More Commonly Confused English Words

A birds eye view of a desk where two people have notebooks open

Your or you’re? Proceed or precede? Stationary or stationery? In today’s blog post we’ll be looking at some more commonly confused English words.

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 second instalment of the Commonly Confused English Words series which explains the difference between pairs of often confused words in English.

1. Farther / Further

The word farther relates to physical distance, which is why it contains the word far. We use the word further when talking about anything other than physical distance.

  • This electric car can travel farther than any other before the battery needs to be recharged.
  • Donations allowed the research to go further than ever before.

2. Precede / Proceed

Not only do we spell these words in a similar way, they can sound identical in conversation due to the speed that many people speak.

Both verbs relate to the order in which events occur. When an event comes before another, the first event precedes the second. We use the word proceed  to describe the process of moving forward.

  • His Oscar win was preceded by several unsuccessful nominations.
  • Let’s proceed with the original plan to avoid any surprises.

3.  Stationery / Stationary

With only one letter to differentiate these two words, it’s easy to forget which is which.

Stationery is a noun relating to supplies you might find in an office. Stationary is an adjective to describe something which is still or motionless.

Here’s a handy mnemonic for you; stationery contains an e, as does envelope. Stationary contains an a, as does statue.

  • The accident happened when a car crashed into a stationary truck.
  • We’re out of staples.  It’s time I went shopping for stationery.

4. Formally / Formerly

While these two adverbs are identical in pronunciation, that’s where the similarity ends.

Formally is used to describe official or professional etiquette. On the other hand, formerly modifies a past action.

  • The Chancellor was formally invited to the gala.
  • Myanmar, formerly Burma, was renamed in 1989.

5. Your / You’re

This is one of the most common mistakes made by native English speakers.

Your is used to show ownership or possession. You’re is a contraction of the words You + are.[

  • Mick Jagger sang backing vocals on Carly Simon’s hit song “You’re So Vain”.
  • “Take care of all your memories, for you cannot relive them.” Bob Dylan

Exercise: Now it’s your turn. Fill in the gaps in the sentences below with words from this blog post.

  1. Always dress  __________ for job interviews.
  2. Please ask __________ father to come in when __________ ready.
  3. Adjectives often  __________ the nouns they modify.
  4. The car was __________ at a red light when the cyclist collided with it.

Book a free trial lesson to discuss your learning needs and goals with an experienced English teacher.

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Responses

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  1. Hi Gemma and Lorraine

    thank you so much for this blog. Indeed, it is often a problem that students of English struggle with again and again. Me included.

    1. Always dress formally for job interviews.
    2. Please ask your father to come in when you’re ready.
    3. Adjectives often precede the nouns they modify.
    4. The car was stationary at a red light when the cyclist collided with it.

    I wish you a great weekend.
    Richard

    @ Gemma: your clear pronounciation makes me happy!!! Thank you

    1. Hi Richard,
      Thank you so much for your kind words! It always makes us so happy when we learn that our blogs are helping our students 🙂
      These are great sentences and you’ve absolutely nailed the words we talked about in the blog.
      Keep up the great work and let us know if there’s any topic you’d like to see in a future blog.
      Happy studying and have a wonderful weekend!

      1. Hi Gemma
        Thank you for your prompt reply.
        Maybe Lorraine told you that I sometimes have health problems and therefore have to take a break from studying English from time to time. However, I like to follow the community and always do so (when possible).
        Because of hearing problems, I didn’t complete my online pronunciation course. But your blog has shown that I can learn a lot through this method:
        Distinguishing similar-sounding words from each other and practising pronunciation at the same time. I would therefore like to continue working with you in face-to-face lessons as soon as I feel better again and can book a course.
        I wish you a great weekend
        Richard