' -, e.g. this winter we were hindered by adverse weather conditions
to be averse to means 'dislike', e.g. I am averse to blood sports.

to alude to means 'to refer indirectly to something', e.g. she alluded to her money problems
to elude means 'to escape from', e.g. the criminal eluded the police.

alternate means 'every other', e.g. he works alternate Saturdays
alternative means ' another choice', you can take the train or the alternative is to take a bus.

amend means 'to alter something', e.g. unless he amends his behaviour, he will be fired
emend means 'to correct a document', e.g. please look at the emendations to the text.

ancient refers to very old things, especially from a distant past, e.g. the ancient civilisation of the Incas is still fascinating today.
antique refers objects that have become valuable because of their age, e.g. I inherited some antique furniture from my grandmother.

an assignment is 'a job or task', e.g. the journalist was sent to Paris for his next assignment
an assignation is 'a secret meeting', e.g. he made an assignation with his best friend's wife.

To turn such lists into awareness–raising exercises all you need to do is to use the examples with a gap for the word and have them fill the correct one.

Bye for now,


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» Defining Our Own Terms: Teaching is a Metaphor, Learning is Like a Simile from [The] English-Blog [.com]
Two similar words that are commonly confused are the concepts of metaphor and simile. Both compare different ideas and draw connections, thus offering a new perspective or interpretive definition. But, what’s the actual difference between them? . . . [Read More]

Tracked on February 28, 2006 07:22 AM

» When a Student Tells YOU "You're wrong" from ESL Lesson Plan
Student: "I need to improve my vocabularies." Me: "Just vocabulary, no i-e-s..." Student: "My dictionary has vocabularies. Me: "Really? That's wrong." Student: "Oh...but sensei?" Me: "Yeah?" Student: "I think you're wrong, it's in Meg's dictionary too.... [Read More]

Tracked on March 8, 2006 12:45 AM


  1. jane Says:

    great list - thanks - i'll be sure to pass it on to the teachers of the advanced courses at my school. (i'm down in the "My name is Jane. I am a teacher." class level, so it's not of much use to me, alas...)

  1. ghart27 Says:

    I have a problem controlling my annoyance each time I read English (written by "English-speakers") which invariably uses the two words — "it's" and "its" — in the wrong way. These occur quite frequently in advertisements, so people appear to be too stupid to realise that they are advertising their own ignorance. And the cure is quite simple. "It's" is not a possessive. It's as simple as that.

  1. Tricia Says:

    Ghart27, I remember the its/it's distinction by quickly reviewing " A dog knows its master/A dog knows it's master ". Upper ESL levels get a kick out of the difference!

  1. KalinasB Says:

    Thank you for interesting blog

  1. Frinas Says:

    Thanks for information

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