Because many word pairs in English are homophones (words that sound alike), some mistakes that people make when speaking aren’t noticeable to others. For example, if we were to tell you that today its cold outside or our dog lost it’s collar yesterday you wouldn’t know that we had used the wrong version of its / it’s in those two phrases. However, if we had written those phrases in a letter or e-mail, you would have noticed right away, and would probably have started doubting that we really know what we’re talking about when it comes to English vocabulary, if we made such an obvious mistake! There are many pairs of words in English that are often confused due to their pronunciation, their spelling, or both. If you’re one of the many people who are confused by them, you’re at risk of seeming less knowledgeable when you make those mistakes. Here are seven word pairs to learn – correctly – by heart:
forward / foreword
Moving forward means “moving ahead.” A moving foreword is a preface or introduction to a book that causes an emotional reaction. We’re giving you the extra word pair here of two definitions of the word moving as well.
averse / adverse
If you really don’t want to dye your hair blue, it might be because you’re averse to making such a radical change in your appearance; that is, you’re unwilling to dye your hair. You might also be reluctant to do it because it would have an adverse (negative, detrimental) effect on your chances of a promotion at work.
counsel / council
We would counsel (advise, suggest) that you take some time to study the local ordinances before running for a seat on the town council (a group of people elected as administrators).
advise / advice
In the previous sentence, we gave you a piece of advice. The verb to advise means to counsel someone, or to share your knowledge to help another person. The noun advice describes what it is you’ve told that person.
discreet / discrete
If you’re advising someone on a sensitive issue, you should be discreet (subtle, cautious, unobtrusive). The word discrete, which is pronounced the same way, means “separate, individual, not connected.”
inflammable / flammable
Unlike the other word pairs in this post, these two adjectives both mean “able to be burned.” The adjective nonflammable is the one to use when you want to describe something that can’t be burned.
viscous / vicious
These two words are frequently misspelled and mispronounced. The adjective viscous (pronounced VIHS-cuss) describes a sticky, thick liquid, like glue or honey. The adjective vicious (pronounced VIH-shuhs) means fierce, angry, or cruel.
Stick with your daily vocabulary study and you’ll keep moving forward towards your goal of English vocabulary improvement!
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