5 commonly confused word pairs in English.

Here are five of the most commonly confused English word pairs. They have been chosen especially for ESL learners. The list is not complete, if you have any commonly confused words that you feel should be included in future lessons, write them in the comments.

Accept and Except


Accept is a verb that means “to receive, admit, regard as true, say yes.”

  • I can’t accept this gift.
  • He was accepted to Harvard.


Except is a preposition that means “excluding.”

  • He bought a gift for everyone except me.
  • I know everyone here except the children.

Desert and Dessert


The word desert can be an adjective or a noun. It has the following meanings:

  • The plants and animals possess special features which allow them to cope with the desert conditions. (Desert is an adjective in this example.)
  • An ice desert is defined as a polar area that supports little or no vegetation and that is permanently covered by snow and ice. (Desert is a noun in this example.)


A dessert is typically the final course of a meal. It is usually sweet (e.g., ice cream, cake, pudding).

  • Would you like to see the dessert menu?

Advise and Advise


The word advice is a noun meaning a suggestion for a beneficial course of action.

  • Take my advice. I don’t use it anyway.
  • He who can take advice is sometimes superior to him who can give it.
  • Many receive advice, but only the wise profit from it.


The word advise is a verb meaning to give advice. (It rhymes with prize.) To advise can also mean to notify (e.g., I advised him I was leaving.)


  • I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.
  • The rich are always advising the poor, but the poor seldom return the compliment.
  • Attach yourself to those who advise you rather than praise you.

Principal and Principle

In its most common role, principal is an adjective meaning main or key.


  • The principal objective is to make a profit. (The adjective principal modifies the noun objective.) (principal = main or key)
  • The inspector highlighted my principal concern in his opening sentence. (principal = main or key)
  • The word principal can also be noun mean head or chief. It is commonly used to denote head teacher in the US.
  • Here comes the principal. (principal = head teacher)
  • The allegations against the former principal were that he not only allowed the cage fights to take place, but he also he egged on the participants.

The word principle is a noun. It has a range of meanings, including rule, belief, tenet and theory. In general, principle offers the idea of general law or code of conduct.

  • No! It is against my principles!
  • That is a great idea in principle.
  • Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others. (Groucho Marx quote)
  • You could strengthen your argument by appealing to more general principles.

There and Their

Their is used to show possession. It is just like my, your, his, her, its, and our. Here is a little trick: use the word our instead of their. If the sentence still makes sense, then their is almost certainly correct. This trick works because our and their are both possessives used for plurals.


  • Can you show the guests to their cabins? (“Can you show the guests to our cabins” < sounds ok; their is correct)
  • I have seen their footprints before. (“I have seen our footprints before.” < sounds ok; their is correct)

The word there is similar to the word here in that it represents a place. It has two main uses: (1) it is a specified place (like in the first example below), and (2) it is an unspecified place (like in the second example). Also, like in the second and third examples, the word there can be used to show that something exists.


  • The Germans are over there. (specified place)
  • There are two apples. (unspecified place – two apples exist)
  • There are two apples left in the fruit bowl. (two apples exist; place specified later in the sentence – i.e., in the fruit bowl)


  • Hi there!
    Probably there is a mistake at the headline of words Advice & Advise (both of the words have s)
    Great lesson!

  • Hi Niharika ! There is a spelling mistake in the heading “Advise and Advise”. The first word should be “Advice”. I request you to please correct the spelling mistake. Thanks. – RameshKannan

  • NIHARIKA actually i like your explaination i always use to watch your videos you are my teacher and thanks a lot frankly i learn many things from you and i will keep on watching your videos to be more fluent and speak english easy:::::

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