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Blog-commonly confused words

10 Commonly Confused Words

[ssba] Did you walk to work this morning? I wonder if you bought a wok to cook dinner then went for a wander and a beer with a bear. Here are 10 commonly confused words, we hope you thoroughly enjoy them:

1. walk, work

These two words are very often confused. Both use long vowels:

walk /wɔ:k/ – this uses the long vowel in ‘for’ and the ‘l’ is silent
work /wɜ:k/ – looks like it should rhyme with ‘for’, but the ‘w’ changes the vowel sound to /ɜ:/
I walk to work every day.

Try to remember that ‘walk’ looks like and rhymes with ‘talk’.

2. bought, boat

bought /bɔ:t/ – this uses the long vowel in ‘for’
boat /bəʊt/ – this uses the diphthong in ‘no’

3. match, much

match /mætʃ/ – this uses the short vowel in ‘cat’ – make sure you spread the lips and keep the tongue at the front of the mouth.
much /mʌtʃ/ – this uses the short vowel in ‘cut’ – make sure you relax the lips and tongue for this sound.

4. wonder, wander

These are very similar and the main thing to remember is that they are both pronounced in the way that you do not expect:

wonder /ˈwʌndə/ – ‘won’  looks like it should rhyme with ‘on’ but in fact it rhymes 
with ‘sun’
wander /ˈwɒndə/ – ‘wan’ looks like it should rhyme with ‘ban’ but in fact it rhymes 
with ‘on’

5. of, off

These very small but extremely useful words differ in very subtle ways:

You can see that ‘of’ ends – surprisingly – with a voiced /v/ sound. This is the only word in English (to my knowledge!) that ends with an ‘f’ but sounds like a /v/. Take care to remember to use the schwa in ‘of’ if it’s the weak form.

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6. loose, lose, choose, chose

A very tricky, contradictory little group here! Sadly there is not much to do but memorise these ones:

loose – adjective – /lu:s/
lose – infinitive verb – /lu:z/
choose – infinitive verb – /tʃu:z/
chose – past simple of choose! – /tʃəʊz/

7. leave, leaf

Sometimes students use the voiceless sound at the ends of words when they should really use the voiced sound. This can change the meaning of the word quite drastically! Some examples include:

leave /li:v/, leaf /li:f/
hard /hɑ:d/, heart /hɑ:t/
dug /dʌg/, duck /dʌk/
rise /raɪz/, rice /raɪs/

8. bow, bow, row, row, sow, sow

Although there is only one spelling pattern being used here, there are two different pronunciations and multiple meanings! The two pronunciations are /əʊ/ to rhyme with ‘oh’ and /aʊ/ to rhyme with ‘ow’.

bow /bəʊ/ – noun – ‘shoelaces tied in a bow’, ‘bow and arrow’
bow /baʊ/ – noun – the front of a ship
bow /baʊ/ – verb – ‘actors bow at the end of a play’
row /rəʊ/ – noun – ‘row of seats’, ‘columns and rows’
row /rəʊ/ – verb – ‘row a boat’
row /raʊ/ – noun – argument
row /raʊ/ – verb – to argue
sow /səʊ/ – verb – to plant seeds
sow /saʊ/ – noun – a female pig

9. bear, beer

These words all use diphthongs:

bear, bare /beə/ – this rhymes with ‘air’
beer /bɪə/ – this rhymes with ‘ear’

Similar sorts of words include:

hair /heə/
here, hear /hɪə/
tear (tear a piece of paper) /teə/
tear (water from your eyes when you cry) /tɪə/
rare /reə/
rear /rɪə/

10. tough, though, through, thorough, thought

In this previous blog post I talked about the many different pronunciations of the spelling ‘ough’. Here, I’d like to clarify the pronunciation of these five ‘ough’ words specifically because the rest of the spelling is so similar and therefore so confusing:

tough /tʌf/
though /ðəʊ/
through /θru:/
thorough /ˈθʌrə/
The above words all end in ‘ough’ but below is a very similar one ending in ‘ought’:
thought /θɔ:t/
She thought it was tough to thoroughly prepare for her exam.
Though I tried every day, I couldn’t get through to them.