English vocabulary building tips: Frequently Confused Words and Expressions in English

English vocabulary building tips: Frequently Confused Words and Expressions in English

All online English tutors recommend different measures to learn English vocabulary. This is because English vocabulary is where most English learning aspirants struggle. Words that sound alike often cause many people trouble. Similarly, there are many words and phrases that defy any sort of metric and bring chaos. Our personality is shaped according to the habits that we pick up from the people around us. If English is not your mother tongue, mistakes over the complexities of the English language are bound to happen.

Scrivens Opticians & Hearing Care examined 2,000 British adults and found that 35 percent of them used eggcorns without even realising they were saying it wrong. Some common examples of eggcorns include: “curve your enthusiasm” (instead of “curb"), “escape goat” (instead of “scapegoat”) and “biting my time” (instead of “biding”).

As an online English speaking course in India, we believe that it is imperative that our students should know if not all but the most common words that confuse native speakers.

Commonly confused words/phrases with correct definitions and examples

Here is an overview of some words, phrases and expressions that are often confused. Most online English classes will have a ready reckoner of these examples that students can refer. When you learn English online, you will definitely sound more confident especially when you speak with English language experts.

  • · Supposed to / used to

You are not supposed to break the rules. You should not use, “You are not suppose to break the rules.”

Similarly, the correct sentence is: I am used to living alone. You should not use, “I am use to living alone”. It is incorrect to drop the ‘d’ in supposed and used.

  • · Beside the point

If something is beside the point, it means it is not relevant to the point. It is incorrect to write ‘besides the point’. They both are different words. Beside means ‘next to’ or ‘at the side of’. On the contrary, besides means ‘in addition to’.

  • · Couldn’t care less

If you are using the expression ‘I could care less’, it is wrong. The correct expression is couldn’t care less. I couldn’t care less means ‘I don’t care at all’.

  • · Whet your appetite

To whet your appetite means to sharpen your appetite. Even delicious dishes can’t ‘wet your appetite’. This expression is incorrect as ‘wet’ and ‘whet’ are different words and have different meanings altogether. The correct expression is ‘whet your appetite’.

  • · Nip it in the bud

To nip something in the bud is to prevent it from growing into something bigger. “Don’t nip it in the butt”. That is definitely a wrong expression. You can use this idiomatic expression in this way, “Many serious illnesses can be nipped in the bud if they are detected early.”

  • · Toe the line

To toe the line is to adhere to a standard or rule. ‘Tow the line’ is again a wrong expression. You can use this idiomatic expression in this way, “Joe realized that he had to toe the line if he wanted to keep his job.”

  • · For all intents and purposes

‘For all intents and purposes’ means ‘pretty much’ or ‘almost completely’. It is incorrect to say or write ‘for all intensive purposes’. You can use this expression in this way, “Our son tells bald faced lies whenever he is caught red-handed.”

  • · Bald-faced lie

A bald-faced lie is an obvious lie. The person who tells a bald-faced lie does not make any attempt to disguise it as truth. However, ‘bold-faced lie’ is an incorrect expression to use.

  • · A scapegoat

A scapegoat is someone who is punished for another’s actions or faults. However, mentioning “an escape goat instead of a scapegoat is incorrect.

  • · Damp squib

This expression means an event or situation that is less impressive than expected. However, “damp squid” is a wrong expression to use.

  • · Tenterhooks

This phrase means waiting nervously for something that is going to happen. But, using “on tender hooks” instead of “on tenterhooks” is incorrect.

  • · Lactose intolerant

A person who is lactose intolerant is unable to digest sugar (lactose) in milk. However, “lack toast and tolerant” is a wrong phrase to use.

  • · Get off scot-free

If you get scott free, it means you escaped punishment for something you should have been punished for. But, using “Got off scotch free” instead of “get off scot-free” is incorrect.

  • · To all intents and purposes

This phrase means almost completely, for all practical purposes. Don’t get confused with the phrase, “to all intensive purposes” as it means “essentially” or “in effect”.

  • · Hunger pangs

Hunger pangs usually happen when you are very hungry and it eventually results in stomach pain. It need not be confused with “hunger pains”

  • · Tongue-in-cheek

It refers to a humorous or sarcastic statement expressed in a mock-serious way. Saying, “tongue and cheek” instead of “tongue-in-cheek” is a wrong expression.

  • · Moot point

Moot point indicates that there is no practical reason to continue discussing a particular topic as there would be no satisfactory resolution. There is no such phrase as “mute point”.

  • · Faux Pas

It refers to a remark in a social situation that is an error and causes embarrassment or indiscretion. “Foe par” instead of “faux pas” is an incorrect phrase to use.

  • · Social leper

If you call someone a social leper, it means that person is anti-social. “Social leopard” instead of “social leper” is a wrong phrase to use.

  • · Biding my time

Biding my time means to wait patiently for a good opportunity. You should not say “biting my time” instead of “biding my time” as it is wrong.

  • · Curb your enthusiasm

It means to control your excitement and emotions. Keep in mind that there is no such phrase as, “curve your enthusiasm”.

  • · Expatriate

This word means removal or withdrawal from one’s native land. You need not mix it up with “ex-patriot”.

  • · Self-deprecating

Self-deprecating means criticizing or undervaluing oneself. However, you should not use “self-depreciating” instead of “self-deprecating”. Depreciating is a different word altogether which means “diminish in value”

It is vital to know the correct spelling of a word you want to use, especially in written English. You don’t want to write “weak” when you mean “week” even though they sound the same. However, in spoken English, spelling is less important, but pronunciation is. For example, the word “lead” can be pronounced as “led” or “leed.” These words cause a lot of confusion, it’s well worth it to spend some time to understand the difference between these words.

The above is the list of some commonly confused words in the English language. Take some time to read them and use them in your conversation. Make an example sentence with each one to help you remember it. This will really help you to be ahead of the crowd.


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