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Build Your English Vocabulary: Confusing English Words

Updated: Nov 24

Chicken and kitchen are confusing words in English.

Introduction - Build your English vocabulary

There are many words in English that are confusing, mainly because they are spelt similarly. As a result, they are used incorrectly; the meanings are completely different. There is no other way around it; they must be learnt to use them correctly.

In this article I will show you a selection of the most confusing examples. The first one is:

Chicken – Kitchen

I think the confusion here stems from the sounds of ‘ch’ and ‘k’ – which can both be pronounced as K – as in the word ‘lichen’ (pronounced: liken) - and furthermore, both are in each word - to add to the confusion.

Next, is:

Bought – Brought

You need to understand that ‘bought’ is the past tense of ‘buy’ and ‘brought’ is the past tense of ‘bring’ - different meanings entirely. The important (and confusing) letter to note is the R.

“I bought it from the shop yesterday.”

“I brought it to class this morning.”

Passed – Past

Again, passed is the past tense of pass as in ‘not failing’ but it also means to go by something.

“She passed the exam with flying colours.”

Or “He passed the note to his friend.”

Or “We passed all the other cars in the race and won.”

Past is used this way: “We went past all the other cars in the race and won.”

Or “In the past, that was how it was done.”

There – their - they’re

These three are a major source of confusion for English students.

Look at this sentence which should clear up the confusion:

They’re saying that their books have always been there on the desk.”

Compliment – Complement

A compliment can be a noun as well as a verb.

As a noun: “By telling me I had done a great job, she paid me the highest compliment.” Here, compliment means praise.

As a verb: “I must compliment you on your extremely well-written essay.”

A ‘complement’ means something that completes something else or makes it better. It also refers to the crew of a ship. In grammar, a complement is a word or group of words added to a sentence to make it complete.

It can be used as a verb or a noun.

As a verb: “Your shiny shoes really complement your suit. They make you a complete star.”

As a noun (relating to a ship’s crew): “Half the complement of the ship was drowned when it sank.”

As a noun (used in grammar): “In grammar, a complement is a word, phrase, or clause that is necessary to complete the meaning of a given expression.”

Accept – Except

While ‘accept’ means to take something from someone else, such as a compliment, or to believe a point of view, ‘except’ means everything or anyone but.

Examples will help overcome the confusion.

“I’m sorry but I don’t accept that what you are telling me is true.”

“Everyone went to the party except Sally.”

Advice – Advise

This is easier to explain: advice is the noun, advise is the verb. Both have the same root meaning.

An easy way to remember the difference is "C for the noun, S for the verb."

“He always gives me great advice!”

“I must advise you against taking that course of action.”

Licence – License

Again, one is a verb while the other is a noun. In US English ‘license’ is both a verb and a noun.

For other English-speaking countries, the same rule for remembering which one is which applies: “C for the noun, S for the verb”.

“I got my driver’s licence today!”

“Now I am licensed to drive a car.”

I should mention that ‘practice’ (noun) and ‘practise’ (verb) follow the same rule except in American English. (As an Australian I had to add ‘practise’ to my MS Word dictionary.)

It is important therefore to remember your readers of your writing; are they Americans or other English speakers?

Adverse – Averse

Adverse is an adjective to describe something preventing success or development; unfavourable, harmful.

“Research of the company came up with adverse findings; that it was doomed to fail unless changes were made.”

Averse, which also is an adjective, meanwhile, means having a strong dislike of or opposition to something.

‘The CEO of the company did not believe the research was thorough enough and was strongly averse to the findings.”

Lose – Loose

Be comforted in the fact that even native English speakers misuse these two.

One meaning of lose is to fail. Another meaning is to have something taken away, while another is forgetting where something was left.

“His team is playing badly; they are bound to lose the match.”

“Did you lose your phone while you were on the bus?”

“Where did you lose it?”

Loose means something completely different. It means free, not tight-fitting, not restrictive.

Loose tongues sink ships!”

“She loves wearing loose dresses that flow down to the ground.”

“I have a loose tooth and I am afraid of losing it.”

The last three are:

Whether, wether, and weather

The main issue with these words is a problem with spelling, particularly whether and weather. Wether, as you will learn, occurs less frequently in conversation. Nevertheless, ‘wether’ IS used to spell either of the other two.

A wether is a castrated ram – a male sheep.

“We must separate the ewes from the wethers and the rams.”

‘Whether’ is a conjunction. If you want to express a doubt or a choice between alternatives, then ‘whether’ is used.

“I don’t know whether I should go or stay.”

Weather’ is the state of the atmosphere, describing for example the degree to which it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy.

“The weather tomorrow will be hot and sultry with a chance of a thunderstorm in the afternoon.”


As I get ready to post this article, I have become aware of several more ‘confusing words’. But they will appear in a later article, I promise.

I hope you have enjoyed these explanations and have learned the important differences to build your English vocabulary. Hopefully, they won’t be so confusing for you in future.

Finally, if you enjoyed this article, please share it on your socials with your friends. It's easy: just copy the URL and post.

(c) Apex English Tutoring Jan 2021 - Updated Nov 2023

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About the Author

Michael Finemore, MA (Research) CQU, TEFL/TESOL Certificate, an experienced English Teacher, is the Owner-Operator of Apex English Tutoring.

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