Commonly Confused Words

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There officially are 171,476 words in current use in the English language.

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Plus, there are 47,156 words which aren’t in use anymore.

The average adult English speaker knows about 40,000 words and only 20,000 of these are actively used.

That is a lot of words.

Some of these words seem to have similar meanings too.

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These words are called synonyms.

Let’s look at the synonyms for the word ‘happy’.

Here, you can see the way these words are used in a sentence.

You can see that though these words have a similar meaning, you cannot always replace one with the other.

For example, you cannot say “He was cheerful to see his daughter.”

You also cannot say “He is a very pleased child.”

It is easy for anyone to sometimes get confused between such synonyms.

Let’s look at a few commonly confused words and how you can choose the right word.

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The first pair of words we will look at is ‘both’ and ‘all’.

The word ‘both’ is used when you are talking about two things only.

The word ‘all’ is used when you are talking about more than two things.

Let’s look at this example. This is the Martins family. They have two children named Reema and Ali.

So, you will use the word ‘both’ in your sentences when you are talking about only Reema and Ali.

For example, you will say “Reema and Ali are both excellent at playing hockey.”

Saying “Reema and Ali are all excellent at playing hockey.” will be wrong because you use ‘all’ when there are more than two things.

However, you should say “They are all excellent at playing hockey,” when you are talking about Reema, Ali, and the mom and dad too.

Now let’s look at the difference between a similar pair of words, ‘between’ and ‘among.’

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You use the word ‘between’ when you are talking about or comparing only two things.

You use the word ‘among’ when you are talking about or comparing more than two things.

Let’s have a look at this sentence.

If you use the word between, it will mean that only two people fought.

If you use the word among, it will mean that three or more people fought.

Next, let’s look at the difference between the words ‘begin’ and ‘start.’

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Both these words mean the same - to commence; but ‘begin’ is more formal than ‘start.’

So, in a meeting, you will say “Let us begin this meeting,” instead of “Let us start this meeting.”

You should also use ‘begin’ when you want to say that someone started speaking.

For example, you will say " “Good evening everyone,” she began”, and not " “Good evening everyone,” she started.”

You can use only the word ‘start’ when you are talking about machines.

For example, you will say “He started his car and drove home,” and not “He began his car and drove home.”

You will use only the word ‘start’ when you are talking about starting some business.

For example, you will say “She started her own boutique,” and not “She began her own boutique.”

Now let’s look at the use of the words ‘whereas’ and ‘although.’

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The word ‘whereas’ means ‘in comparison to the fact.’

The word ‘although’ means ‘in spite of the fact.’

You can see that both these words work as conjunctions and seem to be similar, but their meaning is very different.

Let’s take the example of Jim to make this more clear. Jim loves to travel.

Jim prefers beaches ‘in comparison to’ his wife, who prefers mountains. Jim travels every year ‘in spite of the fact that’ he gets very few days of vacation.

Now let’s use the words whereas and although in these sentences.

Jim prefers beaches ‘whereas’ his wife prefers mountains. Jim travels every year ‘although’ he gets very few days of vacation.

You cannot say “Jim prefers beaches ‘although’ his wife prefers mountains. Jim travels every year ‘whereas’ he gets very few days of vacation,” as that will change the original meaning.

Now let’s look at the difference between the words ‘typically’, ‘normally’ and ‘usually.’

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You use the word ‘typically’ when you are talking about something that happens more often than not.

For example, “Construction workers are typically middle-aged men.”

You use the word ‘normally’ when you are talking about something that is typical under normal circumstances.

When something is not a normal circumstance, it is weird.

For example, “People normally swim in a swimming costume”, or “People normally don’t swim in jeans and a jacket.”

You use the word ‘usually’ when you are talking about something that happens frequently over time.

When something does not happen as usual, it’s just unusual and not weird. Something unusual can be good or bad.

For example, “Trees are usually 12 meters tall. That tree is unusually tall at 91 meters​,” is a positive unusual event.

“This train usually comes at 11:00 am sharp. Today it came unusually late at 11:45 am.” This is a negative unusual event.

Now you know how to differentiate between a lot of commonly mistaken words.

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Let’s have a quick RECAP.

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English is a funny language with a lot of words.

It is important for you to choose the words you need wisely. Look up the exact meanings and use of the words before making your final decision.

Always keep reading, and look up words you do not understand in the dictionary.

That’s all Folks!

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