English words that often get confused

Sometimes people get words confused because they look or sound similar; some are confused because they are rarely used or because people hear other people misusing them.

We have 110 items in the database.

perfunctory / peremptory

The first word has the meaning of an action being done without any real feeling, in a casual way. He gave her a perfunctory kiss. The word peremptory has to do with an action taken in a dictatorial, rather unfriendly, unsympathetic manner. He dismissed my request with a peremptory gesture towards the door.

plane / plain

Planes fly. A plain is an area of fairly flat land. Someone can be plain which means not very attractive at first sight. A plane is also a carpenter's tool and a mathematical term!

practice / practise

The former is the noun; He wanted some practice every day. The latter is the verb; He wants to practise every day.

pray/ prey

We pray in a church, mosque, temple or other holy place. The word prey relates to the food that animals like to eat. The lions watched their prey but the antelope were unaware.

principal / principle

A principal is the head of an institution, normally an educational one. He is the principal of Marangu Teachers' Training College . It can also be used for important people or institutions. He is one of the principal conductors in this country. If I have a principle, it is an important rule by which I try to direct my life. If someone has no principles, we might say that they are unprincipled.

recipe / receipt

A recipe is something that we use as a guide when we are cooking. A receipt is something that we collect when we purchase something in a shop.

recount / re-count

When we recount a story we re-tell it. He recounted his exploits in Morocco . When we re-count something, we count it again. This happened when Bush was elected.

recover / re-cover

When we recover, we get better after an accident or illness. It took him a month to recover after the illness. When we re-cover something we cover it again. I wanted to re-cover my chairs and so I went to buy some material.

regal / royal

The word regal really means royal in appearance and so could be used to refer to someone in a royal family as well as someone who had nothing to do with royalty. She looked very regal whenever she dressed up for the theatre. The word royal is generally to do with a family with historical connections which enable them to be described as royal. There have been a number of scandals in the British royal family.

role / roll

Role has to do with position or job or post. What role did he have in the last play you put on? A roll is round and made of bread. It can also be a verb; He rolled down the hill.


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