English can be tricky. So tricky in fact, that many native English speakers still get certain words confused with other similar words. Some words have the exact same spelling but mean different things. Some words have completely different spellings but sound the same. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself confused and slightly agitated at the complexity of the English language! Find peace in knowing that these 37 words are tricky for even the most advanced English language learners.
Dessert- “Chocolate desserts are my favorite!”
Desert- “Bring lots of water if you’re walking through the desert.”
Hint: You can remember ‘dessert’ has two s’s because you want more.
Macaron- A French style sandwich cookie made with almond flour.
Macaroon- A chewy American coconut cookie.
Hint: While technically ‘macaron’ is a French word, these little cookies are sold in bakeries all over the world!
Principal- “My school principal was a tall man.”
Principle- “The first principle of the game was to catch the ball.”
Regardless- “She’s a great cook, regardless of what critics are saying.”
Irregardless- Not a real word! Many people mistakenly use this word in spoken English as an equivalent to the word ‘regardless’.
Hint: Many native English speakers incorrectly use ‘regardless’ and ‘irregardless’ interchangeably. People will know what you’re saying, but it is still incorrect to use ‘irregardless’.
Compliment- “She thanked me for the compliment after I said her cookies tasted professional.”
Complement- “Those shoes really complement that outfit!”
Rain- “If this rain doesn’t stop, my house will flood!”
Reign- “The young prince didn’t want to reign over the kingdom.”
Hint: These two words sound the exact same, but you can decipher which word is intended through the vastly different contexts.
Tutor- “Finding an online English tutor is a fantastic way to practice spoken English.”
Tudor- “Have you studied the historic House of Tudor in your history class?”
Hint: You won’t often hear the word ‘Tudor’ in everyday conversation. If you do, it will always be in a historical context.
Whole- “The whole school was waiting for the football game to start.”
Hole- “Both a donut and a bundt cake have a big hole in the center.”
Hint: These words sound the same but have different meanings and spellings
Threw- “He threw the ball so far it landed in the backyard.”
Through- “I can’t get through the morning without my coffee.”
Hint: These words sound the same despite their drastic spelling differences!
Wriggle- “If you get caught in the rope you must wriggle your body out.”
Wiggle- “In science we watched the worm wiggle around in the dirt.”
Hint: These two words are confusing even for native English speakers! They have very similar meanings. In general, use ‘wriggle’ when you need to move your body in order to be released.
Capitol- “We toured the Capitol building in Washington, DC.”
Capital- “The city of Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania.”
Hint: the word capitol means any government building with a legislative branch. However, when referring to the building in Washington, DC, the word is always capitalized.
Defiantly- “The main character defiantly resisted the army.”
Definitely- “If the train ticket is cheap, I definitely want to buy one.”
Hint: While spelled and pronounced in a similar manner, these words have very different meanings! The word ‘definitely’ is commonly used in written and spoken English so take the time to learn this one in particular.
Stationary- “The parked car stayed stationary for days.”
Stationery- “I need to buy good quality stationery for my wedding invitations.”
Hint: Sounds the same, very different meanings.
Two- “I need two copies of these keys!”
Too- “You like salad? I like salad too!”
To- “I need to go back to my house.”
Hint: They all sound the same! But when writing, make sure to use the correct one.
Accept: “Why didn’t he accept my invitation for lunch?”
Except: “He wanted to go running everyday except on Sundays.”
Hint: Native speakers confuse these a lot. Don’t feel discouraged! They are pronounced slightly differently. Pronounce the ‘E’ in ‘except’ like you would in the word ‘elephant’.
By- “I’m going to relax by the pool.”
Buy- “I need to buy groceries this weekend.”
Bye- “Tell her bye before she goes back to college.”
They’re- “They’re the only two people who showed up for class.”
Their- “I am going to their party to say hello.”
There- “Did you see the volcano on television? I was there last week!”
Don’t let this list overwhelm you! Remember that even native English speakers struggle with the majority of word combinations on this list! Understanding the distinction and differences between these words comes with English immersion, understanding written material, and time.
Are you an Advanced English Language learner who wants to take your English pronunciation to the next level. Read this post
Are you an Advanced English Language learner who wants to expand your vocabulary? Here is a great post on American slang language