poor / pore / pour

The verb pour means to make liquid flow out from a container by inclining the container. When you put milk or juice from the carton into a glass, you are pouring it. When it’s raining very hard, you can also say “It’s pouring.” Po or (adjective) is the opposite of rich. If a person is…

oppress / suppress / repress

The verb oppress means to keep somebody down by using unjust force. For example, a cruel dictator might oppress his country’s people, or the ethnic majority of a population might oppress the minority. Oppress always has a negative connotation, and oppression is usually a continuous condition and not just a onetime event. The word repress…

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…

moral / morale

As a noun, a moral is the lesson learned from a story – often used in the expression “the moral of the story.” The plural form, morals, has a different meaning. It refers to a person’s standards of determining right and wrong behavior: The doctor refused to perform an abortion because it was against her…

may / might

The difference between may and might is very small: Use may when the event is slightly more likely to happen: “What are you doing this weekend?” “Shopping! I’m going to buy some new clothes, and I may get a new hat as well.” (it’s slightly more probable that I will buy the hat) “What are…

just / only

The word “just” has several possible definitions: 1) Recently Be careful – I just washed the floor, and it’s still wet. or ( I washed the floor a few minutes ago) He just finished a big project. or ( he finished the project very recently) 2) Only I have just one brother. or ( I…

job / work / career

A job is a regular and official activity that you do, and receive money for your activity. It is also called a profession or an occupation. You can have a full-time job (40 hours a week) or a part-time job (around 25 hours a week). The word job is a countable noun: Right after graduating…

inhabit / live / reside

Live is the most common word: My family lives in a big house. They live on the East Coast. I’ve lived in Canada my whole life. We’ve been living here for five years. Reside is a more formal word for live. It usually implies that you live in a place permanently or for a long…

incite / insight

Insight (pronounced IN – site) is a noun that means an in-depth understanding: The biography offered many insights into the life of a famous artist. The research will provide insight into the development of the brain. She has lived in Mongolia for 30 years, and has valuable insight into the local culture. Incite (pronounced in…

impending / pending

If an issue is pending, it means it is not yet concluded or resolved. It is waiting for a decision or confirmation. The results of the experiment are pending. We have a few pending issues on which we need the CEO’s input. The cause of death is pending investigation. There are two pending transactions in…

If I was… / If I were…

Which is correct? If I were you, I’d apologize. If I was you, I’d apologize. The first one is correct – If I were you – because this is a hypothetical (imaginary) situation. It is not possible for me to be you, but I am imagining that this is the case. Here are more examples…

how about…? / what about…?

Use “How about?” to suggest an action and to “open” possibilities: “I’ve got the day off from work tomorrow. What should we do?” “How about spending the day in the city?” “Nah. I don’t really feel like traveling.” “How about we clean the house?” “No way. I want to do something fun.” “OK. How about…

hijack / kidnap

You hijack a vehicle – such as a car, train, or airplane – taking control of it by using force. You kidnap a person – take and hold the person against their will, often demanding money to release them.

hear / listen

There are two differences between listen and hear: Listen is often a prolonged action, but hear is just one moment in time: While I was listening to the news, I heard that there was a plane crash outside the city. (“listening to the news” = continuous action, “heard” = one specific moment) Listen is often…

have to / must / need to

These words are all used for obligations – things that are necessary and required. Must is the most formal. It is usually used in official rules (and is not as common in spoken English): Students must register for classes by August 1. You must possess a valid driver’s license to apply for this job. NEVER…

fun / funny

The word fun (adj. or n.) means something is enjoyable; you like doing it. Amusement parks are fun. I think playing soccer is more fun than playing basketball. We had fun at the party. The word funny (adj.) means something makes you laugh; it is full of comedy: The movie is really funny. It’s a…

forest / jungle / wood / woods

All of these words refer to an area with lots of trees and other vegetation close together. The word jungle refers to a tropical area (it can also be called a rain forest). The Amazon in Brazil is an example of a jungle. In non-tropical areas, land filled with trees can be called the forest…

famous / infamous

The word famous means a lot of people know about a person or thing: She’s a famous singer who has sold millions of albums. This restaurant is famous for its steak. People come from miles away to eat it. The word infamous means someone or something is well-known because they are connected to bad behavior…

ex- / former / previous

Previous means “immediately before,” and former means “at any time in the past.” Your former employer means any employer you have had in your past, at any time. Your previous employer typically means the most recent employer you had in your past. A former president is any of the many people who have held the…

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…

either / neither

Either… or is used for ONE thing, but NOT the other. You can choose one flavor of ice cream – either chocolate or vanilla. We can either go shopping or see a movie, but we won’t have time to do both. Neither… nor is used for NOT TWO THINGS. You can also say Neither of…

dress / dressed / wear

A dress (n.) is a type of clothing that women wear: The words dressed (adj.) and get dressed (v.) can be used with both men AND women. “Get dressed” means to put on your clothes (the opposite is “get undressed”): You get dressed in the morning, or after taking a shower, and you get undressed…

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…

despite / in spite of

These expressions are the same – just remember not to say “despite of”! We won the game despite having two fewer players. We won the game in spite of having two fewer players. After despite and in spite of, we use a noun or a gerund (-ING form of the verb). Do not use the…

definitely / definitively

Definite (adjective) or definitely (adverb) means certain, without a single doubt: We have definite plans to move to New York. (it is 100% certain that we will move there) I’m definitely going to the party. (it is 100% certain that I am going) This $50 jacket is definitely overpriced. I saw the exact same jacket…

delay / late / postpone

Late is an adjective and an adverb, describing an event that happened after the correct time: We had a late breakfast at 10:00. (the usual time for breakfast is earlier, around 7-9 AM) The bus arrived thirty minutes late. (the bus arrived thirty minutes after the correct time on the schedule) Avoid this common error:…

deadly / fatal / lethal

All of these words mean “capable of causing death.” Usually the word fatal means that somebody actually died: He survived his first two heart attacks, but the third one was fatal. We often describe the following things as fatal if they cause someone to die: accident, crash, fall, stabbing, shooting, attack, blow, injury, wound The…

convince / persuade

These words both refer to when a person influences another person to do or believe something: He persuaded me to move to New York by telling me about how exciting the city was. He convinced me that New York City was an exciting place to live. However, there are a few differences. We persuade someone…

chance / possibility / opportunity

With the verb have, always use opportunity. The word possibility is more often used with “there is”: There’s a possibility I might move to England next year. I have the opportunity to work in my company’s London office. Also, possibility is neutral – it means maybe the event will happen, and maybe it will not…

bring up / grow up

Children grow up – they get older, bigger, and more mature: I grew up in a small town where everybody knew each other. Your kids are 12 and 14 already? Wow – they’re growing up so fast! We usually use grow up only until kids become adults around age 18. After that, we can say…