Don’t Confuse These Words!
I recently wrote a post about common mistakes people make when learning English. It got me thinking about many words that are commonly confused for English learners. Maybe it’s because the words look alike or sound alike, but often they have completely different meanings and could sound a bit silly. We don’t want to sound silly when we’re asking to use a pen, right?
BORROW vs. LEND
This is one of the most common confusions for Spanish speakers. This is because in Spanish, the same verb, prestar, is used for both borrow and lend. Just try to remember: borrow=take, lend=give. So, if we want to take something from someone (and of course give it back), we use borrow. If you are giving something to someone (temporarily), we use lend.
- Can I borrow your pen?
- (Can I take your pen?)
- Can you lend me your pen?
- (Can you give me your pen?)
- You can borrow my pen.
- (You can take my pen.)
- I can lend you my pen.
- (I can give you my pen.)
When in doubt, try filling in the sentence with take and give, and see which makes sense. For example, if you try saying, “Can I
giveyour pen?” that doesn’t sound right, so we would not use ‘lend.’ Then, try saying, “Can I take your pen?” That makes sense, so we know we use ‘borrow.’
CLOTHS vs. CLOTHES
These nouns look similar and have similar meanings, but there is a difference in pronunciation. To understand their slight differences, let’s take a look at the meanings of these three words:
Cloth |klôTH|: fabric; the material used to make clothes.
- This is an uncountable noun.
- Pronounced with short /o/ and soft /th/
- Example: I bought some cloth to make a dress.
(pl. cloths |klôT͟Hz, klôTHs|): pieces of fabric; the material we use to make clothes
- This is a countable noun.
- Pronounced with short /o/ and soft /th/
- Example: I used two cloths to clean the kitchen.
Clothes |klō(T͟H)z|: things we wear to cover our bodies.
- This is a plural uncountable noun. It has no singular form and cannot be used with numbers.
- Pronounce with long /o/, hard /th/, and /z/ sound at the end
- Example: My clothes are in the washing machine.
DEAD vs. DIE
Death is never a fun topic of conversation, but it can be improved with the correct use of these words. In Taiwan, my students often said things like, “My grandmother
isdie,” or “She deadlast year.”
Dead |ded| (adjective): no longer alive
- Remember that we use the ‘be’ verb with adjectives
- Example: My fish is dead.
Die |dī| (verb): to stop living
- Remember that since this is a verb, we need to use the correct tense.
- Example: My fish died yesterday.
So, when you are discussing this unfortunate topic, just remember which one is the adjective and which is the verb.
EXPERIENCE vs. EXPERIMENT
These words are easy to confuse because they sound so similar, but they have completely different meanings. Many native Spanish speakers confuse them because the noun, ‘experiencia’ can sometimes mean experiment.
Experience (noun): there are a few different ways to talk about experience:
- Skill, practical knowledge, background
- Example: She has a lot of experience, so she got a job easily.
- Event, incident
- She traveled to Chile. It was a great experience.
- Involvement, participation, contact with
- The new job was his first experience with business.
Experiment (noun): a scientific procedure to discover, test, or demonstrate something
- The class did an experiment to see if a plant would grow without sunlight.
ADVISE vs. ADVICE
Remember that advise means to give advice or a suggestion to help someone. With these two, people usually mix up the pronunciation, so let’s practice:
Advise: the second syllable has a hard /z/ sound
- My teacher advised me to take a class with LOI to improve my English.
Advice: the second syllable has a soft /s/ sound
- My teacher gives a lot of good advice.
Time to put it all together! Complete the sentences and write your answers in the comments section.
- It’s getting cold! We should buy some _______ to wear this winter.
- We will all ___ someday.
- When she went to University, she had to ______ money from her parents.
- The ______ got really dirty when I used them to clean the oven.
- My mom gives good ______ about raising children.
- Scientists conducted an __________ on mice to learn more about the disease.
- The dog I had when I was little is ____ now.
- My friend asked me to ____ him my car for the weekend.
- They didn’t hire her for the job because she has no __________ in the field.
- They always ______ you to wash your hands.
Want to make sure you’re not confusing any more words? Sign up for a class with LOI, or check out these posts for more practice:
say vs. tell
job vs. work
hear vs. listen
speak vs. talk