Confusing English Words
“to” versus “too”
Basically, “to” is a preposition. For example:
a. She listened to the music.
b. I spoke to her.
c. We wrote a letter to him.
“Too” has a number of meanings. It can mean “as well”. For example:
a. We went to the party and Nigel went too.
b. Sam danced to the music too.
“Too much” or “too many” means that there is an excess of something. We use “too much” for uncountable nouns, and “too many” for countable nouns. For example:
a. I think there is too much sugar in this coffee.
b. There are too many people in this room.
“threw” versus “through”
“Threw” is the past tense of “throw”. For example:
a. Paul threw the ball at me.
b. She threw the chair at it.
“Through” can be used as a preposition. It is often used to refer to the process of passing from one side of something to the other side of it. For example:
a. She walked through the door.
b. They walked through the forest.
c. Paul worked all through the night.
d. The bird flew in through the window.
“they’re” versus “there”
As we saw last month, “they’re” is a contraction of “they are”. For example:
a. Paul and John work here. They’re our colleagues.
b. Petra and Jane are here. They’re talking in the dining room.
“There” is often used to indicate place or position. For example:
a. My new car is over there.
b. He is there – in the garden.
c. There are three of them on the roof.
“Principal” versus “principle”
A “principal” (noun) is the most important person in an organization. For example: “She is the principal of Barkstone Girls’ School.”
“Principal” (adjective) is the first in importance, rank, value, etc. For example:
“They are the principal provider of food in the region.”
A “principle” (noun) is a standard or a rule. For example:
“As a matter of principle, we never pay before we receive the goods.”
“Sustainable development is a very good principle.”
“hear” versus “here”
If you “hear” something, you detect the sound of it with your ears. For example:
“I can’t hear what you are saying.”
If something is “here”, it is close to where you are at any given moment. For example:
“It took me three hours to get here.”
“less” versus “fewer”
We use “less” with non-countable nouns.
For example: “less sugar, less hair, less time, less work”, etc.
And we use “fewer” with plural items.
For example: “fewer clothes, fewer people, fewer toys, fewer shirts”, etc.
“Lose” versus “loose”
“To lose” is to fail. For example:
“We are going to lose the game.”
If something is “loose”, it is not tight. For example: “These trousers are too loose for me.”
“bought” versus “brought”
“Bought” is the past tense of “to buy”. For example:
“We bought a new car last month.”
And “brought” is the past tense of “to bring”. For
“Who brought that CD to the party? It was terrible.”
“alone” versus “lonely”
If you are “alone”, no one is with you. For example,
“I can’t believe that Martin travelled alone through Europe for two weeks.”
If you are “lonely”, you feel depressed and sad because no one is with you. For example, “Living away from home can be lonely at first.”
“desert” versus “dessert”
A “desert” is a large area of sand such as the Sahara. For example, “We walked for two hours in the burning desert sun.”
A “dessert” is food that is sweet and often eaten at the end of a meal. For example, “Chocolate cake is my favourite dessert.”
“finish” versus “end”
“Finish” and “end” are often interchangeable. For example:
a. The film ended at 10pm.
b. The film finished at 10pm.
However, here are two cases to look out for when they cannot be interchanged:
When we talk about completing an activity, we use “finish”. For example:
a. I haven’t finished my dinner – there’s too much on my plate!
b. Have you finished your homework yet?
When we talk about stopping or breaking something off, we use “end”. For example:
a. We have to end this affair.
b. The government should end this war. “End” can’t be followed by the gerund.
“say” versus “tell”
We can use both “say” and “tell” to talk about what has been expressed / communicated. For example:
a. He told us that he would be later.
b. He said that he would be late.
We can use “say” and “tell” in direct speech. As you can see from the examples below, there is little difference in meaning but the form is different. “Say” doesn’t require an object or object pronoun. For example:
a. Tom said, “I like learning English.”
b. “This is great,” Abigail said.
But with “tell” we need an object or an object pronoun (“me, you, him, her, us, them”, etc.). For example:
a. “I’m going to learn English,” Sandy told me.
b. “They’re watching a film,” Jim told us.
“Say” and “tell” are also used in indirect / reported speech. We use them to report what someone has said. Once again, we use “say” without an object or object pronoun. For example:
a. Tom said he had a fun evening.
b. Mary said she was hungry.
And we use “tell” with an object or an object pronoun. For example:
a. Tom told us he had a fun evening.
b. Mary told them that she was hungry.
We can also use “tell” for instructing or ordering someone to do something. For example:
a. My boss told me to stay late.
b. She told me not to open it.
We can also use “tell” in fixed expressions. In some cases, the object or object pronoun is not obligatory. For example:
a. to tell (someone) a lie: She told us a lie.
b. to tell (someone) a story: Can you tell me a story?
c. to tell (someone) the truth: Are you telling the truth?
d. to tell someone the time: Could you tell us the time, please?
e. to tell the time: It’s hard to tell the time in English.
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