English Lessons

Five English Word Sets That Confuse Every Learner

I have always maintained that English is a confusing language. The reason for my telling my students so is pretty straightforward: Words in English, unlike words in several other languages, can function in various ways, meaning a particular word can belong to more than one part of speech depending on the context and the word’s meaning. Also, what makes English different from other languages is its complex vocabulary coupled with the rigid subject-verb-object order. Learners and those looking forward to bettering their existing level of English need to note that very many English words have more than one meaning, with a few having more than two hundred meanings and many commonly used words (like have, do, go, etc.) possessing over fifty meanings! In this post, nonetheless, my focus is going to be on five sets of words that students find confusing. The words in each of the sets are more often than not used interchangeably, without learners even coming to realise they had been making mistakes until they are corrected. So if you are ready, begin!

1. Accept, Except, and Excerpt

If you refer to a good dictionary, it will give you close to ten meanings of the word ‘accept’; however, not all the ten meanings are used in day-to-day conversations.

The word is mostly used to convey the following meanings:

  1. to receive something that is offered,
  2. to answer affirmatively,
  3. to admit; and
  4. to be willing to believe

And because ‘accept’ happens to be a verb, it can assume a total of five forms: accept, accepted, accepted, accepting, and accepts.

Some example sentences with the verb ‘accept’ are given below for your understanding:

  • I accept the offer. (The first form of ‘accept’ is used)
  • He has accepted our invitation. (The third form of ‘accept’ is used)
  • Will you accept your mistake, or shall I call your father? (The first form of ‘accept’ is used)
  • She accepted me as a core team member. (The second form of ‘accept’ is used)
  • After accepting the award, she delivered an amazing speech. (In this sentence, ‘accepting’ is a gerund and not a verb.)

The word ‘except’, on the other hand, can function not only as a verb but also a conjunction and a preposition. When used as a preposition, ‘except’ can mean ‘other than’, and when used as a conjunction, it can mean ‘only’ or ‘but’. As a verb, ‘except’ means ‘to exclude’ or ‘to omit’.

Study the sentences given right below so you may understand the meanings much better:

  • All the participants performed well except Raj. (Used as a preposition)
  • We would have attended the function except we were not invited. (Used as a conjunction)
  • We excepted him from our group as he misbehaved with one of my female friends. (Used as a verb).

Kindly keep in mind that because ‘except’ is a regular verb, its five forms are except, excepted, excepted, excepting, and excepts. In the third example sentence right above, the second form of the verb ‘except’ is used. Let me now discuss the word ‘excerpt.’ While this word too can function as both a noun and a regular verb, it is mostly used as a noun. Its meaning as a noun is ‘a segment, stanza or passage taken from a literary or musical composition, film, or documentation’. As a regular verb, it means ‘to take a part or passage’ from a book, speech, article, or play’.

You may consider the following two sentences to understand this word much better:

  • Excerpts from the unedited interview suggested that the director was not happy with the movie’s performance. (Used as a noun)
  • We have excerpted a controversial portion from the book that has been launched today. (Used as a verb)

ALSO READ | Everything About Subject-Verb Agreement

Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

2. Alleviate and Elevate

Both ‘alleviate’ and ‘elevate’ are regular verbs. Although they have similar pronunciations, it is important to understand that they have completely different meanings. Hence, learners must be able to pronounce each of the words perfectly well so that the listener doesn’t get confused.

While ‘alleviate’ can mean ‘to relieve, lessen, or make something easier to bear’, the regular verb ‘elevate’ means ‘to move to a higher place’. ‘Elevate’, however, can also mean ‘to raise’, ‘to make happy’, and ‘to promote’.

Look at the following sentences to understand these words better.

  • Despite the fact that there is no cure for COVID-19, some drugs, it is said, can alleviate the disease’s symptoms.
  • My father was elevated to the post of general manager recently.
  • We narrated a motivational story that elevated him.
  • Has the government done anything yet to alleviate poverty?

3. Price, Prize, and Prise

This is one set where learners tend to get confused so much that they might end up using the word ‘price’ when the meaning they wish to convey is ‘award’ or employ the word ‘prize’ to denote the cost of a product. Be that as it may, what actually makes this word set intriguing is that many learners are not even aware that a word called ‘prise’ exists! Well, while ‘price’ can be used as both a noun and verb, the word ‘prize’ can function as a noun, a verb, and also an adjective. The word ‘prise’, on the other hand, is mostly a verb.

Consider the points highlighted below:

1. While ‘price’ denotes the cost of something, ‘prize’ denotes ‘an award offered or won in a competition’. Interestingly, when used as a noun, ‘price’ can also mean ‘a reward offered for capturing or killing a criminal or terrorist’.

Look at the following sentences:

  • What is the price of that pair of trousers?
  • He won the first prize in the competition.
  • The terrorist who had a price of Rs 1 lakh on his head was arrested this morning.

2. The word ‘price’ can never function as an adjective, but ‘prize’, when used as an adjective, can mean ‘offered as a prize’ or ‘given as a prize’.

Look at the sentences given right below:

  • My best friend bagged prize money of 500 dollars.
  • That is the prize cow that the winner will receive.

3. There is also another special meaning of the word ‘prize’ when it is used as a noun. A ship or vessel captured during the time of war can be called a ‘prize’.

  • The prizes captured during the First World War were destroyed systematically.

4. As a regular verb, ‘price’ has two meanings: to fix the price of something and to find out the price of something. The verb ‘prize’, however, means ‘to value something greatly’.

Look at the following sentences to understand these meanings better:

  • The pair of jeans was priced at 1000 rupees.
  • Don’t spend much time pricing these bags. I probably won’t buy them now. (Used as a participle)
  • I prize your loyalty.

5. Last but not the least, the regular verb ‘prise’, which can also be spelt as ‘prize’ (you read that right!), means ‘to obtain something with difficulty’. It is often followed by the preposition ‘out’. For example:

  • The police finally prised/prized out the sequence of events from the culprit.

ALSO READ | Ten Interesting Phrasal Verbs With ‘Play’

4. Ally, Alley, and Allay

The word ‘ally’, when used as a noun, can mean ‘a helpful association’. It can also be used to mean ‘a close associate or partner’. When used as a regular verb, the word means ‘to unite’ or ‘to be united’. While the word ‘alley’, which is a noun, refers to ‘a narrow lane’ or ‘a walk in a park or garden lined with trees or shrubs’, the word ‘allay’, which functions as a verb, means ‘to calm or pacify’. In some situations, the verb can be used to mean ‘to lessen the intensity of’. However, it is worth mentioning here that the noun ‘alley’ can be used to refer to a long, narrow, wooden floor where a ball is rolled while playing a bowling game as well.

Consider the following sentences to understand the differences amongst these words:

  • India and Russia are allies.
  • They had wanted to ally with us, but we told them categorically that we were on the lookout for a stronger team.
  • The old man was killed in the alley.
  • He allayed my fears.
  • No psychologist could allay her negative thoughts.

5. Corroborate and Collaborate

Both ‘corroborate’ and ‘collaborate’ are regular verbs. While ‘corroborate’ means to ‘support with fresh evidence’, ‘collaborate’ can mean either ‘to work together’ or ‘to cooperate with an enemy to work against one’s own nation.’ Keep in mind that when ‘collaborate’ means ‘to work together’, it is often followed by the preposition ‘with’.

The sentences I have given below will give you a clearer picture.

  • They corroborated our account of what transpired on the night of the murder.
  • Are you willing to collaborate with their team?
  • He was arrested because he had collaborated with a terrorist in Pakistan to spy on the activities of key political parties.

ALSO READ | Ten Idioms You Might Want to Use in Daily Conversations

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