Six Similar English Word Pairs and How to Tell Them Apart

To learn English is to face a language filled with words of similar spellings and meanings. It is easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when it comes to English grammar and writing. But don’t let this challenge discourage you—read on to sort out six tricky examples in English.

Affect and Effect

A jumble of letters

The difference in these two words is grammatical. Affect is a verb: “I worry that your behavior will affect your studies.” Effect is a noun: “Your behavior may have a bad effect on your studies.”

Complement and Compliment

To learn English, it’s important to understand that “complement” usually describes people, clothing, and foods that complete or go well together. For example, “As a couple, Nick and Mary complement each other.” On the other hand, a “compliment” is simply a nice thing to tell someone. For example, “Nick gave Mary a compliment when he told her she is a great teacher.”

Disinterested and Uninterested

Disinterested means impartial: “The singing contest was judged by a panel of disinterested men who never met the contestants.” Uninterested means being bored or having no desire to be involved: “The children, uninterested in their homework, played outside instead.”

Empathy and Sympathy

Empathy is the ability to grasp the feelings and views of another person from their perspective. Sympathy is a sense of sorrow or grief over the suffering of someone else, even if they don’t have a complete understanding of what the other is feeling.

Farther and Further

Farther refers to pure physical distance: “Toby ran farther than anyone else on the team.” Further is usually used in the abstract: “If you have any further questions, please let me know.”

Loose and Lose

Loose is an adjective that means free or unattached: “Corey woke up to find the horses were loose.” Or something no longer tied: “The strings are loose.” Meanwhile, lose is always a verb that means to misplace an item, fail to win a game or contest, or not have something anymore: “When you lose your cell phone, it’s tough.”

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