Commonly Confused Words


by Guy Perring

Common problems in English arise out of the similarity of many of the words. For example, if halfway through a film you say “I’m boring”, your date may reply “Yes, you are” and it is unlikely the rest of the evening will be a success. Remember the rule “-ed” for how you feel and “-ing” for describing something. So if the film is boring, you are bored. A film may be frightening and you will be frightened. This rule applies to numerous pair words such as fascinating/fascinated, exciting/excited, relaxed/relaxing and surprised/surprising.

Another pair that confuse are borrow/lend. For example, It has started to rain. Could you _______ me your umbrella?/Could I _________ your umbrella? Which is which, tricky, isn’t it? The first gap is lend and the second borrow. Probably, the easiest way to remember the difference is that lend has two objects one is indirect( i.e. me) and the other direct (i.e. umbrella), while borrow only one direct object (i.e. umbrella). Alternatively, you could remember with Ambrose Bierce’s definition of an acquaintance:-“A person who we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to”

Bring/take also can cause confusion. A typical mistake being If we leave now, I can bring you to the airport. In this example, take is correct because the movement is not towards the person speaking. If the movement is towards the speaker then we can use bring as in “Come her and bring me your homework”. Similar problems arise with come/go and the guidelines are essentially the same. I say guidelines, because you will always find exceptions.

Here are a few more examples:-


a)He gave me some good _______ about investing.
b)We will ________ you of any changes later.


a)The new model of car is very ___________.
b)The latest ________ forecast for Malaysia is very positive.


a)Be careful when you comment about his fashion sense. He’s very __________.
b)It is ________ to keep note of your passport number.

See below for answers.

  1. a) advice
    b) advise
  2. a) economical
    b) economic
  3. a) sensitive
    b) sensible
Guy Perring is Director, Professional Development Unit (PDU), at the British Council Malaysia. The PDU offers a wide range of learning opportunities from management and communications skills training to developing English skills. Contact the British Council in Kuala Lumpur at 03- 2723 7900 or Penang at 04-263 0330 or visit

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Comment by Mya Thida Lwin on May 14, 2012 at 19:44

Thank you. I learned a lot from that.

Comment by thwe thwe phyo on March 22, 2012 at 10:59
Comment by U KYAW SOE on November 2, 2011 at 16:49

It is very useful for us.

Comment by Nauthawn on October 5, 2011 at 10:31

very good

Comment by pyae sone phyoe on May 29, 2011 at 14:04

 i want to improve my english /

how do i

Comment by Kyaw Zaw Tun on April 7, 2011 at 16:36
really good
Comment by kavidhaja on February 23, 2011 at 23:30
Thanks again for translating into Myanmar from English and sharing
Comment by Aung on December 24, 2010 at 16:10
thz a lot.
Comment by ohnmar minn on November 16, 2010 at 13:12
very useful.we always confuse about these words
Comment by aye htike htike soe on July 6, 2010 at 11:15
it's really useful.

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