Commonly Confused Word Pairs for ESL Learners

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Here are some of the most commonly confused English word pairs. They have been chosen especially for ESL learners.

beside / besides

beside: preposition meaning 'next to', 'at the side of'

Examples:

I sit beside John in class.
Could you get me that book? It's beside the lamp.

besides: adverb meaning 'also', 'as well'; preposition meaning 'in addition to'

Examples:

(adverb) He's responsible for sales, and a lot more besides.
(preposition) Besides tennis, I play soccer and basketball.

clothes / cloths

clothes: something you wear - jeans, shirts, blouses, etc.

Examples:

Just a moment, let me change my clothes.
Tommy, get your clothes on!

cloths: pieces of material used for cleaning or other purposes.

Examples:

There are some cloths in the closet. Use those to clean the kitchen.
I have a few pieces of cloth that I use.

dead / died

dead: adjective meaning 'not alive'

Examples:

Unfortunately, our dog has been dead for a few months.
Don't touch that bird. It's dead.

died: past tense and past participle of the verb 'to die'

Examples:

His grandfather died two years ago.
A number of people have died in the accident.

experience / experiment

experience: noun meaning something that a person lives through, i.e. something that someone experiences. - also used as an uncountable noun meaning 'knowledge gained by doing something'

Examples:

(first meaning)His experiences in Germany were rather depressing.
(second meaning) I'm afraid I don't have much sales experience.

experiment: noun meaning something that you do to see the result. Often used when speaking about scientists and their studies.

Examples:

They did a number of experiments last week.
Don't worry it's just an experiment. I'm not going to keep my beard.

felt / fell

felt: past tense and past participle of the verb 'to feel'

Examples:

I felt better after I had a good dinner.
He hasn't felt this well for a long time.

fell: past tense of the verb 'to fall'

Examples:

He fell from a tree and broke his leg.
Unfortunately, I fell down and hurt myself.

female / feminine

female: the sex of a woman or animal

Examples:

The female of the species is very aggressive.
The question 'female or male' means 'are you a woman or a man'.

feminine: adjective describing a quality or type of behavior that is considered typical for a woman

Examples:

He's an excellent boss with a feminine intuition.
The house was decorated in a very feminine manner.

its / it's

its: possessive determiner similar to 'my' or 'your'

Examples:

Its color is red.
The dog didn't eat all of its food.

it's: Short form of 'it is' or 'it has'

Examples:

(it is) It's difficult to understand him.
(it has) It's been a long time since I had a beer.

last / latest

last: adjective usually meaning 'final'

Examples:

I took the last train to Memphis.
This is the last test of the semester!

latest: adjective meaning 'most recent' or 'new'

Examples:

His latest book is excellent.
Have you seen his latest painting?

lay / lie

lay: verb meaning 'to put down flat' - past tense - laid, past participle - laid

Examples:

He laid his pencil down and listened to the teacher.
I usually lay my pies on the shelf to cool.

lie: verb meaning 'to be down' - past tense -lay (be careful!), past participle - lain

Examples:

The girl lay on the bed asleep.
At the moment, he's lying on the bed.

lose / loose

lose: verb meaning 'to misplace'

Examples:

I lost my watch!
Have you ever lost anything valuable?

loose: adjective meaning the opposite of 'tight'

Examples:

Your trousers are very loose!
I need to tighten this screw. It's loose.

male / masculine

male: the sex of a man or animal

Examples:

The male of the species is very lazy.
The question 'female or male' means 'are you a woman or a man'.

masculine: adjective describing a quality or type of behavior that is considered typical for a man

Examples:

She's a very masculine woman.
His opinions are just too masculine for me.

price / prize

price: noun - what you pay for something.

Examples:

The price was very cheap.
What's the price of this book?

prize: noun - an award

Examples:

He won a prize as best actor.
Have you ever won a prize in a competition?

principal / principle

principal: adjective meaning 'the most important'

Examples:

The principal reason for my decision was the money.
What are the principal irregular verbs?

principle: a rule (usually in science but also concerning morals)

Examples:

It's the first principle of aerodynamics.
He has very loose principles.

quite / quiet

quite: adverb of degree meaning 'very' or 'rather'

Examples:

This test is quite difficult.
He was quite exhausted after the long journey.

quiet: adjective meaning the opposite of loud or noisy

Examples:

Could you please be quiet?!
She's a very quiet girl.

sensible / sensitive

sensible: adjective meaning 'having common sense' i.e. 'not stupid'

Examples:

I wish you would be more sensible about things.
I'm afraid you aren't being very sensible.

sensitive: adjective meaning 'to feel very deeply' or 'to hurt easily'

Examples:

You should be careful with David. He's very sensitive.
Mary is a very sensitive woman.

shade / shadow

shade: protection from the sun, a dark area outside on a sunny day.

Examples:

You should sit in the shade for a while.
It's too hot. I'm going to find some shade.

shadow: the dark area created by something else on a sunny day.

Examples:

That tree casts a large shadow.
Have you every noticed your shadow getting longer as it gets later in the day?

some time / sometimes

some time: refers to an indefinite time in the future

Examples:

Let's meet for coffee some time.
I don't know when I'll do it - but I will do it some time.

sometimes: adverb of frequency meaning 'occasionally'

Examples:

He sometimes works late.
Sometimes, I like eating Chinese food.