#266: Commonly Confused Words & Word Pairs in English

Feb 15, 2023 | Advanced Vocabulary, Pronunciation Training

Do you avoid some words in English because you are unsure of the pronunciation? Or perhaps it’s similar to another word in English and you don’t want to use the wrong one? 

There are some word pairs in English that share similar roots or similar sounds. Making minor mistakes can be annoying, even embarrassing. 

In this Confident English lesson, you’ll learn to differentiate between 9 commonly confused words and word pairs in English.

You’ll get clarity on the meaning and pronunciation so you can use these words with accuracy in your English conversations.


9 Commonly Confused Words & Word Pairs in English

To simplify this lesson, I’ve organized the word pairs into 3 different categories:

  • Focus on Stress & Pronunciation
  • Distinguish Between Similar-Sounding Words
  • Look Out for Eggcorns


Category 1: Focus on Stress & Pronunciation

At times, it’s easy to forget that stress and enunciation play a large role in the clarity of your speech. 

English speakers especially do this when they get excited or passionate about a topic. We accidentally change sounds or put stress on the wrong syllable.

These common workplace words are often confused or mispronounced through stress on the wrong syllable, as well as shifts in pronunciation: 


PREsent vs. PreSENT

Although spelled the same, these two words are pronounced differently and have different meanings.

PREsent is an adjective that refers to being in a particular place at a current moment.

  • Ex. For instance, you might say, “I will not be present for the meeting, so I’ll follow up with you later.”

And a PREsent is a noun. A PREsent is a gift.

In these two word forms, the stress is placed on the first syllable. 

In contrast, when the stress is placed on the latter half, we say, preSENT. Present means to give, award, or formally show.

  • Ex. For example, the host of an event might say, “The guest of honor will present the awards to the students.


ReSIGN vs RE-sign

Similarly, reSIGN and RE-sign are also commonly misunderstood at work when the stress is placed on the wrong syllable.  

To reSIGN means to formally and voluntarily leave or give up a position. 

  • Ex. Perhaps, you find out that a coworker is leaving. You might exclaim, “Can you believe Eve is resigning after 30 years at this company?”

However, when the stress is placed on the first syllable, we say RE-sign. In this case, we’re using the prefix ‘re’ to indicate ‘again’ and the ‘s’ shifts from a /z/ to an /s/ sound. 

To re-sign means to sign a document once again. 

  • Ex. “I decided to renew and resign my contract.” 



Not a word pair, however, this is one of the most commonly mispronounced words at work: ‘hierarchy’. 

You may hear two distinct pronunciations at work:

  • Hi-ar-key
  • Hi-er-ar-key

The correct pronunciation is the second, hi-er-ar-key

‘Hierarchy’ refers to a system or organization in which people or things are classified, or ranked, and arranged by their perceived importance.

  • Ex. For instance, you might say, “She was at the top of the corporation’s hierarchy.” 

Category 2: Distinguish Between Similar-Sounding Words

Some words are less worrisome in spoken communication; however, there is great potential for mistakes with words that sound the same but have different meanings.

In such cases, it’s essential to know the meaning of each word – and its corresponding spelling – so you understand which word is being used in a conversation based on the context.

Let’s take a look at two word pairs where this happens regularly: 


Elicit vs Illicit

The two words are homophones. Words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings. 

Elicit (with an E) means to draw out or bring out something, usually information or a reaction

For instance, if a client has been unresponsive to your emails, you might say, “I haven’t been able to elicit a response from them yet.

However, ‘illicit’ (with an IL) is an adjective that describes something or someone as illegal or disapproved of by society.

For example, you may hear news anchors say, “There is an increased number of illicit trades in stolen vehicles.

One helpful tip is to make an association between illicit and illegal – both start with il. And if the context of the sentence suggests that something is illegal or is disapproved of, then the word being used is illicit.


Ensure vs Insure

A second commonly confused word pair is ensure vs insure. 

Depending on where you live, there may be a slight distinction in pronunciation with a stronger enunciation of /i/ in insure; however, the Merriem-Webster dictionary suggests that both are pronounced:  in-ˈshu̇r.

The fact that both words refer to making something safer, better, and more protected further contributes to potential confusion.

So let’s look at how to distinguish between the two.

To ensure, means to make sure, confirm, or to make safe. 

For example, when briefing your manager, you might say, “We’ve taken steps to ensure the product is launched successfully.

To insure means to provide or obtain insurance for something.

For instance, “some companies refuse to insure seniors due to their old age.” 

One way to help remember the distinction is to associate insure with financial matters such as car value, home value, business value, etc.

Whereas with ensure, you might associate the verbs to make sure, certain, or safe. For example, to make certain/to ensure there are safety protocols in place at work.

Category 3: Look Out for Eggcorns

Now I have to tell you, I had NEVER heard of eggcorns before working on this lesson.

But I love the word and am excited to share it with you. It’s also perfect for this lesson. 

An eggcorn is a word or phrase that results from a mishearing or misinterpretation of another. 

It’s common for English speakers to mishear and reuse misheard phrases. The examples I’ll share with you are common mistakes native English speakers make.


For all intents and purposes vs. For all intensive purposes

In conversations at work, you may have heard someone say, “for all intensive purposes.” This is an eggcorn and the correct phrase is, ‘for all intents and purposes.”

For all intents and purposes means that something has the same effect and/or result as something else. 

For example, when discussing a possible partnership, you may say “For all intents and purposes, this company is our biggest ally.



Regardless vs Irregardless

Though irregardless is widely heard and used in spoken English, the word is nonstandard and no different in meaning from regardless

In other words, it’s an eggcorn and the more appropriate word to use would be, regardless

Regardless is an adverb that means despite or in spite of. 

For example, you might say, “we must make these changes regardless of the costs.

  • Note that when this word is said, there is a clear enunciation of the /r/ sound. No sound precedes the /r/. 


One in the same vs. One and the same

While you may hear ‘one in the same’ often, the correct phrase is ‘one and the same.’

One and the same is used to say that two or more things, or people, are the same. 

The reason for mishearing the phrase is the combination of ‘and the.’ In this combination, the /d/ follows an /n/ sound and is followed by a consonant, the /t/. When this happens, we drop the /d/ so you hear ‘an’ or ‘in.” 

If you want to learn more, check out my lesson on dropped /t/ and /d/ sounds.

And now, an example of how to use this phrase: “The founder of the company and the owner are one and the same.


All in all vs All and all 

Lastly, ‘all in all’ and ‘all and all’ are often used interchangeably. 

All and all is the eggcorn and the correct phrase, ‘all in all’ means with everything being taken into account. 

For example, at the end of a team meeting, you might say, “All in all, we should have this proposal ready to go by Friday.

Questions for You

After watching this lesson, I’d love to know

  1. Which words or phrases from today’s lesson do you often hear at work? 
  2. What other pairs of English words or phrases have you found confusing at work?

You can share your answers — as well as your questions — with me in the comments below.

~ Annemarie


Get the Confidence to Say What You Want in English

Follow my 3-step solution to speak English with clarity, fluency, and freedom so you can say what you want with confidence.

You'll also get my Confident English lessons delivered by email every Wednesday and occasional information about available courses. You can unsubscribe any time.

More Like This

How to Describe Your Personality in English

How to Describe Your Personality in English

Did you know it’s common in daily conversation & in job interviews to hear this question: “So, how would you describe yourself?” — How would you answer the question? Use this lesson to learn real-life English vocabulary for describing personalities in English.

📣 The Confident Women Community in April
The CWC is where women learn, practice, speak, and make progress. Coming in April we have speaking partner matching PLUS new study guides on travel. 🗺️

I'd love your thoughts and questions! Please share your comment.x

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This