English, like most languages, can be confusing even for those who’ve spoken it their entire lives. We all make mistakes occasionally. However, some words are more confusing than others, even for an advanced English speaker!
Here are 18 commonly misused words and how to use them properly
Note: This post is perfect if you are an advanced English speaker with a basic understanding of grammar and vocabulary. If you are a beginner, we recommend you start with some articles such as this
Aloud and allowed: This pair of words is part of a group known as homophones: words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have differing meanings. Aloud means spoken with one’s voice; allowed means having permission. An easy way to remember the difference between them is that aloud contains the word “loud” so you can hear something being said aloud.
Biannual and biennial: I would guess that more people use these words incorrectly than correctly! Biannual means something that happens twice each year; biennial means that it happens every two years. Breaking down the word biannual helps recall its meaning: annual means once a year, and bi means two, so biannual means twice a year. Also, the biennial contains the letter “e” so it means every (which starts with e) two years.
Despite and in spite of: These actually mean the same thing, but one is a single word and the other is a phrase. The challenge is remembering not to use “of” with “despite.” So “we had the picnic despite the rain” is correct, as is “we had the picnic in spite of the rain,” but NOT “we had the picnic despite of the rain.”
Good / well: The first one is an adjective – it means you use it to describe a noun. “He’s a good dog.” Well is an adverb, which means you use it to modify a verb. “He likes his steak well cooked.” Often, newer English speakers will use good when they mean well. “I speak English good” is incorrect, because you need to use an adverb to modify the verb speak. So you would properly say “I speak English well.”
Literally: This is a word that even many native speakers misuse! Literally means actually or in reality. So if you say “I am literally in the middle of an English class,” it is only correct if you are actually participating in a class at that moment. Incorrect use looks like this: “I am literally dying of hunger right now.” (Unless you are on a hunger strike or have been starving for weeks, this is not correct use.)
Lose and loose: These words are almost homophones, but the “S” sound is different. In “lose,” the s sounds like a z, while in “loose” it maintains its natural s pronunciation. Lose as a verb means not to win or misplace some object. Loose is an adjective that indicates the opposite of tight. You can lose your glasses or the soccer game, but you wear your hair loose or your belt is loose.
Moreover: This is another word to say further or besides. So you make a statement and then want to add something to it. You might say “I like cake. Moreover, I think it should be eaten every day.” Or you could say “Let’s stay home because it’s raining. Moreover, it might snow later.”
Much and many: When you want to talk about quantities of things, you use one of these words. Much is used when you cannot count what you are referring to. Many is used when you can. For example, you would ask someone “How many children do you have?” because the person can count their children and give you an exact number. However, asking “How much television do you watch?” is correct, because the person might answer “a lot” or “only a little.”
Wander and wonder: To wander means to go from place to place without intent or to get lost. To wonder means to be curious and have an urge to know. So you wander around a place, but you wonder what happened.
Which and that: these are words that join parts of sentences (known as clauses) together. You use which when the clause it introduces does not change the meaning of the initial sentence. For example: “The blanket, which was pink, kept her warm.” You could remove the clause “which was pink” and the sentence would keep its original meaning.
You use that when the clause it introduces is crucial to the meaning of the sentence. For example: “The boat that brought us here is sinking.” Take out the words “that brought us here” and you change the meaning of the sentence from one that describes a specific boat to one that could be about any boat in the world.
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