Assume or presume? Lose or loose? Lay or lie? Are you using these commonly confused English words correctly?
The English language contains many words which can confuse learners and native speakers alike. It’s common for a word to have several meanings or to be pronounced and spelled the same as others, that’s why it’s easy to make mistakes.
This is the third instalment of the Commonly Confused English Words series which explains the difference between pairs of often confused words in English.
1. Assume / presume
“To assume, makes an ass out of u and me.” The verb assume means to guess that something is true without checking. It also describes a situation in which someone or something takes on a different form, role or position.
To presume is to make a guess about a future event based on evidence.
- I heard a rumour that Steve will get the promotion. I assume it’s true.
- Lucy will assume the role of Department Head until we can find a replacement for Gary.
- I presume Mary will take her exams in the next two weeks because she’s going on holiday next month.
2. Lay / Lie
The verb lay is a transitive verb, which means it needs to have a direct object. You can lay the table, but if you are sleepy, you need to lie down. People lie when they say something that isn’t true. This verb doesn’t need a direct object and its noun form is also lie.
Lay is also the past tense of the verb lie, which often confuses English learners.
- These chickens lay eggs every day.
- You don’t look very well. I think you should lie down.
- That was such a great holiday. I just lay on the beach all week and read a book.
- Alina lied to her boss and said she was stuck in traffic when she really just needed a lie in.
3. Weather / Whether
Some say that British people are obsessed with talking about the weather. Whether or not that is true, it always makes a good topic of conversation when meeting someone for the first time. Weather refers to climate and whether relates to a choice or doubt.
- The British weather isn’t as rainy as many people believe.
- Whether you like it or not, we have to follow the rules.
4. Lose / Loose
Lose is a verb that means to misplace something. Its past and past participle is lost. We can also lose someone when they have died, or lose in a game or competition. The adjective loose is the opposite of tight.
- Your button is loose, let me sew it on for you before you lose it.
- If you loosen the rope, the horse will break loose.
5. Lend / Borrow
These verbs are the opposite of each other. They may look completely different, but many English learners mistake these two words. The best way to remember the difference is to also learn the preposition that follows them. We lend something to someone, or borrow something from someone. The past and past participle of lend is lent. Borrow is a regular verb.
- He still owes you the £20 he borrowed from you last week!
- I will lend £10 to Sam until he gets paid.
- Can I borrow your maths textbook?
- I’m sorry, I’ve already lent it to Fiona.
Exercise: Now it’s your turn. Fill in the gaps in the sentences below with words from this blog post.
- I __________ that Ali will take the bus to work because I saw him waiting at the bus stop this morning.
- If you __________ about this mistake to your boss, you could __________ your job.
- Did you __________ my favourite dress? I know I’ve __________ it to someone, but I can’t remember who.
- It doesn’t matter __________ you check the forecast or not, it’s impossible to predict the __________ in April.
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