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.

atheist / agnostic

An atheist believes that god does not exist; an agnostic is not sure whether god exists or not.

aural / oral

The word aural relates to what we hear and the word oral to what we say.

backward / backwards

If my son does poorly at school someone could regard him as backward. The word backwards simply describes the direction of movement. He tried to walk backwards.

bale / bail

He has many bales of hay on his farm. The word bail relates to emptying a boat of water to stop it sinking. Another meaning relates to the payment that someone makes to a court so that person can stay out of prison while waiting for a case to come to court.

beside / besides

Beside relates to position; She sat beside me in the train. Besides means in addition to.Besides oranges, what other fruit do you like?

burned / burnt

When we use the verb burn in the past tense we use burned. He can't cook. He burned a chicken last week. We use burnt as an adjective to describe something: the burnt chicken.

cannon / canon

A cannon is used by soldiers and it fires bullets or shells; the word canon is used in various ways to do with Christianity, formal rules or laws, collections of literature or a type of choral music.

canvas / canvass

Canvas is a type of strong cloth (used in Levis jeans). To canvass votes is to approach people to persuade them to vote for your political party; to canvass opinions is to ask people for their view on specific topics.

carat / carrot

Carat is a measurement for gold or diamonds; a 24-carat gold watch. A carrot is a root vegetable.

censor / censure

A censor is someone who, for example, classifies films and decides if they aere suitable for public viewing. It can also be a verb: His letters were censored while he was in the army. To censure something is to criticise it officially; The opposition censured the government over the war in Iraq.


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