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Confusing Word Pairs

Average: 3.1 (23 votes)

Many students of English have found the following word pairs to be very confusing. Knowing which word to use in a particular situation isn’t always easy, even for native speakers. As a matter of fact, most supermarkets here in the USA have an express checkout lane which reads: “express checkout lane for 15 items or less”. Do you know what’s wrong with this glaring error?

To help you identify which word should be used, and under what circumstances, make sure you know the part of speech the word falls under. Don’t forget that some words can be used as more than one part of speech.

Word pairs:

As / Like

The best rule to follow is to use like as a preposition not as a conjunction. There should not be a verb in the phrase following like. If there is a verb, use “as if”. As should be used to introduce a clause, a group of words with a subject and a verb.
Incorrect: It sounds like he is speaking Spanish.
Correct: It sounds as if he is speaking Spanish.

Incorrect: He looks as his father.
Correct: He looks like his father.

Incorrect: You play the game like you practice.
Correct: You play the game as you practice.

Among / Between

Use between when referring to only two things being considered, and among when more than two things are being considered.

Incorrect: The money will be divided between Sam, Bill, and Ted.
Correct: The money will be divided among Sam, Bill, and Ted.

Incorrect: The final decision is among you and me.
Correct: The final decision is between you and me.

Bring / Take

The best way to remember the difference is to say that we bring to the speaker and we take from the area of the speaker.

Incorrect: What are you going to bring to the party tomorrow?
Correct: What are you going to take to the party tomorrow?

Incorrect: I am still waiting for you. Don’t forget to take my book.
Correct: I am still waiting for you. Don’t forget to bring my book.

Farther / Further

The word farther should be used when something can be measured in terms of physical distance. The first three letters of the word, far, should remind you that this word is used for measurable distances while further is used for situations that cannot be measured.

Incorrect: How much further is it to the school?
Correct: How much farther is it to the school?

Incorrect: I don’t want to discuss it any farther.
Correct: I don’t want to discuss it any further.


Fewer is used with countable nouns, and less is used with uncountable nouns. Were you able to recognize the error at the beginning of the lesson?

Incorrect: Express checkout lane for 15 items or less.
Correct: Express checkout lane for 15 items or fewer.

Don't feel bad if you have difficulty with confusing word pairs, even native speakers can get confused.

Give it a try!

By Thomas Williams

Thomas Williams is a teacher at EC San Diego English School
Link: Adjective Word Order

Now choose the correct sentence:

  • 1 - He doesn’t speak ___ he writes.

  • 2 - She sings just ___ her mother used to sing.

  • 3 - My brother runs ___ the wind.

  • 4 - I can't decide ___ Rome, Paris, or San Diego.

  • 5 - What are you going to ___ back home with you when you return?

  • 6 - We can’t walk any ___.

  • 7 - There were ___ students in class today.

  • 8 - Vegetables are ___.

  • 9 - Our decision ___ many changes.

  • 10 - Is Malta a better place to live ___ San Diego?