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February 29, 2012 |

Most confusing words in the English language

English is a crazy language full of exceptions and confusing words. In this article I'll try to clear up some of the most common misconceptions in the language that I've seen. This page will be updated as I think of more confusing words to add.

This vs. That

farther vs. further

"Farther" implies distance while "further" implies time. As you can imagine, these two are often interchangeable even though they don't have the same meaning.
e.g. "He's studied longer than me, but I know more than him, so he's further along, but I am farther along."

it's vs. its

See "you're vs. your".

lay vs. lie

This is the single English rule that I've had the most trouble with in my life. A good explanation can be found here. The basic idea is that "lay" means "to put" and requires a direct object ("You lay the book down on the table") and "lie" means "to recline" and does not require a direct object ("I lie down"). The past tense of these words is where this rule really goes haywire. The past tense of "lie" as in "to recline" is "lay" and the past tense of "lay" as in "to put" is "laid". Go figure that one out.

you're vs. your

Every time without exception that you say "you're", you must be able to replace it with "you are" and have the sentence still make sense (remember that a contraction like you're, it's, he's, etc. is made up of TWO words!). In every other case (aka when talking about possession), "your" is to be used.
e.g. "You're my friend. I am your friend."
("You are my friend" makes perfect sense, but "I am you are friend" does not.)

This is the exact same difference between "it's" and "its": the first is a shortened "it is", and the second implies possession.
e.g. "It's wonderful. Its eyes are green."
("It is wonderful", not "It is eyes are green".)

The "it's" vs. "its" confusion happens largely because "'s" is added onto names to make them possessive ("Katie's shirt"). The rule for "its" is one of the silliest of all in my opinion, but sadly not knowing the difference between the two can make you come off as unintelligent and unprofessional. This is moreso the case with "you're" vs. "your", though.


a lot

Two words, never one! When you say "alot", all I can think of is this. :D


The most common misspelling I see of this word is "definately". There is no "a", even though other English words with the same "i" sound actually do have an "a".

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