Here are some of the most commonly confused English word pairs. They have been chosen especially for ESL learners.
Beside / besides
Beside: preposition meaning ‘next to’, ‘at the side of’
I sit beside John in class.
Could you get me that book? It’s beside the lamp.
Besides: adverb meaning ‘also’, ‘as well’; preposition meaning ‘in addition to’
(adverb) He’s responsible for sales, and a lot more besides.
(preposition) Besides tennis, I play soccer and basketball.
Clothes / cloths
Clothes: something you wear – jeans, shirts, blouses, etc.
Just a moment, let me change my clothes.
Tommy, get your clothes on!
Cloths: pieces of material used for cleaning or other purposes.
There are some cloths in the closet. Use those to clean the kitchen.
I have a few
pieces of cloth that I use.
Dead / died
Dead: adjective meaning ‘not alive’
Unfortunately, our dog has been dead for a few months.
Don’t touch that bird. It’s dead.
Died: past tense and past participle of the verb ‘to die’
His grandfather died two years ago.
A number of people have died in the accident.
Experience / experiment
Experience: noun meaning something that a person lives through, i. e. something that someone experiences. – also used as an uncountable noun meaning ‘knowledge gained by doing something’
(first meaning)His experiences in Germany were rather depressing.
(second meaning) I’m afraid I don’t have much sales experience.
Experiment: noun meaning something that you do to see the result. Often used when speaking about scientists and their studies.
They did a number of experiments last week.
Don’t worry it’s just an experiment. I’m not going to keep my beard.
Felt / fell
Felt: past tense and past participle of the verb ‘to feel’
I felt better after I had a good dinner.
He hasn’t felt this well for a long time.
Fell: past tense of the verb ‘to fall’
He fell from a tree and broke his leg.
Unfortunately, I fell down and hurt myself.
Female / feminine
Female: the sex of a woman or animal
The female of the species is very aggressive.
The question ‘female or male’ means ‘are you a woman or a man’.
Feminine: adjective describing a quality or type of behaviour that is considered typical for a woman
He’s an excellent boss with a feminine intuition.
The house was decorated in a very feminine manner.
Its / it’s
Its: possessive determiner similar to ‘my’ or ‘your’
Its color is red.
The dog didn’t eat all of its food.
It’s: Short form of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’
(it is) It’s difficult to understand him.
(it has) It’s been a long time since I had a beer.
Last / latest
Last: adjective usually meaning ‘final’
I took the last train to Memphis.
This is the last test of the semester!
Latest: adjective meaning ‘most recent’ or ‘new’
His latest book is excellent.
Have you seen his latest painting?
Lay / lie
Lay: verb meaning ‘to put down flat’ – past tense – laid, past participle – laid
He laid his pencil down and listened to the teacher.
I usually lay my pies on the shelf to cool.
Lie: verb meaning ‘to be down’ – past tense – lay (be careful!), past participle – lain
The girl lay on the bed asleep.
At the moment, he’s lying on the bed.
Lose / loose
Lose: verb meaning ‘to misplace’
I lost my watch!