A brief guide on solving confusing words questions

English, especially if one has had primary education in a regional language, can be very confusing. A lot of words look similar but have different meanings, while others have same spellings and mean different things depending on their usage in a sentence. As a result it is almost impossible to avoid making mistakes in English, but if you understand the explanations below, you will be able to recognize the words and avoid making such mistakes.


1. Different types of pairs given in a sentence: Similar sounding; Similar spelling; Similar meaning

A. Compliment and complement are identical in pronunciation, but have completely different meanings.
  1. Compliment (noun) means: a polite expression of praise or admiration. Compliment (verb) means: politely congratulate or praise (someone) for something.
  2. Complement means: a thing that contributes extra features to something else in such a way as to improve or emphasize its quality.

B. Advice and Advise have same meanings, but they have different parts of speech, and hence either one can be used depending on the framing of a statement.
  1. (Advise is a verb) : Ex. Doctors generally advise us to use flat footwear for healthy feet.
  2. (Advice is a noun) : Ex. Doctors generally give advice to us to use flat footwear for healthy feet.

C. Personal & Personnel are similar in appearance/spelling, and slightly different in pronunciations. But their meanings are very different.
  1. Personal is related to or belonging to someone. Ex: Personal laptop, implying that it is used by me for myself, and not by anyone else or not by me for any other activities except for the ones related to me.
  2. Personnel: Like staff. Ex. The hospital’s admin personnel are very hard-working.

2. A question could have one statement or multiple statements. Each statement could have 2 pairs of confusing words, of which one is the appropriate word in the statement;or, the statement could have 3 confusing words, of which one fits in the sentence.
A. Statement: “I wanted to give an important message to my colleague, so I requested my brother to give me a remainder/reminder in case I forget”. In this statement:
  1. Remainder means something which is leftover; it can be some portion of a meal which we are eating, or some remaining portion of work which we are doing.
  2. Reminder means to remind someone to do something, it can be to remind a friend to do an activity or it can be an alert set in your mobile phone to remind you to do an activity.
So, for the above statement, the word “reminder” fits appropriately into the sentence.

B. A statement in a question can at times have 3 words. And one of them is correct in the context. Ex. "I shall get free in 15 minutes, I shall probably / possibly / properly call you immediately after that."
  1. Possibly means that there is a considerable probability that the action will be taken, though there is a sizable chance that the action may not be taken also. Possibly is like perhaps. It shall possibly start raining in a couple of days. This means that there is a positive and considerable chance that rains shall start in a couple of days.

    In common language, the usage of the word probably indicates higher chances of the action than the usage of the word possibly.
  2. Probably indicates that with chances of almost, but lesser than 100%, the action will be done. Ex. The wall clock shall probably be repaired by tomorrow. This conveys that there is a very high positive chance that the wall clock would be repaired by tomorrow.
  3. The word properly is related to the quality of something, such as some work. Ex. The lift is working properly for last one week. This means that there is no problem with the working of the lift. It is functioning in the desired manner.

3. Your score can improve exponentially, if you read extensively and do a fair amount of research on common pairs of confusing words. It is easier to choose one answer out of two words in a question statement, as compared to a question where you have to spot the correct word in a sentence out of 4 given options. Also, reading comprehension type of questions will demand greater attention and analysis to be done before answering the corresponding questions. For confusing word questions, if you have done good homework and practice, and have come across the common confusing words through your reading and memorization, then you can save your time in the exam and solve these questions very quickly. For your convenience we have given you a list of such common confusing words, for further practice, at the bottom of this article.

Tricks & Tips

1. Solving questions :The given confusing words have different parts of speech. And only one part of speech is appropriate. So if you spot the correct part of speech, you will find the correct word. In such case, you can get the correct answer even if you are not be sure of the meanings of the confusing words.

Ex.It is only due to sheer (practice/practise), that our cricketers have achieved this much success.

Here, practice is a noun and practise is a verb. Since the word "sheer" is an adjective, the appropriate part of speech for the answer would be noun. So, practice is the correct answer. Using such hints, you can arrive at the correct answer
2. Speed : Confusing words questions are easier to solve if you are familiar with the words. There is no calculation or much analysis to be done for getting the right answers. This is unlike the reading comprehension questions or jumbled para questions, where you have to process the given data, interpret it and then do analysis before solving the questions. This will take time. So if you have prepared well for confusing words, you will be able to breeze through these questions and save time to solve remaining questions.

3. Research & read extensively : Read up on various articles on different commonly used confusing words. There are many online resources which can help you with lots of such pairs. Some are very common words, which we shall categorize as easier ones. You will come across these in your daily life very frequently. Some common such pairs are: can/may, accept/except, principle/principal.

But the ones which are difficult are also likely to be asked in exams. So read a lot, make a note of 10 – 20 pairs in a day, read lots of sentences containing these words. This way, you will also understand the different contexts in which these confusing words are used. To give you examples of some rare confusing pairs, discreet/discrete, complacent/complaisant, allude/elude.

4. Practice & test yourself : Apart from reading extensively and memorizing words, practising and assessing yourself through lots of questions would improve your confidence. Our coursein English Language section ofthe General Aptitude category has many practice questions on confusing words. The module tests in the module “Choose Appropriate Word Between 2 Confusing/Similarly Sounding Words” will provide you access to these questions. Practise them as many times as you want. These tests will expose you to variety of confusing words in different contexts.We have covered pairs of similar sounding words as well as similar spelt words and words which are very similar in meaning. The tests are timed, so it will help you test yourself in an examination kind of environment.

5. Familiarize yourself with the pairs / set of confusing words given below and keep adding such new words to your vocabulary every week.
accept and except
accessary and accessory
advice and advise
affect and effect
a lot/alot/allot
all ready and already
all right and alright
allude and elude
alone and lonely
altogether and all together
ambivalent and indifferent
any and some
any one and anyone
apart and a part
around and round
assume and know and think
astrology and astronomy
at and in
Bald and bold
been and gone
beside and besides
bored and boring
borrow and lend
bought and brought
by and until
captivate and capture
career and carrier and courier
certain and curtain
check and control
close and closed
close and shut
collage and college
come over and overcome
compare and compere
complement and compliment
concentrate and concentrated
confuse and confess
council and counsel
councillor and counsellor
curious and interesting
curtain and certain
data and datum
decent and descent
decision and division
defrost and melt
desperate and disparate
destroy and destruct
discreet and discrete
division and decision
do or make
don't have to and mustn't
dose and doze
downside and underside
draught and drought
dress up and get dressed
driving test and test drive
effect and affect
e.g. or i.e.
either or and neither nor
either and as well / too
employer and employee
enquire and inquire
enquiry and inquiry
every day and everyday
except and accept
excited and exciting
execute and executive
expand and expend
expect and except
experience and experience(s)
extra and surplus
fewer and less
for and since (time)
full stop and period
get dressed and dress up
good and well
going out and outgoing
gone and been
hard and hardly
hear and listen
heroin and heroine
he's and his
holiday and the weekend
holy and holly
homework and housework
hope and wish
"How do you do?" and "How are you?"
I and me
immunity and impunity
improve and improvise
inquire and enquire
interested and interesting
interesting and curious
Jealous and zealous
judicial and judicious
junction and juncture
knowand assume and think
know and now
later and latter
lay and lie
lay down and lie down
leaped and leapt
learn and teach
less and fewer
live and stay
look after and look for
look at and watch
look forward and look forward to
look over and overlook
loose and lose
massage and message
me and I
me and my
moan and mourn
moral and morale
most and the most
most and mostly
mourn and moan
neither | nor and or
now and know
or and nor
outgoing and going out
outgoings and outgoing
overlook and look over
overrun and run over
overtake and takeover
of and off
of course and off course
pass away and pass out
period and full stop
personal and personnel
practise andpractice
precede and proceed
principal and principle
probably and properly
quiet and quite
raise and rise
regard and regardless and regards
remainder and reminder
remember and remind
replay and reply
round and around
run over and overrun
said and told
say and talk
say and tell
scared and scary
see and watch
shortage and shortness
shut and close
so and such
some and any
some time and sometime and sometimes
sooth and soothe
stationary and stationery
stay and live
stick and sticker
strange and stranger
stuff and things
such and so
surplus and extra
take care and take care of
take over and overtake
talk and say
teach and learn
tell and say
than and then
that / which / who
then and than
think and assume and know
told and said
to / too /two
there / their / they're
things and stuff
trainer and trainee
travel / trip / voyage/ journey
us and we
used to and used to do
vain, vane and vein
vale and veil
vary and very
venal and venial
veracious and voracious
wander and wonder
warn and worn
watch and look at
watch and see
we and us
what and which
wish and hope
who and which and that
who and whom
wrong and wrongly
Yoke and Yolk

You can refer to the website below for more such words.