Commonly Confused Words

When it comes to the evolution of a language, many words become popular over a period of time depending on their use or misuse by the general population. It is important to use the right word to communicate clearly and avoid any faux pas. There are many words that are commonly confused by people regardless of them being a learner or a native speaker. It is easier to believe that the meaning, spelling, and pronunciation of the words is what we expect them to be rather than learn it correctly.

Here’s a list of commonly confused words that are often used in classrooms of English language learning:

  1. They’re v. their v. there 

They’re – is a contraction of the words ‘they’ and ‘are’/’were’ depending on the tense of the sentence.

Example 1 – ‘They’re going to get married on the 28th.’ Here, ‘they’re (they are)’ is used in the present continuous form to talk about a planned future event.

Example 2 – ‘They’re late to the play as they had missed their train.’ Here, the secondary clause offers more insight into the context and denotes that we are talking about a past event. Therefore, it should be read as ‘they were’.

This is similar to other words like ‘you’re’ and ‘we’re’, where both the contracted words take either the present or the past form.

Their – is a possessive pronoun that denotes something belonging to someone. 

Example 1 – They lost their baggage at the airport. 

‘Their’ can also be used as a gender-neutral pronoun.

Example 2 – Someone left their glasses behind at the café. 

There – is an adverb that denotes a place. It is also used to introduce a subject, especially with the verbs – be, seem and appear.

Example – There is an alert for Tsunami in the East coast region.

  1. You’re v. Your

You’re – is a contraction of the words ‘you’ and ‘are/were’ depending on the tense of the sentence.

Example 1 – ‘You’re going to deliver a presentation to the client next week’ is describing an event that’s going to take place.

Example 2 – ‘You’re missed at the dinner last evening’ refers to an incident in the past. 

Your – is a possessive pronoun that talks about something belonging or relating to the person being spoken or written to.

Example – Your neighbour is such a lovely person.

  1. Who v. whom

Who – is a pronoun that is used as the subject or object of a verb to show which person is being referred to, or to add information about a person just mentioned. It is used for people and not things. It is also used when asking questions about a person.

Example 1 – He is one of those people who always lies to avoid confrontation.

Example 2 – Who was the person you were just talking to?

Whom – is a pronoun that is used as the object and not the subject of a verb or preposition when referring to a person. It can also be used when asking questions about a person.

Example 1 – One of my cousins, whom I had never met before, came to my wedding. 

Example 2 – To whom did you give the car? 

  1. Who’s v. whose

Who’s – is a contraction of the word ‘who’ and ‘is/was’ depending on the tense of the sentence.

Example 1 – ‘Who’s that with Raj?’ refers to the person in the present speaking to Raj. Therefore, it must be read as ‘who is’.

Example 2 – ‘Who’s with you at the mall yesterday?’ refers to the person they were with the previous day. Therefore, to be read as ‘who was’.

Whose – is a pronoun that’s used to ask questions about a person who owns or possesses something or is responsible for something.

Example – Whose red Ferrari is that? 

  1. I v. myself

I – is a subject of a verb used to refer to the person speaking or writing.

Example – I am working on writing some lyrics for the song.

Myself – is a reflexive pronoun used as the object of a verb when the subject is ‘I’.

Example – I bought myself some new clothes as a treat for doing mentally well this month.

Many non-native speakers often make the mistake of using ‘myself’ in the subject to replace I for introducing themselves. 

They say, ‘Myself Linda’ instead of saying, ‘I am Linda’. This way of introducing oneself by using ‘myself’ in the subject of the sentence is not right.

However, it can be used to replace ‘I’ in the passive voice.

Example – My friend and myself were held by the police for driving fast.

  1. Lose v. loose

Lose – is a verb that means that something is no longer present or there.

Example – Students lose interest in the class if they find it boring.

Loose – is an adjective that describes something that’s not held in place firmly.

Example – The wire to the battery of the car had become loose. 

  1. It’s v. its

It’s – is a contraction of the words ‘it’ and ‘is/was’ depending on the tense of the sentence. ‘It’s’ can also mean ‘it has’.

Example 1 – ‘It’s going to rain today’ is describing the future likely event of rain and therefore to be read as ‘it is’.

Example 2 – ‘It’s late when I got back home last night’ is describing an event in the past and therefore to be read as ‘it was’.

Example 3 – It’s been a pleasure talking to you about the project for the community. Here, it’s read as ‘it has’

Its – is a possessive determiner that refers to things or animals.

Example – The company revised its policies to offer more benefits to the employees.

  1. Quiet v. quite

Quiet – is an adjective that means to make very little noise

Example – The classroom was very quiet owing to the principal’s visit.

Quite – is an adverb of degree that refers to something completely.

Example – He is quite sure of striking a deal with the record company.

Although there are many easily confused words that people use on a daily basis, these are some of the very popular ones commonly used incorrectly. The students often seem to not realise the exact meaning or spelling of these words and end up making mistakes.

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