The culture and habits that we pick up from the people around us shape the way we communicate and behave. Mistakes over the complexities of the English language are common, especially if it’s not your mother tongue. So, check out our list, as it will throw some light on how to avoid some of the words and phrases commonly misused. This list is a good place to start to help you make correct word choices, which will be very useful for your vocabulary score in your IELTS Speaking test.
Stay vs. Live
To remain through or during (a period of time): "We stayed a week in New York."
A sojourn or temporary residence: "A week’s stay in Melbourne."
To dwell or reside: "She lives in a cottage."
To cohabit (usually followed by with): "I live with my brother."
You use the word “live” when referring to your home, somewhere permanent and where all your things are. However, if you go on a holiday or a business trip, you’ll most likely stay in a hotel or family or friend’s home. You use the word “stay”, as it refers to a continuous action, which only takes place for a short period of time.
Chop vs. stamp
to cut into pieces with short vigorous cutting motions: “She chopped an onion to make soup.”
to cut or sever with a quick, heavy blow or a series of blows, using an axe or hatchet, etc. (often followed by down, off, etc.): “He loves to chop wood.”
a cut of meat, usually one containing a rib: “I like lamb chops served with chips.”
a short irregular broken motion of waves; choppiness: “There’s too much chop for rowing today.”
Bring down (one’s foot) heavily on the ground or on something on the ground: “Jason stamped his foot and screamed at his friends.”
Crush, flatten, or remove with a heavy blow from one’s foot: “Daisy stamped the dirt from her new shoes.”
Walk with heavy, forceful steps: “Chin Wei stamped out of the room, muttering under his breath.”
Impress a pattern or mark on (a surface, object, or document) using an engraved or inked block: “The officer stamped my passport.”
Fix a postage stamp or stamps on to (a letter): “I offered to stamp the envelope for her.”
An instrument for stamping a pattern or mark, in particular an engraved or inked block: “All passport holders with visa stamps were allowed in first.”
A characteristic or distinctive impression or quality: “We can proceed with the project, as Oscar as given his stamp of approval.”
A small adhesive piece of paper stuck to something to show that an amount of money has been paid, in particular a postage stamp.
An act or sound of stamping with the foot.
In the business world of some Asian countries, it’s not uncommon for one to ask for a “chop”. What they are actually referring to is a “seal” or “stamp”. The reason for this is probably because they have adopted a version of the Hindi & Malay word – “Chhaap” and “cop”, which means “date stamp”.
Go to bed vs. sleep
Go to bed
To retire, especially for the night: "I go to bed at 11:00pm every night."
To rest in a state or reduced consciousness; cease being awake: "I sleep five hours a day."
“Sleep” is used to describe how long you rest for. You use “go to bed” when you specify the time at which you start to rest (sleep).
It’s incorrect for one to say, “I always sleep late”, when they actually mean to say “It’s always late, when I go to sleep” or “I always go to bed late”. “I always sleep late” in fact means “I always sleep for a long time” (meaning you don’t get up until the late morning and early afternoon).
Fill in vs. fill out vs. fill up
To complete a form or questionnaire with requested information: “Fill in the details of your business experience.“
To complete by adding detail, as a design or drawing: “Fill in a sketch with shadow.”
To substitute for: “I am filling in for a colleague who is ill.”
To fill with some material: “Brian filled in a crack with putty.”
(Informal) to supply (someone) with information: “Please fill me in on the morning news.”
To complete (a document, list, etc.) by supplying missing or desired information.
To become larger, fuller, or rounder, as the figure: “James has begun to fill out since I saw him last.”
To fill completely: “I filled up a glass with orange juice.”
To become completely filled: “The open water tank filled up as a result of the steady rain.”
These expressions are commonly confused by non-native speakers. “Fill in” and “fill out” are used when you want someone to complete a questionnaire, survey or form. However, the term “fill up” can’t be used to “complete a form” as it means to make something full, generally with liquid.
You and me vs. you and I
You and I
If “you and I” are performing the action, it should be “you and I”:
Today, you and I are running 5km.
You and I should work together.
Oh wow! You and I both love ice cream.
You and me
If “you and I” are receiving the action, it should be “you and me”:
John wanted you and me to lead the group.
They will give you and me a gift today.
My dad promised to take you and me to Paris.
If you’re not sure when to use “me” or “I”, just read the sentence without the other person in it and see if it sounds right.
Example: “The teacher sent copies of this week’s assignment to James and I”. If you remove James from this sentence, you’re left with “The teacher sent copies of this week’s assignment to I” and this will confirm that “me” should have been used instead of “I”.
As regards vs. In regards to
“With regards to” and “In regards to” is usually misused. It should either be:
Concerning; in respect of
As regards the war, we believed it was unnecessary.
With regard to/In regard to
Referring to; concerning
With regard to the new employee, we need to discuss further.
Irregardless vs. Regardless
Irregardless is a perfect example of a word that is used regularly, but in fact, this word doesn’t even exist. Regardless means “without regard”, so the -ir prefix that contradicts the phrase that comes before it is redundant in this instance.
Good vs. well
Good is an adjective, which means it modifies a noun.
It’s a good idea.
You are a good boy.
You’ve done a good job.
Well is an adverb, which means it modifies verbs, adjectives and adverbs.
The girls are doing well.
His promotion was well deserved.
You’ve done your job well.
Get off vs. get down from
You get out of a car, but you don’t get off or down from a car unless you have climbed onto its roof.
You get off a bus/train/plane or get down a bus/train/plane if it has a high passenger platform or a long step down.
Who vs. whom
“Who” should be used to refer to the subject of a sentence, whereas “whom” should be used to refer to the object of a verb or preposition.
There’s a simple trick you can use when you are unsure which word to use in a sentence. If you can replace the word with “he” or “she” in a sentence, use who. If “him” or “her” fits, you should use whom. You can temporarily rearrange the sentence to test it:
Who/whom left me this message?
He left me this message (correct)
Him left this message (incorrect)
The example above shows that “he” works and “him” doesn’t, so the right word to use is “who”.
Who/whom should I call for more information?
I should call her (correct)
I should call she (incorrect)
The example above shows that “she” doesn’t work, and “her” works, so the right word to use is “whom”.
Emigrate vs. Immigrate
Leave one’s own country in order to settle permanently in another: "My family emigrated from India to Australia." "Ahmad is planning on leaving Pakistan and emigrate."
Come to live permanently in a foreign country: "Sandra immigrated to Australia in 1980." "She had to wait for years to have her family immigrate to Canada."
To help you remember, associate the “I” of immigrate with 'in' to remember that the word means moving into a new country. And the “e” of emigrate with 'exit', meaning to leave your home country.
Disinterested vs. uninterested
Not influenced by consideration of personal advantage. Unbiased or impartial.
"The teacher is under obligation to give disinterested advice."
Having or feeling no interest in something.
"They seemed uninterested in our offer."
Borrow vs. lend
get something from someone, intending to give it back after a short time.
"Raj borrowed my car to go on a date."
give something to someone for a short time, expecting that you will get it back.
"I can lend you my pen."
"I lent Wee San $30.00."
Few vs. Less
Determiner, pronoun and adjective
A small number of.
Used to emphasise how small a number of people or things are.
"She asked me a few questions."
"I only had a few drinks."
Determiner and pronoun
A smaller amount of; not as much.
Fewer in number.
"The less time spent in the pub, the better."
"My teacher was less than happy when she heard the news."
Want to learn more about commonly confused words?
In written English, it is important to know the correct spelling of a word you want to use. You don’t want to write “weak” when you mean “week” even though they sound the same. In spoken English, spelling is less important, but pronunciation is. Think about the word “lead” which can be pronounced as /led/ or /li:d/. Because these words cause a lot of confusion, it’s well worth spending a few minutes to understand the difference: homophones vs homographs vs homonyms.
People often use elude when they mean allude, or write allude when they should really write elude. There are other commonly confused words too: Do you know the difference between belief and believe? That is the question in another article where we explain the difference between these two commonly misused words: Belief vs believe.