Confusing English Words! | Fix Common Vocabulary Mistakes & Errors

Lesson Overview

There are lots of English words that look and sound similar, so it is easy to make spelling and vocabulary mistakes – even for native English speakers!

In this lesson, I explain some confusing pairs of words, like this:

Advise /advice
Aloud / allowed
All together / altogether
Along / a long
Desert / dessert
Principal / principle
Complement / compliment

I offered her my advise.
I offered her my advice.

Confusing, huh? Which word is the correct one to use?

Well, the answer is ADVICE (but watch this video lesson so I can explain why!)

Video Transcript
Section 1
Hello, I’m Emma from mmmEnglish!

There are plenty of English words that confuse you because they look similar, they sound similar… I know because when I was school and I was learning English, I also found these words really confusing.

Lots of native speakers find these pairs of words confusing!

In fact, this lesson will be useful if you are learning English as a second language OR if you are a native English speaker, you might even be reminded about some spelling mistakes that you’re making. Because these words can be kind of tricky!

In this lesson today, I’m going to share some pairs of words that are often confused because they look similar and they sound similar.

Words like ‘advice’ and ‘advise’, ‘accept’ and ‘except, ‘aloud’ and ‘allowed’, ‘all together’ ‘altogether’, ‘along’ ‘a long’, ‘desert’ ‘dessert’, ‘principal’ ‘principle’, ‘complement’ ‘compliment’.

Confusing, huh?

Like I said, native English speakers often confuse these words as well, so don’t worry, we are going to fix these problems right here, right now in this lesson!

As usual, I’ve made you a worksheet that you can download to practise what you learn in this lesson but you’ll have to watch until the end to find out how to get it!

Imagine how thrilled you’re going to be when you notice a native English speaker misspelling one of the words that you’re about to learn today! And you will get the chance to correct THEM!

OK, enough with the chitchat! Let’s get on with the lesson!

Aloud / allowed

Aloud  (adverb) /əˈlaʊd/
Allowed (verb) /əˈlaʊd/

These two words are pronounced in exactly the same way!

‘Aloud’ means to speak ‘out loud’

  • I’m speaking aloud right now!
  • Read that paragraph aloud so that the rest of the class can hear you!

‘Allowed’ is the past tense of the verb ‘allow’ but it’s also an adjective that shows permission.

  • You are allowed to bring a small bag with you.
  • You are not allowed to wear your shoes inside the house.
  • You are not allowed to speak aloud!

Complement / compliment

Complement (verb) /ˈkɒmplɪment/
Compliment (noun) /ˈkɒmplɪmənt/

Both of these words are pronounced in the same way but ‘complement’ with an ‘e’ is the VERB and it’s used to show that something goes well with something else, when it adds to or improves something else.

  • That hat really complements the dress you’re wearing. They look good together.
  • What type of cheese is this? It really complements the favours of the fruit.
  • We chose plants that would complement each other. They really suit each other.

‘Compliment’ with an ‘i’ is the one that you probably are most familiar with. It’s the NOUN that we use when you say something nice to someone. You pay someone a compliment.

  • I want to compliment you on your performance, you did a really good job.
  • I don’t take compliments very well. I get really shy and embarrassed and try to change the subject.
  • Though I don’t often give compliments, those shoes really complement your outfit!

All together / altogether

All together
Altogether (verb)  /ˌɔːltəˈɡeðə(r)/

These words are pronounced exactly the same, but you’re focusing on the spelling here. We’ve got two words versus one!

‘All together’ means all in the same place, at one time.

  • Let’s meet at the roller coaster at 12pm – we want to ride it all together!

Altogether’ is an adverb that means completely.

  • I’m a vegetarian, now. I’ve stopped eating meat altogether!
  • The public transport system in Melbourne is so good! Some people have stopped driving their cars altogether!

‘Altogether’ can also be used to summarize a point.

  • Altogether, I think it’s a good decision for the company.

Oh! ‘Altogether’ can also mean ‘in total’.

  • Altogether you’ll pay $3,000 for your flights and accommodation.
  • Altogether you’ll pay $5000, if you travel all together.

Desert / dessert

Desert (noun) /ˈdezə(r)t/
Dessert (noun) /dɪˈzɜː(r)t/

There is a slight pronunciation difference here and it’s simply a matter of syllable stress! In ‘desert’, the stressed syllable is the first syllable. In ‘dessert’, the second syllable is the stressed syllable. Both of these words are nouns.

‘Desert’ is an area of land that doesn’t have much water.

  • If you drive from Melbourne across Australia to Perth, you have to drive through the desert.

‘Dessert’ is of course, cakes, ice-creams, sweets. It’s the meal that follows a main meal like dinner or even lunch!

  • If you don’t finish your dinner, you won’t get your dessert!

I’m sure every parent, no matter what language tells their children that.

  • My favourite dessert is Tiramisu!

‘Dessert’ can also be a verb. It sounds like ‘dessert’ but it’s spelt like ‘desert’. So ‘dessert’ can also be a verb and it means to leave someone alone or abandon them.

Principle / principal

Principle (noun) /ˈprɪnsəp(ə)l/
Principal (adjective or noun) /ˈprɪnsəp(ə)l/

These two words used to confuse me all the time!

‘Principal’ is a noun and also an adjective. As a noun it is the head of a school and I remember my grade four teacher always telling me to remember that the principal is your pal, your friend. But ‘principal’ can also mean important or significant when it’s used as an adjective.

  • Our principal concern is the safety of the children.

So here, ‘principal’ means most important.

  • I have a meeting with the school principal this afternoon.

‘Principle’ is only a noun and it’s a truth, a law or a rule that shapes how something is done.

  • There are three main environmental principles that shaped this project.

You might also hear expressions like, he’s a man or she’s a woman ‘of principle’ which means that they always do the right thing. They always do what is morally right or morally correct.

  • We need to protect the community, it’s a matter of principle. It’s the right thing to do.

Along / a long

Along (adverb/preposition) /əˈlɒŋ/
A long (adjective) /əˈlɒŋ/

They sound exactly the same again, we’re looking at spelling here. Two words versus one.

‘Along’ is an adverb or a preposition and it means to move along something (horizontally) on a flat surface, like this.

  • It’s such a nice night tonight! Let’s go for a walk along the river.
  • Can I bring my friend along?

You’ve also heard it in the phrasal verb ‘get along’. To ‘get along’ with someone. So that means to have a good relationship with them.

‘A long’ is a little different here because ‘long’ is an adjective that refers to the the length of something either in distance or in time. ‘A’ is an article here, used with the noun that follows the adjective ‘long’.

So here, ‘long’ is an adjective and the singular article ‘a’ can be used only with a countable noun.

  • A long day.
  • A long trip.
  • A long road.
  • It’s been such a long journey.
  • There’s a long list of names on the board.
  • I walked along a long, windy road!

Advise / advice

Advise (verb) /ədˈvaɪz/
Advice (noun) /ədˈvaɪs/

Can you hear the difference in pronunciation between those two words? They’re very similar. ‘Advise’ and ‘advice’. The difference is in the final consonant sound. Very slight.

‘Advice’ is a noun. It’s when your friend has a problem and you offer them a suggestion about how to solve the problem or what they should do to fix the problem. You are offering a piece of advice.

It’s a noun, an uncountable noun, so it’s always ‘advice’. Not ‘advices’!

But people often ask for advice when they want some recommendations or some suggestions about how to deal with the situation. It might be about a relationship, a job, children, school, even a way to manage your boss at work.

  • Hey, can I ask your advice?
  • I’ve got a piece of advice for you!
  • I always listen to my dad’s advice.

‘Advise’ is a verb. And it’s the action of recommending or suggesting something to someone else, usually because you’ve had some experience dealing with that situation before.

  • I need someone to advise me on the subjects I need to complete for my course.
  • The flight attendant will advise you where the nearest exit is.

And an advisor’ is the noun for someone who advises you or they give suggestions and recommendations to you.

Accept / except

Accept (verb) /əkˈsept/

Except (conjunction/preposition)  /ɪkˈsept/

OK what about ‘accept’ and ‘except’? These words are very similar but there is a tiny, tiny difference in pronunciation in the first vowel sound.

In ‘accept’, it’s the lazy schwa sound.

Very, very slight. You can almost hardly hear the difference!

‘Accept’ is a verb and it describes the action of agreeing to receive something or do something.

  • You need to accept the Terms and Conditions.
  • You’ve been so generous already. We can’t accept any more money from you.
  • The police told me that the case was closed. But I just can’t accept it.

‘Except’ is a conjunction or a preposition and it means not including’

  • I walk the dog every day, except on Tuesdays, because I work late.
  • I’ve been to every country in Southeast Asia, except Cambodia.
  • I love food! I’ll eat anything! Except oysters, yuk!

OK well I hope you found that useful!

I’ve made you a worksheet which you can download and practise so that you can really make sure you’re using these words correctly. You can download it just up there.

If you really like this lesson then please let me know, like it and tell me in the comments. There are so many other English words that have similar pronunciation, similar spelling like ‘through’ and ‘threw’, ‘break’ and ‘brake’, ‘lose’ and ‘loose’, ‘course’ and ‘coarse’.

Let me know if you enjoyed this lesson and I will definitely make you another one!

That’s it from me today, make sure you subscribe if you haven’t already and if you want to keep watching more English video lessons then check out this one or this one! Bye for now!

Links mentioned in the video

Related videos

  • 7 New Idioms! ⛵️⛵️⛵️ Professional English | Vocabulary
    7 New Idioms! ⛵️⛵️⛵️ Professional English | Vocabulary

  • POWER or STRENGTH 💪🏼 Confusing English Vocabulary
    POWER or STRENGTH 💪🏼 Confusing English Vocabulary

  • How to Say & Use English Abbreviations | ASAP * FOMO * BTW * FYI
    How to Say & Use English Abbreviations | ASAP * FOMO * BTW * FYI