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Compact Oxford English Dictionary for Students

Commonly Confused Words

This list contains many of the pairs of English words that look or sound alike but have different meanings. Using the list will help you to understand the difference between the words and to choose the right word for the particular situation.

You may find it helpful to create your own list: we have a worksheet for you to download.

You can also test yourself with our online spelling test.

All the words below follow the standard British English spelling.

Word 1 Meaning Word 2 Meaning
accept to agree to receive or do except not including; apart from
adverse unfavourable, harmful averse strongly disliking; opposed
advice recommendations about what to do advise to recommend something
affect to change or make a difference to effect a result; to bring about a result
all together all in one place, all at once altogether in total; completely; on the whole
aloud out loud allowed permitted
amoral not concerned with right or wrong immoral not following accepted moral standards
appraise to assess apprise to inform someone
augur to be a sign of a good or bad outcome auger a tool for boring holes
aural relating to the ears or hearing oral relating to the mouth; spoken
bare naked; to uncover bear to carry; to tolerate
bated with bated breath (in great suspense) baited taunted
blanch make or become white or pale blench flinch through fear or pain
born having started life borne carried
brake a device for stopping a vehicle; to stop a vehicle break to separate into pieces; a pause
censure to criticize severely censor to ban parts of a book or film; an official who does this
chord a group of musical notes cord a length of string; a cord-like body part
climactic forming a climax climatic relating to climate
coarse rough course a direction
complacent smugly self-satisfied complaisant willing to please
complement to add to so as to improve; an addition that improves something compliment to politely congratulate or praise; a polite expression of praise
complementary combining to form a whole or to improve something complimentary praising; given free of charge
council a group of people who manage or advise counsel advice; to advise
cue a signal for action; a wooden rod queue a line of people or vehicles
curb to keep something in check; a control or limit kerb (in British English) the stone edge of a pavement
currant a dried grape current happening now; a flow of water, air, or electricity
defuse to make a situation less tense diffuse to spread over a wide area
dependant a person who relies on another for support dependent determined or influenced by; relying on
desert a waterless, empty area dessert the sweet course of a meal
discreet careful to keep something secret or to avoid attention discrete separate and distinct
disinterested impartial uninterested not interested
draught a current of air draft a first version of a piece of writing; to write such a version
draw to produce a picture; to pull; an even score at the end of a game drawer a sliding storage compartment
dual having two parts duel a fight or contest between two people
elicit to draw out a reply or reaction illicit forbidden by law or rules
emotional showing intense feeling emotive arousing intense feeling
empathy the ability to understand another person's feeling sympathy the feeling of being sorry for someone
ensure to make certain that something will happen insure to provide compensation if a person dies or property is damaged
envelop to cover or surround envelope a paper container for a letter
exercise physical activity; to do physical activity exorcize to drive out an evil spirit
faint to lose consciousness; not clearly seen, heard, or smelled feint a pretended attacking movement; to make such a movement
fawn a young deer; light brown faun a mythical being, part man, part goat
flair a natural ability or talent flare to gradually become wider; a brief burst of flame or light
flaunt to display in a way intended to attract attention flout to openly fail to follow a rule
flounder to have difficulty doing something founder to fail
forbear to stop oneself from doing something forebear an ancestor
foreword an introduction to a book forward onwards, ahead
freeze to turn to ice frieze a decoration along a wall
grisly causing horror or disgust grizzly a type of bear
historic famous or important in history historical relating to history
hoard a secret store horde a large crowd of people
imply to suggest indirectly infer to draw a conclusion about something not directly stated
its belonging to it it's short for it is or it has
judicial relating to a law court or judge judicious sensible
lama a Buddhist monk llama an animal related to the camel
licence a permit to own or do something license to grant a licence or authorize something
lightening getting lighter lightning a high-voltage electrical discharge; very quick
loath reluctant, unwilling loathe to hate
loose to unfasten or set free; not fixed in place lose to have something taken away; to be unable to find
meter a measuring device metre a unit of measurement; rhythm in poetry
militate to be a powerful factor in preventing mitigate to make less severe
muscle tissue that moves a body part mussel a shellfish
pain unpleasant feeling pane a sheet of glass
palate the roof of the mouth palette a board for mixing colours
pedal a foot-operated lever; to work the pedals of a bicycle peddle to sell goods or promote an idea
peninsula piece of land jutting out into the sea peninsular relating to a peninsula
perpetrate to carry out a bad or illegal act perpetuate to make something continue for a long time
pore a minute opening; to study or read something closely pour to flow in a steady stream
practice the use of an idea or method; the work or business of a doctor, dentist, etc. practise to do repeatedly to gain skill; to carry out regularly
prescribe to authorize use of medicine; to order authoritatively proscribe to officially forbid something
principal most important; the most important person in an organization principle a fundamental law; a belief
prophecy a prediction of a future event prophesy to predict a future event
quiet making little or no noise quite moderately; completely
reign period that a monarch rules; to rule as a monarch rein strap used to control a horse; also used in the phrase a free rein
role a part played by an actor roll to move by turning over and over; a rolling movement
sceptic a person who tends to question accepted opinions septic infected with bacteria
shear to cut the wool off a sheep sheer nothing but; to change course quickly
sight the ability to see site a location
silicon element used in electronics silicone material used in cosmetic implants
stationary not moving stationery paper and writing materials
storey a level of a building story a tale or account
straight without a curve or bend strait a narrow passage of water; (straits) trouble, difficulty
summary a brief statement of the main points summery typical of summer
swat to hit or crush swot to study intensively
tail the rear or end part tale a story
team a group of people playing or working together teem to be full of something; to pour down
their belonging to them there in, at, or to that place
titillate to interest or excite, especially sexually titivate to make more attractive
to in the direction of too excessively; in addition
toe part of the foot; also in toe the line tow to pull something along behind a vehicle or boat
tortuous full of twists; complex torturous full of pain or suffering
vain having too high an opinion of oneself vein a tube that carries blood around the body
waive to choose not to insist on a right wave to move to and fro; a ridge of water
who's short for who is or who has whose belonging to which person
your belonging to you you're short for you are

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