English is a funny language, undoubtedly. It is difficult too for some of us who are not native English speakers and have adopted it as our second language. Over the years, while working with different professionals I have observed that many of us still find English language confusing, especially when we have to deal with homophones (words that are spelled differently but are pronounced alike) and/or homographs (words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently).
Referring to such troublesome words, Don Phillipson, a Canadian member of an online language forum, said: “This is what North American newspapermen call ‘eluders,’ listed and discussed in The Canadian Press Style Book.”
My discussion with some English language experts brought up a few common words that confuse many people in their day to day use of English language – in writing and speech, at work and in their private conversations.
“I think everyone has some spellings that are bugbears for them. For instance, I know how to spell ‘friend’, but whenever I write it something in my brain says, ‘that rhymes with ‘fiend’; it can’t be right,’ and if I am in a hurry I’ll sometimes change it to ‘freind’, which then looks very wrong to me,” said Dave Hatunen, member of the online group.
Another member, John Kane cited self example: “I consistently have to rewrite ‘wierd’ to ‘weird’, and it still looks wrong. Same with ‘guarantee’ ¾ I always try ‘gaurantee’ first. I have also had trouble all my life with -ent/-ant words, usually picking the wrong spelling first.”
One of my friends, a successful HR executive and businesswoman, said she finds “principal” and “principle” highly confusing. “I find ‘practice’ and ‘practise’ more problematic because I use them almost every day and it’s tough to figure out which one to use – the one with ‘c’ or ‘s’,” she said.
“One of the most commonly misspelled words as spelled by otherwise good spellers is, in my experience, ‘aperture’. It often gets spelled and pronounced ‘aperature’,” said Bob Cunningham of the language forum.
Another group member said, “Wednesday. I still get it wrong (Wedensday), it’s a habit I have thus far found impossible to break. I’ve never pronounced it like ‘Wed Ness Day,’ or thought about it like that, or even known I was wrong until well into adulthood. I don’t recall ever been corrected (except by MS Word!).”
My confusing words would be: intention, millennium, and hassle.
My friend Saras, executive administrator at a magazine office, often gets confused in “advice”, “advise”, “whether”, and “weather”.
“If you ask me, I’ll say the entire English language is confusing. I have a long list of words that confuse me when I have to write emails, invitations, letters, newsletters, brochures and press releases on a daily basis. For example, I always write ‘table’ as ‘tabel’ first. Then ‘their,’ ‘there,’ ‘principal,’ and ‘principle’ put me into trouble all the time. I wish I didn’t have to write in English at all,” says Tabu, events manager of a media group in Bangalore.
The purpose of citing these quotes is to show that it is common to make mistakes in English language and those of us who find it difficult shouldn’t underestimate our capability to improve on it consciously. To make things easier, here are a few examples of some common troublesome words with their meanings:
HOMOPHONES: WORDS SPELLED DIFFERENTLY BUT PRONOUNCED ALIKE
Chord: (music) two or more notes played together; (mathematics) straight line that joins two points on a curve
Cord: strong thick string or thin rope
Complement: to add to something in a way that improves it
Compliment: a remark that expresses praise or admiration of somebody
Loose: not firmly fixed where it should be; able to become separated from something
Lose: to be unable to find something/somebody; to have something/somebody taken away from you
Read more examples
HOMOGRAPHS: WORDS SPELLED THE SAME BUT PRONUNCIATION AND/OR MEANINGS DIFFER
Bow : The act of bending your head or the upper part of your body forward in order to say hello or goodbye to somebody or to show respect
: A knot with two loops and two loose ends which is used for decoration on clothes, in hair, etc. or for tying shoes
Content : The amount of a substance that is contained in something else; (computing) the information or other material contained on a website or CD-ROM
: Happy and satisfied with what you have
Lead : To go with or in front of a person or an animal to show the way or to make them go in the right direction; guide
: A chemical element – Lead is a heavy soft grey metal, used especially in the past for water pipes or to cover roofs
Read more examples
WORDS THAT SPELL ERROR!
Accommodation not Accomodation
Foreign not Foriegn
Friend not Freind or Fiend
Guarantee not Gaurantee
Hassle not Hassel
Intention not Intension
Professional not Proffesional
Pronunciation not Pronounciation
Received not Recieved
Table not Tabel
Weird not Wierd
Effect: a change that something/somebody causes in something/somebody else; a result
Affect: to produce a change in something/something
Forward: towards a place or position that is in front
Foreword: a short introduction at the beginning of a book
Moral: concerned with principles of right and wrong behaviour
Morale: the amount of confidence and enthusiasm, etc. that a person or a group has at a particular time
Read more examples
THE FUNNY SIDE OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE
Source: All word meanings have been taken from Oxford Dictionary