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9 English Word Pairs That Confuse Absolutely Everyone

To avoid confusion, it is important to be vigilant while using commonly confused words
9 English Word Pairs That Confuse Absolutely Everyone
Image credit: REDPIXEL.PL | Shutterstock
Founder, Speakwell
4 min read
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English is a funny language. It has evolved over the centuries by assimilating words from various other languages, sometimes giving them whole new meanings. But English is also a universal language. There’s no continent on earth today where English is not spoken.

Yet, it is also a confusing language. While its grammatical dogma suggests that there are essential rules which must be followed, the language is flexible enough to work without them when need be. Apart from grammar, the words and their usage are as diverse as the language itself.

A great example of how the English language can stump you and leave you scratching your head is the existence of a very confusing class of words, which quite aptly are known as ‘The Confusables’. A confusable is a word which sounds similar to some other word with different meaning. Due to this confusion, people tend to mix between such words leading to incorrect usage. Thanks to Murphy’s laws, one ends up using the wrong confusable word in entirely inappropriate situations, such as while writing an email to their client or boss – which becomes worse if the person on the other end is a grammar Nazi. Hence, to avoid confusion, it is important to be vigilant while using commonly confused words.

Here are nine set of confusables which quite literally end up confusing most people!

1. Their and They’re

While it is hard to rate which are the most commonly confused words, ‘Their’ and ‘They’re’ probably top the list.

Both of them operate on different grammatical rules, making them easily differentiable. However, since both of them are pronounced exactly the same way, people tend to mismatch them even while writing which highlights the incorrect usage!

2. Affect and Effect

Affect and effect is another set of confusable pair in which both the words are pronounced similar phonetically, but have different grammatical meanings. Affect is a verb and effect is a noun, and both of them allude to the actions and their consequences. For example, the effect of incorrect usage of words is that it can affect your reputation.

3. Allude and Elude

Again, both are pronounced similarly, yet have very different meanings. While allude means to refer to something, elude means to escape something. Interchanging both words can change the entire meaning of the sentence.

4. Cue and Queue

Cue is an indication, a signal to begin an action, and queue is a line of people where they patiently (or impatiently) wait for their turn.

5. Further and Farther

People tend to use one in place of the other due to uncertainty over their meaning and curiously both have similar meanings as they denote distance. But further is used for metaphorical distance whereas farther is used to count physical distance.  

6. Lose and Loose

Pronounced similarly, but have very different meanings. These are one of the most common set of confusables wherein even people proficient in English end up misusing them. Lose is a verb meaning not possessing something or misplacing an object, whereas loose is an adjective meaning not tight, free, unattached.

7. Compliment and Complement

If your dress complements your body, then you are sure to receive compliments from everyone! Complement is used to indicate when things go well together but compliment is when you say something nice about someone.

8. Forbear and Forebear

Even if one is aware of the difference in meaning, people confuse when it comes to spelling them. Forbear means refraining from something but forebear means an ancestor.

9. Wet and Whet

Last but not the least, wet and whet are two confusables where the meanings are totally different but pronunciation is same. Wet is when you get covered or soaked in water but whet means to sharpen something.

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