critic / critical / criticism / critique

Let’s start with the difference between criticism and a critique. Criticism is negative comments – identifying faults or bad points. A critique is simply an evaluation – it can comment on the good points and/or the bad points. My project idea received a lot of criticism from my colleagues – they said it would never…

empathy / sympathy

Empathy refers to the ability to deeply understand and share someone else’s feelings or situation. The verb form is empathize. For example, if you were bullied or made fun of as a child, you have empathy with kids who are currently being bullied. If you started your own company and you know how challenging it…

holiday / vacation

A holiday is a special day for religious or cultural reasons – such as Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Eve, and your country’s Independence Day. Some holidays are also official days off from work, and others are not. A vacation is when you take multiple days off from work/school to relax and/or travel. However, American English…

late / lately

Late can be an adjective or an adverb that means after the correct time. I’m not hungry because I had a late lunch. (adjective) He slept late and missed his first class. (adverb) Lately is an adverb that means the same as recently. I haven’t studied a lot lately. Work has been busy for the…

regretful / regrettable

A person who feels regret is regretful. The incident or situation that causes regret is regrettable: The murderer said he was deeply regretful of the pain he had caused the victim’s family. I’m regretful of my decision not to study abroad. I should have traveled when I had the chance. The church had to be…

affect / effect

Affect is a verb used for the process of one thing causing another thing to change. Effect is a noun, and it means the end result of some change. This disease is affecting my ability to breathe. The medicine had an instant effect on the pain. In spoken English, affect and effect are pronounced the…

arrive / come / get / reach

Come is a general word used for entering a current place. It can be used for coming from short distances or long distances. My sister lives in London, but next week she’s coming to visit me in Atlanta. Our neighbors are coming over for dinner tonight. Come here – I want to show you something….

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…

if / whether

You can use whether or if interchangeably in indirect questions. “If’ is more informal and more common in spoken English. “Whether” is more formal and should be used in formal writing. Do you know if/whether he has a girlfriend? Could you tell me if/whether the supermarket is open on Sundays? I was wondering if/whether you’d…

Mr. / Mrs. / Ms. / Miss

These titles indicate a person’s gender and marital status: Mr. (pronounced “mister”) = a man. Can be married or unmarried. Mrs. (pronounced “missus”) = a married woman Miss (pronounced “miss”) = an unmarried woman Ms. (pronounced “mizz”) = a woman who we are not sure if she is married or not. These titles are typically…

sensible / sensitive

Sensible means having a good practical awareness or understanding of a situation: This is a very sensible article – it’s a realistic description of both points of view in the debate. I’m more of a dreamer, and my husband is the sensible one. I come up with crazy ideas and he tells me if they’ll…

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,…

been / gone

When talking about past travel experiences, we typically use been to mean “gone” or “visited,” usually with ever/never: Have you ever been to Australia? (= Have you ever visited Australia?) Yes, I’ve been there three times. (= I’ve gone there three times.) No, I’ve never been there. (= I’ve never visited.) The word been describes…

cloth / clothes / clothing

Clothes and clothing refer to the things you wear – shirts, pants, underwear, dresses, suits, etc. Cloth is the material, the fabric. Cotton, wool, silk, etc. are different types of cloth. There is also a pronunciation difference: The o in clothes/clothing sounds like the o in “no.” The o in cloth sounds like the aw…

do / make

DO generally refers to the action itself, and MAKE usually implies that there is a result. For example, if you “make breakfast,” the result is an omelet! If you “make a suggestion,” you have created a recommendation. Use DO for actions, obligations, and repetitive tasks: do the laundry do homework do the shopping do business…

gratuity / tip

When you go to a restaurant in the United States, it is customary to pay extra money for the service of your waiter or waitress. This extra money is called the tip or gratuity. Usually you, the customer, decide how much money you want to leave as a tip (it is customary to leave between…

intend / tend

If you intend to do something, it means you plan to do it. You have the desire or idea to do it in your mind, but the action has not been performed yet. For example: I intend to go to grad school next year. The Olympic athlete intends to become a coach after retiring from…

till / until

Till is just a short form of until, and in spoken English, you can use either one with no difference in meaning: You can’t watch TV until you finish your homework. or You can’t watch TV till you finish your homework. I’ll be in a meeting until 3:30. or I’ll be in a meeting till…