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30 Words That Can Be Confusing Even To Native Speakers

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29 Jan 2019

Have you ever come across some words that just simply confused you? Let's take a look at some of the words that even a native speaker might find it difficult to get them right.

 

The famous British journalist Harold Evans has written down a vocabulary list outlining 30 words that are confusing, and many people have treated them as synonym. Why not take a look at the words and see if you know the differences? You can use this as quiz to test your friends too!

 

01. affect / effect

Examples: 

affect: The bad weather affects my mood. 

effect: The president effected several changes in the company.

 

02. alibi / excuse

Examples: 

alibi: The police broke her alibi by proving she knew how to shoot a pistol.

excuse: I can't buy his excuse. 

 

03. alternatives / choices

Examples:

alternatives: New ways to treat arthritis may provide an alternative to painkillers.

choices: Our choices come down to staying here or leaving here. 

 

04. anticipate / expect

Examples:

anticipate: What Jeff did was to anticipate my next question.

expect: I expect that the weather will be nice.

 

05. flagrant / blatant

Examples:

flagrant: The judge called the decision "a flagrant violation of international law."

blatant: Outsiders will continue to suffer the most blatant discrimination.

 

06. chronic / acute / severe

Examples:

chronic: For those with chronic depression, she said, "keep at it."

acute: Acute dysentery wracked and sapped life from his body. 

 

07. compose / comprise

Examples:

compose: England, Scotland and Wales compose the island of Great Britain. 

comprise: After the 2014 referendum on independence for Scotland, the UK still comprised England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

 

08. continual / continuous

Examples:

continual: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war,” Madison concluded. 

continuous: Continuous farming impoverishes the soil. 

 

09. crescendo / climax

Examples:

crescendo: She spoke in a crescendo: "You are a bad girl! You are a wicked girl! You are evil!"

climax: The fifth scene was the climax of the play. 

 

10. decimate / destroy

Examples:

decimate: Famine decimated the population.

destroy: The soldiers destroyed the village.  

 

11. dilemma / problem

Examples:

dilemma: Many women are faced with the dilemma of choosing between work and family commitments. 

problem: The problem of street crime is getting worse every year. 

 

12. disinterested / uninterested

Examples:

disinterested: A lawyer should provide disinterested advice. 

uninterested: He was uninterested in politics. 

 

13. entomb / trap

Examples:

entomb: The city was entombed in volcanic lava. 

trap: The train was trapped underground by a fire. 

 

14. flotsam / jetsam

Examples:

flotsam: The water was full of flotsam and refuse. 

jetsam: The smallest bits of jetsam, like the most transient incidents in a life, can be the most evocative.

 

15. forego / forgo

Examples: 

forego: So she did his bidding and gave him the cup, which no sooner had he drunk than his head forewent his feet.

forgo: Sometimes this priority shift means you have to forgo one goal in exchange for another. 

 

16. gourmet / gourmand

Examples:

gourmet: Food critics have to be gourmets in order to write about food in an informed way.

gourmand: He's the kind of gourmand who swallows food without even pausing to taste. 

 

17. inchoate / incoherent

Examples:

inchoate: She had a child's inchoate awareness of language.

incoherent: The talk she gave was incoherent and badly prepared.

 

18. incumbent(noun.) / incumbent (adj.)

Examples:

incumbent(noun.) : The incumbent president faces problems which began many years before he took office.

incumbent (adj.): She felt it was incumbent on herself to act immediately.

 

19. inflammable / flammable

Examples:

inflammable: Petrol is a highly inflammable liquid.

flammable: This solvent is flammable.

 

20. insidious / invidious

Examples:

insidious: Cancer is an insidious disease.

invidious: The boss made invidious distinctions between employees.

 

21. judicial / judicious

Examples:

judicial: a judicial enquiry

judicious: We should make judicious use of the resources available to us.

 

22. less / fewer

Examples:

less: We must try to spend less money.

fewer: Fewer people smoke these days than used to.

 

23. litigate / dodge

Examples:

litigate: The case is still being litigated.

dodge: He dodged the bullet.

 

24. luxuriant / luxurious

Examples:

luxuriant: Tall, luxuriant plants grew along the river bank.

luxurious: They have a very luxurious house.

 

25. prescribe / proscribe

Examples:

prescribe: The doctor prescribed his patient who was down with fever.

proscribe: The sale of narcotics is proscribed by law.

 

26. refugee / migrant

Examples:

refugee: Refugees were pouring across the frontier.

migrant: The government divides asylum seekers into economic migrants and genuine refugees.

 

27. replica / reproduction

Examples:

replica: Replica is the more valuable, for it is supposed to be more beautiful.

reproduction: This is a reproduction of a popular religious painting.

 

28. sceptic / denier

Examples:

sceptic: The sceptic may argue that there are no grounds for such optimism.

denier: He is a denier of harsh realities.

 

29. transpire / happen

Examples:

transpire: Later, it transpired she had failed the examination.

happen: 'It just happened.' she said, after failing her exam.

 

30. viable / feasible

Examples:

viable: Cash alone will not make Eastern Europe's banks viable.

feasible: She questioned whether it was feasible to stimulate investment in these regions.

 

31 (bonus). viral / viral

Examples:

viral: I can't believe that video of our puppy lounging on a pool float went viral!

viral: Some viral proteins do good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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