then / than

Although these words are spelled differently and have different meanings, in fast spoken English they often sound the same: then and than. Than is used in comparatives: I’m older than my brother. A car is faster than a bicycle. I learned more from my parents than I learned from my teachers. Then is used in…

during / while / meanwhile / meantime

All of these words describe when two things are happening simultaneously (at the same time). Let’s start with during and while. Use during before a noun: The people sitting in front of me were talking during the movie. My boss seemed to be in a rush; she kept checking her watch during our meeting. Use…

discover / find out / notice / realize

To notice means to perceive something with your senses – to see, hear, smell, or feel it. She raised her hand, but the teacher didn’t notice her and called on another student to answer the question. I made a few mistakes during my piano performance, but nobody noticed. I noticed a strong smell of smoke…

ancient / antique

The word ancient means very, very old – usually hundreds or thousands of years old: Archeologists found remnants of an ancient civilization that lived in the area around 600 BC. The word antique describes an item that is from an earlier period -usually 50-100 years old: Guillaume Blanchard I inherited an antique table from my…

last / past

In some situations, you can use last and past interchangeably with no difference in meaning: The economy has improved in the past month. The economy has improved in the last month. When used with time, the word past always requires the or this – but the word last does not. Last weekend I went to…

rob / thief / steal

The nouns robber and thief refer to the person, the criminal: imaae source The robbers ran away from the police. The thief took my laptop and cell phone. “Give me all your money!” the robber said. The thieves were tall, white men who looked about 22 years old. The robbery (n.) is the event: Police…

concern / concerned / concerning

If you say someone is concerned, it means that person is worried: I’m concerned about my son – he’s not getting good grades in school. I live in a big city, and my mother is concerned for my safety. We’re concerned that we won’t be able to finish the project in time. You can also…

shade / shadow

Shade is the general dark area that is protected from the sun: It’s so hot out – let’s sit in the shade. We brought an umbrella to the beach so that we could have some shade. A shadow is the “shape” of an object or person that blocks the light. You can only have “shade”…

notable / noticeable

Something that is noticeable means that it is easy to be seen or observed: He has a noticeable accent – he must not be a native English speaker. The new medicine resulted in a noticeable improvement in her health. The differences between the old software and the new software are barely noticeable. Something that is…

alive / life / live

The word l-i-v-e has two pronunciations: The verb live (with the “i” sound in “sit”) means to reside: I live in a small house. She lives in France. The adjective live (with the “i” sound in “like”) has a few different meanings. When music or a TV broadcast is happening in real time (it was…

hope / wish

The word wish is usually used for hypothetical (imagined) situations, when you want something in the present or past to be different. When you’re wishing a present situation was different, use wish + simple past: I live near the beach, but I wish I lived near the mountains. I wish my mother knew how to…

fee / fare / tax

These words describe an amount of money that needs to be paid – but they’re used in different situations. Fare is used only for transportation: The bus fare is the cost of the bus ticket The train fare is the cost of the train ticket The taxi fare is the cost of taking a taxi…

city / downtown / town

A city is larger than a town. New York City, Boston, Miami, and Los Angeles are examples of cities. All state or country capitals are cities; cities usually have some significant political, economic or cultural importance. The word town refers to a smaller population center. And a very small population center – even smaller than…

decent / descent / dissent

The adjective decent (DEE – sint) describes something good, satisfactory, or civilized: My job’s not very glamorous, but I earn a decent salary. He might seem a bit cold, but he’s a decent guy once you get to know him. I’m selling a used laptop in decent condition. The noun descent (di – SENT) has…

hopefully / thankfully

You can say hopefully about something you want to happen (but you do not know if it will happen or not). Say thankfully about an established fact. Both “hopefully” and “thankfully” can be used in the past, present, or future – but thankfully is about confirmed facts and hopefully is about unconfirmed facts: Future: Hopefully,…

would rather

Would rather means ‘would prefer to’. It is followed by the infinitive without to. We often use the contraction’d rather: this means ‘would rather’, not ‘had rather’. [ would rather + infinitive without to] Would you rather stay here or go home? ‘How about a drink?’ I’d rather have something to eat.’ We can use…

regard / regards / regardless

Regard (v.) is to consider or to have an opinion about something: Picasso is regarded as one of the greatest artists in history. I don’t regard this as a problem; I regard it as an opportunity. Regards (n.) is a greeting: Please give my regards to your parents when you see them. Some people end…

all of / each of

We use each to talk about objects individually, and all to talk about objects as a group: The teacher gave a different task to each student. (“each” emphasizes the individuality of the members of the group) The teacher gave tests to all the students. (“all” emphasizes the students as a group) In a similar way,…