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Commonly misused words in English

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Asian man looking confusedThe English language can be complex at times. Apart from sentence structure and tenses, the proper use of words can also get tricky. Even those who think they have full grasp of the language find themselves dumbfounded by the fact that they too are using some words incorrectly.

These commonly misused English words are improperly used in conversations as well as in written form. Once you get acquainted with them, you will be more conscious of their proper use and be able to avoid making common errors.

Fewer and Less

Few and less have different uses even though they basically mean the same thing.

“Less” should be used when something can’t be counted or it has no plural.

  • I have less juice than I had yesterday.
  • She has less energy than her team mate.

“Fewer”should be used with things that can be counted, as well as with plurals.

  • Jenny has fewer medals than Jane.
  • I want fewer apples this time.

More Than and Greater Than

“More than” and “greater than” are antonyms of “fewer” and “less” but are misused just as much. There are two simple rules to obey when using them.

First, use “greater than” when there has been an increase in a single statistic or figure, e.g.:

  • The population of the UK is now greater than 60 million.
  • The number of whales in the Antarctic region is now three times greater than when whaling was legal.

Second, if you are counting things and NOT referring to the number, the population, or any other single statistic, use “more than”, e.g.:

  • There should be more than a dozen cupcakes left after the party.
  • There are more people in California than in New York.

Than and Then

Some people manage to interchange these words too. “Than” is supposed to be used for comparisons and “then” is an adverb that denotes time-based events:

  • My lunchbox is bigger than yours.
  • I walked home and then I did my homework.

There, Their and They’re

“There” can be used as an adverb for specifying a place but it can also be used as an expletive.

  • I was standing there by the corner. (adverb)
  • There is nothing left for you. (expletive)

“Their” is a possessive pronoun.

  • Their backyard is very clean.
  • Their car needs to be fixed.

“They’re” is merely a contraction of “they are.”

  • Sheila and Trevor are buying plane tickets tomorrow because they’re going on vacation next week.
  • The Johnson family just moved next door. They’re probably looking forward to meeting new people.

Your and You’re

“Your” is a possessive pronoun whereas “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.”

  • I saw your red shirt on the floor this morning. You’re very messy.
  • I heard that your husband works for the police. You’re very lucky.

To, too, and two

“To” is a preposition and “too” is an adverb. “Two” refers to the number 2.

  • I’m going to learn English by watching these videos.
  • George is feeling queasy. I think I am, too.
  • There are two knives in the drawer.

What are some other misused words in English? Do you have your own rules for remembering which word to use? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Judene Macariola is an experienced English writer for BroadbandExpert.com, one of the world’s leading internet providers. She takes an interest in writing English tips and tutorials during her spare time.

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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7 thoughts on “Commonly misused words in English

  1. Pingback: Commonly misused words in English | Stay tuned | Scoop.it

  2. What I found extremely difficult for my students to grasp is the differentiation between “IT’S” and “ITS” as well as the difference in using ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ and many other words that look almost alike. The list of confusing words is very long.

    When it comes to possessive adjectives vs abbreviations it is easy to drill students as long as needed for them to understand the grammatical difference of these categories. Once they understand it they never make the same mistake again. As for words that look similar the only way to escape the mistake is to understand the context in depth.

  3. Just a couple comments here. Firstly, does it matter? Take fewer vs less. Is it something we as TEFL trainers should be worried about? Especially considering that people use *fewer* many, many times more than *less*. Language changes and here we see *fewer* fading away and yet some people are still insisting on rules which are outdated and irrelevant. (Ref: http://tinyurl.com/bwvw5jb)

    Also @Larisa, I use AVEN to teach the difference between *affect* and *effect*. Affect Verb, Effect Noun. It doesn’t cover everything but it will catch the majority of cases. Hope this helps! (Ref http://tinyurl.com/cx3mgl3)

  4. Pingback: Commonly misused words in English | English for work | Scoop.it

  5. Pingback: Teachers: Games to make learning English fun! « Your English You're English? Ur English

  6. Pingback: Commonly misused words in English | TEFL because even teachers have issues. | Scoop.it

  7. Pingback: Commonly misused words in English | The Merit School Magazine | Scoop.it

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