English is full of things that can be confusing. There are words that sound the same (like wear and where), words that are spelled the same but have different meanings (like right and right?), and phrases that sound confusing (like jumbo shrimp). Here is our second list of the most commonly confused words in English that throw even native speakers for a loop.
Check out our first list of commonly confused words, too!
If you’re a native speaker, use this blog as a quiz to see how well you know some of the most commonly confused words. If you’re learning English, use our lists to enhance your vocabulary. No matter what, we hope you read it and learn something new!
Discreet vs. Discrete
Have you ever tried to be discreet? Or have you been looking for a word to describe two separate things? Check out the difference between discreet and discrete:
Discreet: (adj), not likely to be seen or noticed by many people
Discrete: (adj), separate and different from each other
- She tried to be discreet when she walked into the meeting late.
- They have discrete sources of money.
Further vs. Farther
These two words are quite similar, so it’s easy to see how they can be confused. This is particularly tricky because they started out being interchangeable, but over time their meanings have become different. Sometimes, I’ll end up typing further when I mean to type farther, and vice versa. Here’s hoping (Fingers crossed!) that you don’t have the same problem that I do!
Further: (adv), to or at a more distant place or time, to a greater degree or extent
Farther: (adj) more distant
- How can I help you further?
- She lives farther away now.
Everyday vs. every day
These two words are some of the most commonly confused words. There are so many times I see these words used interchangeably online and in writing. When you’re writing, make sure to double check to make sure you’re using the proper one before sending it off (sending the email), especially if you’re sending off an important email.
Everyday: (adj), used or seen every day, suitable for every day
Every day: individual days, each day
- You can use our blogs to learn everyday English.
- I see my best friend every day.
Elicit vs. Illicit
These two words are so commonly confused that my word processor asked if I wanted to permanently correct elicit to illicit. Here are their definitions:
Elicit: (v), to get (a response, information, etc.) from someone
Illicit: (adj.), not permitted or unlawful
- The policeman tried to elicit a response from the suspect.
- The criminal had committed illicit activity.
Tortuous vs. Torturous
When was the last time you drove on a tortuous road? Or have you ever sat through a torturous meeting or activity? One simple letter changes the meaning of these two words completely, so it’s important that you use the proper one.
Tortuous: (adj), having many twists and turns, complicated, long, and confusing
Torturous: (adj), causing great pain or suffering
- The mountain roads in Northern Virginia can be very tortuous.
- One of my classes in college was incredibly torturous. The minutes went by so slowly.
Adverse vs. averse
As with the example above, one small letter change can completely alter the meaning of these two words. While they both have negative meanings, they are definitely not interchangeable, so keep an eye out for them.
Adverse: (adj), bad or unfavorable, not good
Averse: (adj), having a feeling of dislike
- Losing his job had an adverse effect on his finances.
- She was averse to the changes at her office.
As you can see, they both have extremely different meanings, though they are pronounced similarly. Make sure to look out for the difference the next time you need to use one of these words.
What are some of the most commonly confused words that you miss? Share them with us in the comments below and we’ll clear them up for you!
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Check out these other popular blogs: Taboo words in English, 7 Synonyms for Being Drunk, 7 American English Slang Words, or these Sports Idioms used in English!
Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and is relieved that she lives in a country where facts matter in conversation and there are fewer conversation topics to avoid! 🙂 🙂
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