Page 2 - Word Usage Study Guide for the English Basics

Words with Multiple Meanings

Multiple-meaning words (or homonyms) are words that have the same spelling and usually sound alike but have very different meanings, depending on context. The list of multiple-meaning words is long and sometimes there are three or more meanings for the same word. Sometimes, words that are spelled the same have different pronunciations, depending on what meaning is intended. Here are some examples of these types of words:

\[\begin{array}{|l|l|} \hline \mathbf{Word} & \mathbf{Common \,Meanings} \quad \quad \quad \quad \quad & \mathbf{Examples} \quad \quad \quad \quad \quad \\ \hline \mathbf{bark} & \text{sound a dog makes} & \text{"I heard the dogs}\, \mathbf{bark} \,\text{all night."} \\ \text{}& \text{tree covering} & \text{“The tree}\, \mathbf{bark} \,\text{was rough.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{bit} & \text{past tense of "bite"} & \text{"Alex}\, \mathbf{bit} \,\text{into the ripe tomato."} \\ \text{}& \text{a small amount} & \text{"Anya asked for a}\, \mathbf{bit} \,\text{more soup."} \\ \text{}& \text{bridle part in horse's mouth} & \text{"The horse refused the} \,\mathbf{bit} \text{."} \\ \hline \mathbf{bat} & \text{a small flying mammal} & \text{"At dusk, a}\, \mathbf{bat} \,\text{came out to eat insects."} \\ \text{}& \text{equipment used to strike a ball} & \text{“The batter swung the} \,\mathbf{bat}\, \text{at the ball.”} \\ \text{}& \text{verb meaning "to hit"} & \text{“The kitten likes to} \,\mathbf{bat}\, \text{at the catnip toy.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{bow} & \text{ornamentation for a gift} & \text{“The} \,\mathbf{bow} \,\text{matches the wrapping paper."} \\ \text{(rhymes}& \text{device to shoot arrows} & \text{“The archer shot arrows with his} \,\mathbf{bow} \,\text{.”} \\ \text{with "toe")}& \text{}& \text{} \\ \hline \mathbf{bow}& \text{bend to show respect} & \text{“You must} \,\mathbf{bow} \,\text{to the queen.”} \\ \text{(rhymes}& \text{to yield} & \text{“We will not} \,\mathbf{bow} \, \text{to public pressure!”} \\ \text{with "cow")}& \text{the front of a boat} & \text{“The captain went to the}\, \mathbf{bow} \,\text{of the ship.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{left} & \text{direction opposite "right"} & \text{“Turn} \,\mathbf{left}\, \text{at the stoplight.”} \\ \text{}& \text{past tense of the verb “leave”} & \text{”The movie was so boring, we}\, \mathbf{left} \,\text{.”} \\ \text{}& \text{remaining} & \text{“Chips were the only snacks} \,\mathbf{left}\, \text{.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{can} & \text{is able to} & \text{“} \mathbf{Can} \,\text{you reach the top shelf?”} \\ \text{}& \text{container} & \text{“That} \,\mathbf{can}\, \text{of soup sat unopened.”} \\ \text{}& \text{to dismiss from a job (slang)} & \text{“My boss will}\, \mathbf{can}\, \text{me if I’m late again.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{grave} & \text{serious} & \text{“The victim was in}\, \mathbf{grave}\, \text{condition.”} \\ \text{}& \text{burial place} & \text{“Many mourners stood by the} \,\mathbf{grave}\, \text{.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{hatch} & \text{create a plan} & \text{“The thieves had to} \,\mathbf{hatch}\, \text{a clever plan.} \\ \text{}& \text{emerge from an egg} & \text{“The chicks will}\, \mathbf{hatch} \,\text{in about a week.”} \\ \text{}& \text{opening} & \text{“The water flowed into the boat through} \\ \text{}& \text{} & \text{an open}\, \mathbf{hatch} \, \text{.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{monitor} & \text{supervising person} & \text{“The teacher left a student}\, \mathbf{monitor}\, \text{in charge.”} \\ \text{}& \text{watch or listen} & \text{“Does the government} \,\mathbf{monitor}\, \text{our email?”} \\ \text{}& \text{display screen} & \text{“Check the} \, \mathbf{monitor}\, \text{in the airport for flight times.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{sentence} & \text{a series of words with meaning} & \text{“Amy had to write the}\, \mathbf{sentence}\, \text{100 times.”} \\ \text{}& \text{punishment} & \text{“A judge delivered the criminal’s}\, \mathbf{sentence} \, \text{."} \\ \hline \end{array}\]

Commonly Confused Words

Commonly confused words are similar to multiple-meaning words in that they sound alike or very similar, have similar spelling, and are often used interchangeably and therefore, incorrectly. Here is a list of some of the most commonly confused words, what each one actually means, and an example of how each one should be used:

\[\begin{array}{|l|l|} \hline \mathbf{Words} & \mathbf{Definition} \quad \quad \quad \quad \quad & \mathbf{Usage} \quad \quad \quad \quad \quad \\ \hline \mathbf{to} & \text{preposition before a noun OR} & \text{"Please come} \,\mathbf{to}\,\text{ our party."} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{infinitive before a verb} & \text{"We don’t need} \,\mathbf{to}\,\text{buy candy."} \\ \mathbf{too}& \text{synonym for "also" OR} & \text{"I want a milkshake,} \,\mathbf{too}\,\text{."} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{modifier meaning “more than needed/wanted”} & \text{“We have} \,\mathbf{too}\,\text{much candy.”} \\ \mathbf{two}& \text{the number 2, spelled out} & \text{“There were} \,\mathbf{two}\,\text{children in the family.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{your} & \text{shows possession} & \text{“I saw} \,\mathbf{your}\,\text{jacket on the chair.”} \\ \mathbf{you’re}& \text{contraction of "you are"} & \text{“I think} \,\mathbf{you’re}\,\text{ready for the test.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{who's} & \text{contraction for “who is”} & \text{“} \,\mathbf{Who’s}\,\text{coming to the party?”} \\ \mathbf{whose}& \text{tells possession} & \text{“} \,\mathbf{Whose}\,\text{glasses are these?”} \\ \hline \end{array}\]

Hint: If one word choice is a contraction, try substituting the two words it replaces in the sentence to see if that makes sense.

Example: “Whose glasses are these?” would not make sense if who’s were used: “Who is glasses are these?” No.

\[\begin{array}{|l|l|} \hline \mathbf{their} \quad\quad & \text{shows possession} \quad& \text{“They didn’t have} \,\mathbf{their}\,\text{tickets.”} \\ \mathbf{there}\quad\quad& \text{shows location} \quad& \text{“Put the books over} \,\mathbf{there}\,\text{.”} \\ \mathbf{they're}\quad\quad& \text{contraction for “they are”} \quad& \text{“} \,\mathbf{They’re}\,\text{going to a different restaurant.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{hear} & \text{to perceive with the ear} & \text{"She can} \, \mathbf{hear} \, \text{her mother calling."} \\ \mathbf{here}& \text{shows location} & \text{"Please put your keys} \, \mathbf{here} \, \text{."} \\ \hline \hline \end{array}\]

Hint: To help keep “there” and “here” straight, both of these contain “ere” and are “location” words. Their “sound-alikes” do not and are not.

\[\begin{array}{|l|l|} \hline \mathbf{then} & \text{denotes order of time} & \text{“We ate dinner,} \,\mathbf{then}\, \text{we ordered dessert.”} \\ \mathbf{than}& \text{shows comparison} & \text{“Peggy would rather have blue} \,\mathbf{than}\, \text{ pink.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{loose} & \text{adjective meaning “not tight”} & \text{“Matt’s belt is too} \,\mathbf{loose}\, \text{.”} \\ \mathbf{lose}& \text{verb meaning “fail to win” OR} & \text{“Coach said not to} \,\mathbf{lose}\, \text{this game.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{“misplace” OR} & \text{“I kept it in my pocket so I wouldn’t} \,\mathbf{lose}\, \text{it.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{“free oneself”} & \text{“The criminal tried to} \,\mathbf{lose}\, \text{the police tail.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{advise} & \text{verb meaning *to give counsel” } & \text{“The lawyer began to} \,\mathbf{advise}\, \text{his client.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{or advice} & \text{} \\ \mathbf{advice}& \text{noun meaning “an opinion”} & \text{“The lawyer’s} \,\mathbf{advice}\, \text{was to admit guilt.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{or “a recommendation”} & \text{} \\ \hline \mathbf{lay} & \text{to “place”;} & \text{“She will} \,\mathbf{lay}\, \text{the book on the table.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{requires a direct object} & \text{} \\ \mathbf{lie}& \text{to “recline”;} & \text{“I think I will} \,\mathbf{lie}\, \text{down for a while.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{requires no direct object} & \text{} \\ \hline \end{array}\]

Hint: Think of the similarities in the words and definitions of lay and lie:

lay = to place
lie = to recline

\[\begin{array}{|l|l|} \hline \mathbf{further} & \text{figurative distance} & \text{“Allen will go}\, \mathbf{further} \, \text{in his career} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{if he attends graduate school.”} \\ \mathbf{farther}& \text{physical distance} & \text{“Neptune is}\, \mathbf{farther} \, \text{from the sun} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{than Earth is.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{breath} & \text{noun; air taken into the lungs} & \text{“She said to take a deep}\, \mathbf{breath} \, \text{.”} \\ \mathbf{breathe}& \text{verb meaning the action of} & \text{“His asthma made it hard} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{taking air in} & \text{to}\, \mathbf{breathe} \, \text{.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{capital} & \text{the most important city} & \text{“Albany is the}\, \mathbf{capital} \, \text{of New York.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{large alphabet letters} & \text{“Begin your name with a}\, \mathbf{capital} \, \text{letter.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{type of punishment meaning death} & \text{“}\, \mathbf{Capital} \, \text{punishment means a} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{death sentence.”} \\ \mathbf{capitol}& \text{legislative building or buildings} & \text{“The state senate met for hours} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{at the}\, \mathbf{capitol} \, \text{.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{specially} & \text{for a certain purpose} & \text{“The dogs were}\, \mathbf{specially} \, \text{trained.”} \\ \mathbf{especially}& \text{better or more than} & \text{“She looked}\, \mathbf{especially} \, \text{calm} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{that night.”} \\ \hline \end{array}\]

Note: There is no such word as “expecially”—in speech or in writing and “especially” has no “k” sound when correctly pronounced.

\[\begin{array}{|l|l|} \hline \mathbf{lead} & \text{show the way; be in front} & \text{“The rescue dog would} \, \mathbf{lead} \, \text{the way.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{a metallic substance} & \text{“The paint contained} \, \mathbf{lead} \, \text{.”} \\ \mathbf{led}& \text{past tense of “lead”} & \text{“He} \, \mathbf{led} \, \text{the officers yesterday, too.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{affect} & \text{verb; to have impact} & \text{“Pollen can} \, \mathbf{affect} \, \text{your ability to breathe.” } \\ \mathbf{effect}& \text{noun; a result} & \text{“The} \, \mathbf{effects} \, \text{of pollen can be disastrous.”} \\ \hline \end{array}\]

Note: The word affect can be used as a noun in the realm of psychology and means a mood or feeling.

“Lisa displayed a brave affect when approached by her ex-boyfriend.”

In addition, the word effect can be used as a verb when it means *to accomplish:

“The group was hoping to effect change by protesting.”

\[\begin{array}{|l|l|} \hline \mathbf{except} & \text{excluding (something, someone)} & \text{“All the purses are on sale,} \, \mathbf{except} \\ \mathbf{} & \text{} & \text{the large bags.”} \\ \mathbf{accept}& \text{receive, obtain, or say “yes”} & \text{“The tenant} \, \mathbf{accepted} \, \text{the notice} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{at the door.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{“He could not} \, \mathbf{accept} \, \text{the invitation.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{prostrate} & \text{stretched out flat} & \text{“The police made the suspect lie} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \mathbf{prostrate} \, \text{on the ground.”} \\ \mathbf{prostate}& \text{a gland in men} & \text{“The doctor checked Joe’s} \, \mathbf{prostate} \, \text{.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{mute} & \text{without sound} & \text{“We often} \, \mathbf{mute} \, \text{the TV during } \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{commercials.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{with softer sound} & \text{“The restaurant played} \, \mathbf{muted} \, \text{music} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{to allow for conversation at dinner.”} \\ \mathbf{moot}& \text{open for discussion, insignificant} & \text{“The prosecutor’s argument was} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{a} \, \mathbf{moot} \, \text{point.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{elicit} & \text{verb meaning “obtain”} & \text{“She hoped to} \, \mathbf{elicit} \, \text{support with} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{her speech.”} \\ \mathbf{illicit}& \text{adjective meaning “illegal”} & \text{“They were arrested for} \, \mathbf{illicit} \, \text{activity.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{insure} & \text{protect financially} & \text{“You need to} \, \mathbf{insure} \, \text{your home} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{from flooding.”} \\ \mathbf{ensure}& \text{make certain} & \text{“Your sweater will} \, \mathbf{ensure} \, \text{warmth} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{tonight.”} \\ \mathbf{assure}& \text{promise} & \text{“He} \, \mathbf{assured} \, \text{us we would be safe.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{council} & \text{a group of people} & \text{“The city} \, \mathbf{council} \, \text{will meet tomorrow.”} \\ \mathbf{counsel}& \text{verb meaning “give advice”} & \text{“Please let the lawyer} \, \mathbf{counsel} \, \text{you.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{advice or person who gives advice} & \text{“Please seek legal} \, \mathbf{counsel} \, \text{before } \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{your court date.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{weather} & \text{the state of the atmosphere} & \text{“The} \, \mathbf{weather} \, \text{report indicated a } \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{rainy Sunday for the beach area.”} \\ \mathbf{whether}& \text{denotes an option} & \text{“Shelly didn’t know} \, \mathbf{whether} \, \text{to buy } \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{the shoes or not.”} \\ \hline \mathbf{customer} & \text{person who purchases} & \text{“A} \, \mathbf{customer} \, \text{headed for the cashier.”} \\ \mathbf{costumer}& \text{person who designs and/or} & \text{“The movie’s} \, \mathbf{costumer} \, \text{was highly} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{makes costumes} & \text{imaginative.”} \\ \hline \end{array}\]

Words don’t have to be spelled similarly or sound close to be confused in writing and speaking. There are other tricky usage issues that we’d like to clarify for you, as they are common mistakes that you can now work to avoid.

\[\begin{array}{|l|l|} \hline \mathbf{e.g.} & \text{“exempli gratia” (“for example”)} & \text{“Sam enjoys individual sports (} \, \mathbf{e.g.} \, \text{,} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{cycling, snowboarding, and golf).”} \\ \mathbf{i.e.}& \text{“id est” (“in other words”)} & \text{“The car had a safety issue (} \, \mathbf{i.e.} \, \text{, it} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{} & \text{was not safe to drive).”} \\ \hline \end{array}\]

Note: These two are abbreviations, so they both need the periods, but do not need to be in italics. Usually, they are also each followed by a comma.

Hint: Remember them by associating their meanings with their beginning letters:

e.g. = example
i.e. = in other words

\[\begin{array}{|l|l|} \hline \mathbf{who} & \text{only refers to people} & \text{“It was Bart} \, \mathbf{who} \, \text{answered the question.”} \\ \mathbf{that}& \text{can refer to people, objects,} & \text{“It was her favorite ball} \, \mathbf{that} \, \text{was lost.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{animals, or groups} & \text{} \\ \hline \mathbf{fewer} & \text{references things that can be} & \text{“There were} \, \mathbf{fewer} \, \text{children in this} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{counted (rocks, pennies, etc.)} & \text{grade level than ever before.”} \\ \mathbf{less}& \text{references things that cannot or} & \text{“There was} \, \mathbf{less} \, \text{gravel put on the} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{probably would not be counted} & \text{country roads this year.”} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{(sand, patience, etc.)} & \text{} \\ \hline \mathbf{between} & \text{use when referring to only two} & \text{“Joe and Tom split the cookies} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{things, people, etc.} & \mathbf{between} \, \text{themselves.”} \\ \mathbf{among}& \text{use when referring to “more than”} & \text{“The teacher divided the cookies} \\ \mathbf{}& \text{two things, people, etc.} & \mathbf{among} \, \text{the six children.”} \\ \hline \end{array}\]

Confusion can also happen with phrases. Watch out for this common one: The phrase should be “all of a sudden”, not “all of the sudden”. Some people claim that you can thank Shakespeare for this one as scholars trace this use back to his Taming of the Shrew. However, this phrase is an idiom and the accepted way to say it is all of a sudden. All of the sudden is considered slang and improper grammar.

Also, be sure that you are not accidentally talking about rocks. When you use the word “granted” as in the phrase “take for granted”, it’s granted, not granite. Granite is a type of rock and does not denote that you are failing to appreciate something like it would if you took it for granted. This would be incorrect:

“We often take our comforts of life for granite, like a warm bed to sleep in or enough food to eat.”

It should be:

“We often take our comforts of life for granted, like a warm bed to sleep in or enough food to eat.”

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