How to Differentiate Between Confusing English Words

If you’re new to learning English, or even if you’ve become quite the novice, you might have realized that the English language tends to use the same word for different meanings. Or, in other instances, it uses similar sounding words that can easily be mixed up. Who knows why the creators of English did this when it makes things so difficult for new language learners? The point is, you need to learn how to differentiate between confusing English words if you want to get better at speaking the language. Read on to find out which words are most often mixed up, and how to know the difference.


Bear, Bear and Bare

Alright, I can already hear the alarm bells going off in your head. The first item on this list itself is enough to make you bang your head against the wall. But hold up, I’m here to help.

The first ‘bear’ here refers to the giant, furry animal that roams about in forests, or the stuffed toy your girlfriend sleeps with at night.

  • I don’t know what that girl’s obsession is with teddy bears. They’re frightening!

The second ‘bear‘ means to carry something or someone.

  • The woman is bearing a child (pregnant), but she’s also bearing a huge tray of dishes – she needs to be careful!

The third ‘bare‘, as you may have noticed, has a different spelling. This word is used when someone or something lacks a cover or clothing or is naked.

  • Her body was bare and devoid of any clothing.
How to Differentiate Between Confusing English Words - Simply Better English
Bear, the animal – Simply Better English

Affect and Effect

This may seem confusing but is simple once you understand the two words. ‘Affect‘ is a verb, whereas ‘effect‘ is generally used as the noun.

  • You have no idea how this affects me!
  • The effects of this English course are marvellous!
  • The after-effects of his deodorant had a profound effect on the beautiful women around him.

Their, There and They’re

A lot of native speakers make this mistake, too but learning the difference is surprisingly simple. ‘Their‘ is a possessive pronoun which denotes belonging to something.

  • Their house is so pretty!

There‘ denotes a place.

  • There’s the mall.

They’re‘ is short for ‘they are’.

  • They’re so silly for two grown-up men.
  • They’re (the two boys) are going there (to school) to finish their (belonging to the two boys) education.

Then and Than

Knowing how to differentiate between confusing English words is tricky, especially when it comes to words like this pair! Use ‘then‘ when you want to talk about a time period, or a condition, like when you’re saying ‘if… then‘.

  • If you want to learn English, then go to!
  • I’ll talk to you then, not now.

Use ‘than‘ when comparing two objects, places, people or things.

  • Ryan Gosling is so much hotter than Ryan Reynolds!
  • He then said, “I expected more than this from you.”

It’s and Its

Oh, this one can drive even the biggest English nerd crazy! ‘Its‘ is another possessive pronoun, just like ‘their‘. Use it when something singular is possessing something or someone.

  • King Kong held the victim in its fist.

It’s‘ is merely short for ‘it is‘!

  • It’s such a beautiful day outside.
  • It’s been so long since its (the feral dog Cujo’s) mood has been stable.

Your and You’re

This is another set of words that is very easy to mix up, but if you read this point carefully, you shouldn’t have any trouble at all! ‘Your‘ is the third possessive pronoun we’re discussing here. Use it when the object or person you’re addressing is possessing something or someone.

  • Your teeth are looking so white today!

You’re‘ is short for ‘you are‘; that’s it.

  • You’re getting so much better at speaking English.
    Your mother is the reason you’re so needy.

Aisle and Isle

These words only have a letter different, and yet they mean completely different things. ‘Aisle‘ is like a wedding aisle, meaning a passage between different rows.

  • I want my father to walk me down the aisle when I get married.

Isle‘ is short for ‘island‘.

  • It’s such a pretty isle!
  • I want my wedding aisle to be on a pretty isle.
How to Differentiate Between Confusing English Words - Simply Better English
Wedding Isle – Simply Better English

Pour and Pore

Oh, boy, this is a tough one. Are you ready for it? I know you are! ‘Pour‘ is used when something is flowing, like water or any other liquid that might be falling from somewhere rapidly.

  • He poured the disgusting coffee down the drain because he couldn’t drink it.

Pore‘ can mean two things. As a noun, it’s the small holes that comprise an object, like skin pores. As a verb, it’s concentrating your attention on something, especially while reading.

  • The pores on your face are so tiny!
  • He pored over the study material for hours.

Complement and Compliment

When you say two things ‘complement‘ each other, you mean that they’re improving each other or making the other better.

  • Your dress totally complements your shoes!

When you give someone a ‘compliment‘, you’re praising them and saying something nice.

  • He gave her a compliment, and it made her blush and smile.

These were a few words that everyone tends to mix up when they’re trying to speak English. There are more examples to provide but this is a good start. Once you master these words, you’ll be ready to move ahead and learn more – much, much more! I’m not joking here.

Anyway, I hope this guide helped you learn how to differentiate between confusing English words. If you want some help for now writing these words, check out Grammarly. I know it can be tough to start your English-learning journey, especially with such roadblocks along the way, but I hope this article was some help in easing your way to success! Happy English-speaking!

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