Confusing Words

English is ranked as the third highest language used, yet it can be confusing at times even for native English speakers. There are many words that sound alike with different meanings, sound different with similar meanings, and every day words that are plain baffling. We look at a few of the more common confusing words and when to use them in the correct content with the help of a few clever tricks.

Me or I

There is a simple way to find the correct pronoun between ‘me’ and ‘I’. When a sentence includes you and another person, leave out the other person and read it aloud. The correct word will sound right.

Example: Becky and (me or I) went to the meeting yesterday.

You would not say, ‘Me went to the meeting yesterday’, so obviously the wrong pronoun has been used. ‘I went to the meeting yesterday’ demonstrates the correct pronoun is ‘I’.

Becky and I went to the meeting yesterday.

Example: Jack drove Becky and (me or I) to the meeting yesterday.

‘Jack drove I to the meeting yesterday’ sounds clumsy and is the wrong pronoun used. ‘Jack drove me to the meeting yesterday’ sounds perfect, because the correct pronoun is being used.

Jack drove Becky and me to the meeting yesterday.

Who or Whom

There is another trick to help sort out when to use who or whom. Try changing ‘who’ to ‘he’ or ‘whom’ to ‘him’ in a sentence to find the correct use.

Example: (Who or whom) ate my sandwich?

‘He ate my sandwich’ sounds right, but you would not say, ‘Him ate my sandwich’.

Who ate my sandwich?

Some sentences are trickier and need to be re-arranged to find the correct word usage.

Example: (Who or Whom) do I need to see?

We would not say, ‘He/him do I need to see’, so we change the position of the pronouns. ‘Do I need to see he,’ definitely does not sound right; however, ‘Do I need to see him,’ does.

Whom do I need to see?

Another trick to identifying the correct use is that ‘Whom’ follows a preposition, such as ‘to’ or ‘for’. So we could have added a preposition to the previous example.

To whom do I need to see?

This helps if the word falls in another part of the sentence instead of starting it.

Example: She is a hard-working person for whom I admire greatly.

Although, this particular sentence would have sounded more natural if it said, ‘She is a hard-working person and I admire her greatly’.

Can or May

There is an easy way to find the correct word between ‘can’ or ‘may’. ‘Can’ is used to indicate that a person is capable of handling something; whereas ‘may’ asks for permission. So simply ask, ‘can I do it’ or ‘do I need to ask permission to do it.’

Example: (Can or may) I borrow your pen?

I have the capability to borrow a pen, but I need to ask permission to borrow it.

May I borrow your pen?

Effect or Affect

When the word is used as a noun, the name of something, then ‘effect’ is used.

Example: The effect of infection was swift.

When the word is used as a verb then we need to consider the intended meaning to find the correct word. The job of ‘effect’, as a verb, is to carry out or bring about something.

Example: He effected changes.

This word could be swapped for ‘brought about’. ‘He brought about changes’, highlights the correct word is effect as a verb.

Example: The manager effected a new process.

This word could be swapped for ‘carried out’. ‘The manager carried out a new process’, shows effect has been used correctly as a verb.

Affect is used as a verb, meaning an action. It can have an influence, to cause harm, to pretend, or to make a difference. Temporarily changing the word may help.

Example of influence: I refuse to let your words affect me. (It could be changed to: I refuse to let our words influence me.)

Example of harm: Your second-hand smoke affects my health. (It could be changed to: Your second-hand smoke harms my health.)

Example of pretend: She affected to be busy. (It could be changed to: She pretended to be busy.)

Example of makes a difference: Exercise affects health and sleep. (It could be changed to: Exercise makes a difference to health and sleep.) 

Hopefully, that will clear up the confusion with these words. We will look at more confusing words and the wonders of the English language in the future.

No part of this may be represented in any medium without written consent from the author. Mary Broadhurst c 2017