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 .
  • For example: “I always accept good advice.”
  • Except is a preposition or conjunction, which means not including.
  • For example: “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. For example: “I need someone to give me some advice.”
  • Advise is a verb, which means to give information and suggest types of action. For example: “I advise everybody to be nice to their teacher.”

affect vs effect

  • Affect and effect are two words that are commonly confused.
  • affect is usually a verb (action) – effect is usually a noun (thing) Hint: If it’s something you’re going to do, use “affect.” If it’s something you’ve already done, use “effect.” To affect something or someone.

alone / lonely

  • Alone can be used as an adjective or adverb. Either use means without other people or on your own. For example: “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. For example: “The house feels lonely now that all the children have left home.”

a lot / alot / allot

  • A lot, meaning a large amount or number of people or things, can be used to modify a noun. For example: “I need a lot of time to develop this web site.” It can also be used as an adverb, meaning very much or very often. For example: “I look a lot like my sister.” It has become a common term in speech; and is increasingly used in writing.
  • Alot does not exist! There is no such word in the English language. If you write it this way – imagine me shouting at you – “No Such Word!”
  • Allot is a verb, which means to give (especially a share of something) for a particular purpose: For example: “We were allotted a desk each.”

all ready vs already

  • All ready means “completely ready”. For example: “Are you all ready for the test?”
  • Already is an adverb that means before the present time or earlier than the time expected. For example: “I asked him to come to the cinema but he’d already seen the film.” or “Are you buying Christmas cards already? It’s only September!”

altogether vs all together

  • All together (adv) means “together in a single group.” For example: The waiter asked if we were all together.
  • Altogether (adv) means “completely” or “in total “. For example: 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. For example: I can recommend any one of the books on this site.
  • Anyone means any person. It’s always written as one word. For example: 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. For example: 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.
    Note: 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: For example: 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: For example: (a) She gave me some bad advice. (b) Really? She rarely gives any bad advice.

apart vs a part

  • Apart (adv) means separated by distance or time. For example: I always feel so lonely when we’re apart.
  • A part (noun) means a piece of something that forms the whole of something. For example: 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.
  • If you have gone to England, you have not yet returned.

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. For example: She was so bored that she fell asleep.
  • Boring is an adjective that means something is not interesting or exciting. For example: 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. For example: The house was beside the Thames.
  • Besides is an adverb or preposition. It means in addition to or also. For example: 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. For example: “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. For example: “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. For example: “I bought a newspaper at the newsagents.
  • Brought is the past tense of the verb to bring. For example: “She brought her homework to the lesson.”

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. For example: They lived in a small house until September 2003. (They stopped living there in September.)
  • I will be away until Wednesday. (I will be back on Wednesday.) We also use until in negative sentences. For example: 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. For example: You have to finish by August 31. (August 31 is the last day you can finish; you may finish before this date.) We also use by when asking questions.

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. For example: “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. For example: “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. For example: “I check my students’ homework, but I can’t control what they do!”

come over (v) vs overcome (n)

  • Come over is a phrasal verb, that can mean several things. To move from one place to another, or move towards someone. For example: “Come over here.” To seem to be a particular type of person. For example: “Politicians often come over as arrogant.” To be influenced suddenly and unexpectedly by a strange feeling. For example: “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. For example: “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. For example: “The colours blue and green complement each other perfectly.
  • Compliment is a noun, which means a remark that expresses approval, admiration or respect. For example: “It was the nicest compliment anyone had ever paid me.”
    Tip!
    Having problems with your spelling? Try these mnemonics:- If it complements something it completes it. (With an e.) I like compliments. (With an i.)

concentrate vs concentrated

  • The verb – when you concentrate you direct all your efforts towards a particular activity, subject or problem. For example: 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. For example: 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. For example: “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. For example: “She counsels the long-term unemployed on how to get a job.” Counsel can also be a noun, which means advice and can also mean a lawyer. For example: “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. For example: “He was elected to be a councillor in 1998.”
  • Counsellor is a noun, which means someone who is trained to listen to people and give them advice about their problems. For example: “The student union now employs a counsellor to help students with both personal and work-related problems.”

data vs datum

  • This isn’t so much a common mistake as a common cause for arguments (as is often the case with words of Latin origin). The dictionaries treat data as a group noun, meaning information, especially facts or numbers, collected for examination and consideration and used to help decision-making, or meaning information in an electronic form that can be stored and processed by a computer. Then they go on to confuse matters by giving the following kind of example : The data was/were reviewed before publishing.
  • So, which is it, was or were? Strictly speaking ‘datum’ is the singular form and ‘data’ is the the plural form. If you’re writing for an academic audience, particularly in the sciences, “data” takes a plural verb.