Similar Words but Different Meanings
A lot of words are similar but with different meanings. It is almost impossible to avoid making mistakes in English, but if you can get your head around these explanations, you might be able to avoid making these mistakes.
Accept vs Except
‘Accept’ is a verb, which means to agree to take something.
- I always accept good advice.
‘Except’ is a preposition or conjunction, which means not including.
- I teach every day except Sunday(s).
Advice vs Advise
‘Advice’ is a noun, which means an opinion that someone offers you about what you should do or how you should act in a particular situation.
- I need someone to give me some advice.
‘Advise’ is a verb, which means to give information and suggest types of action.
- I advise everybody to be nice to their teacher.
Affect vs Effect
‘Affect’ and ‘effect’ are two words that are commonly confused. Generally, we use affect as a verb (an action word) and effect as a noun (an object word).
‘Affect’ means to influence or to produce a change in something.
- The cold weather affected the crops. (it produced a change in the crops).
‘Effect’ is a noun, and it means the result of a change.
- His sunburn was an effect of exposure to the sun.
Alone / Lonely
‘Alone’ can be used as an adjective or adverb. Either use means without other people or on your own.
- He likes living alone.
- I think we’re alone now. (There are just the two of us here)
‘Lonely’ is an adjective which means you are unhappy because you are not with other people.
- The house feels lonely now that all the children have left home.
A lot / Allot
‘A lot’, meaning a large amount or number of people or things, can be used to modify a noun.
- I need a lot of time to develop this website.
It can also be used as an adverb, meaning very much or very often.
- I look a lot like my sister.
It has become a common term in speech; and is increasingly used in writing.
‘Allot’ is a verb, which means to give (especially a share of something) for a particular purpose.
- We were allotted a desk each.
All ready vs Already
‘All ready’ means ‘completely ready.’
- Are you all ready for the test?
‘Already’ is an adverb that means before the present time or earlier than the time expected.
- I asked him to come to the cinema but he’d already seen the film.
- Are you buying Christmas cards already? It’s only September!
Altogether vs All together
‘All together’ (adv) means “together in a single group.”
- The waiter asked if we were all together.
‘Altogether’ (adv) means “completely” or “in total “.
- She wrote less and less often, and eventually she stopped altogether.
Any one vs Anyone
‘Any one’ means any single person or thing out of a group of people or things.
- I can recommend any one of the books on this site.
Anyone means any person. It’s always written as one word.
- Did anyone see that UFO?
Any vs Some
‘Any’ and ‘some’ are both determiners. They are used to talk about indefinite quantities or numbers when the exact quantity or number is not important.
As a general rule, we use ‘some’ for positive statements, and ‘any’ for questions and negative statements.
- I asked the barman if he could get me some sparkling water. I said, “Excuse me, have you got any sparkling water?” Unfortunately, they didn’t have any.
You will sometimes see ‘some’ in questions and ‘any’ in positive statements. When making an offer, or a request, in order to encourage the person we are speaking to, to say “Yes”, you can use ‘some’ in a question.
- Would you mind fetching some gummy bears while you’re at the shops?
You can also use ‘any’ in a positive statement if it comes after a word whose meaning is negative or limiting.
- She gave me some bad advice.
- Really? She rarely gives any bad advice.
Apart vs A part
‘Apart’ (adv) means separated by distance or time.
- I always feel so lonely when we’re apart.
‘A part’ (noun) means a piece of something that forms the whole of something.
They made me feel like I was a part of the family.
Been vs Gone
‘been’ is the past participle of ‘be’ and ‘gone’ is the past participle of ‘go’.
Been is used to describe completed visits. So if you have been to England twice, you have travelled there and back twice.
- She’s been to India on holiday three times.
If you have gone to England, you have not yet returned.
- She’s gone to Moscow, she will be back next week.
Bored vs Boring
‘Bored’ is an adjective that describes when someone feels tired and unhappy because something is not interesting or because they have nothing to do.
- She was so bored that she fell asleep.
‘Boring’ is an adjective that means something is not interesting or exciting.
- The lesson was so boring that she fell asleep.
Beside vs Besides
‘Beside’ is a preposition of place that means at the side of or next to.
- The house was beside the Thames.
‘Besides’ is an adverb or preposition. It means in addition to or also.
- Besides water, we carried some fruit. (In addition to water, we carried some fruit)
Borrow vs Lend
To ‘lend’ means to hand out usually for a certain length of time. Banks lend money. Libraries lend books.
- My mother lent me some money, and I must pay her back soon.
To ‘borrow’ means to take with permission usually for a certain length of time. You can borrow money from a bank to buy a house or a car. You can borrow books for up to 4 weeks from libraries in England.
- I borrowed some money from my mother, and I must pay her back soon.
Bought vs Brought
‘Bought’ is the past tense of the verb to ‘buy’.
- I bought a newspaper at the newsagents.
‘Brought’ is the past tense of the verb to ‘bring’.
- Alex brought a cup of coffee to his exhausted mother.
By vs Until
Both ‘until’ and ‘by’ indicate “any time before, but not later than.”
‘Until’ tells us how long a situation continues. If something happens until a particular time, you stop doing it at that time. We also use ‘until’ in negative sentences.
- They lived in a small house until September 2003. (They stopped living there in September 2003.)
- I will be away until Wednesday. (I will be back on Wednesday.)
- Details will not be available until January. (January is the earliest you can expect to receive the details.)
If something happens ‘by’ a particular time, it happens at or before that time. It is often used to indicate a deadline. We also use ‘by’ when asking questions.
- You have to finish by August 31. (August 31 is the last day you can finish; you may finish before this date.)
Check (v) vs Control (v)
To ‘check’ means to examine. To make certain that something or someone is correct, safe, or suitable by examining it or them quickly.
- You should always check your oil, water, and tyres before taking your car on a long trip.
To ‘control’ means to order, limit, instruct or rule something, or someone’s actions or behaviour.
- If you can’t control your dog, put it on a leash!
What you shouldn’t do is use the verb control in association with people and the work they do.
- I check my students’ homework, but I can’t control what they do!
Come over (v) vs Cvercome (n)
‘Come over’ is a phrasal verb, that can mean several things. To move from one place to another, or move towards someone.
- Come over here and look out of the window.
- Come over and sit next to me, I want to hear how your day went.
For example: (To seem to be a particular type of person.)
- Politicians often come over as arrogant.
For example: (To be influenced suddenly and unexpectedly by a strange feeling.)
- Don’t stand up too quickly or you may come over dizzy.
‘Overcome’ is a verb, which means to defeat or succeed in controlling or dealing with something.
- Using technology can help many people overcome any disabilities they might have.
Complement (v) vs Compliment (n)
‘Complement’ is a verb, which means to make something seem better or more attractive when combined.
- The colours blue and green complement each other perfectly.
‘Compliment’ is a noun, which means a remark that expresses approval, admiration or respect.
- It was the nicest compliment anyone had ever paid me.
Concentrate vs Concentrated
The verb – when you ‘concentrate’ you direct all your efforts towards a particular activity, subject or problem.
- You need to concentrate harder when you listen to something in another language.
The adjective – If something is ‘concentrated’ it means it has had some liquid removed.
- I prefer freshly squeezed orange juice to concentrated.
Council vs Counsel
‘Council’ is a group noun. It refers to a group of people elected or chosen to make decisions or give advice on a particular subject, to represent a particular group of people, or to run a particular organization.
- The local council has decided not to allocate any more funds for the project.
‘Counsel’ can be a verb, which means to give advice, especially on social or personal problems. ‘Counsel’ can also be a noun, which means advice and can also mean a lawyer.
- She counsels the long-term unemployed on how to get a job.
- I should have listened to my father’s counsel, and saved some money instead of spending it all.
Councillor vs Counsellor
‘Councillor’ is a noun which means an elected member of a local government.
- He was elected to be a councillor in 2019.
‘Counsellor’ is a noun, which means someone who is trained to listen to people and give them advice about their problems.
- The student union now employs a counsellor to help students with both personal and work-related problems.
Data vs Datum
‘datum’ is the singular form and ‘data’ is the plural form. So ‘data’ takes a plural verb.
- The data are correct.
‘Datum’ is so rare now in English. When you refer to a small piece of data, this may be called ‘datum’.