Accessibility links

Commonly Confused Words: Part One

From VOA Learning English, this is Everyday Grammar.

Ashley: Before we get started today, Adam, I wanted to ask you about your weekend at home!

Adam: It was great, thanks! But the drive was a little tiring. Chicago is a lot further away than I thought.

Ashley: Sorry, you mean...Chicago is a lot farther away than you thought.

Adam: Yes, that is what I said.

Ashley: No, you said “further.” In American English, “further” is usually used for non-physical or figurative distances. “Farther” is the correct word when talking about actual physical distance - or distance that you can measure.

Adam: Non-physical distances? Can you give me an example?

Ashley: Sure. If you cannot decide on which presidential candidate to support, you might look further into their positions on important issues. Here there is no actual, measurable distance.

Adam: Okay, I guess that makes sense.

Farther and further are words that English learners - and even native English speakers - often confuse. The English language is full of commonly confused words. These words may sound the same but mean different things. Or maybe, they are spelled the same but mean different things.

Let’s look at some of these commonly confused words.​

Farther and Further

We will start with the two words we just mentioned: farther and further. The word farther is usually used as an adverb. In American English, we say farther when talking about a physical, measurable distance. For example, “We walked farther than we had planned.”

The word further has several meanings. It can be used as an adverb, adjective, and even a verb. As an adverb, further means “to a greater extent.” For example, “The scientists are looking further into the new research.”

As an adjective, further means “more or additional.” For example, “Further research is needed to reach a conclusion.” Notice how there is no physical, measurable distance in these examples.

Further can also be a verb. In its verb form, it means “to help the progress of something.” For example, you might hope to “further your career” by learning English. In other words, you hope learning English will help you advance your career. Again, there is no physical, measurable distance.

Lose and Loose

Our second set of commonly confused words is lose and loose. These are words that even native English speakers confuse. Lose [L-O-S-E] is a verb. Lose has several meanings. It can mean “to be unable to find.” You might tell a forgetful friend, “Don’t lose your keys again!”

Lose can also mean “to fail to win something.” For example, “People expected the team to lose the football game.”

It can also mean “to have less and less of something over time.” If someone is looking smaller than before, you might ask, “Did you lose weight?”

The word loose, [L-O-O-S-E] is usually used as an adjective. Notice that loose ends with a strong “s” sound, while lose, the verb, ends with a “z” sound. Loose has no relation to lose. Loose means “not tight, secure, or attached.” For example, you can have a “loose tooth”, “loose clothing,” or “loose pieces of paper.” Loose can also mean “not exact.” For example, if you try to very quickly translate something from your native language to English, you might be writing a “loose translation.”

Accept and Except

Another set of commonly confused words is accept and except. Although they are spelled differently, many American English speakers pronounce these words in almost the same way. But, these two words are not interchangeable.

Accept [A-C-C-E-P-T] is a verb. To accept means to receive or take something that is offered. For example, if a company offers you a new job, you will probably accept their offer.

Except [E-X-C-E-P-T] can be used as a preposition, conjunction or a verb. In general, it means “not including.” For example, the post office is open every day except Sunday.

Here’s an example of accept and except in the same sentence.

“This machine accepts all coins except pennies.”

As a verb, except [E-X-C-E-P-T] means “left out.” It is used in formal speech. You might say “Women were excepted from the study.” As verbs, accept and except have almost opposite meanings, making these two words all the more confusing.

And that’s Everyday Grammar for this week. Join us again next week as we take a look at more examples of commonly confused words.

I’m Adam Brock.

And I’m Ashley Thompson.

Ashley Thompson wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Adam Brock and Hai Do were the editors.


Words in This Story

figurative - adj. used with a meaning that is different from the basic meaning

extent - n. the range, distance, or space that is covered or affected by something or included in something

Show comments