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English guide: Help with tricky words
Jagruti Sharma
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September 03, 2007

For most of us, English is still a challenge. With all its irregularities, exceptions and rules, English is a very difficult language to master.

With that in mind, presents our English Bloopers series. Here, we publish written and spoken mistakes spotted and sent to us by observant Get Ahead readers. It's a great way to review the basics, clarify a few issues and share a laugh or two! 

Jagruti Sharma
, director of Words Infocom Limited, sent a tremendous list of homonyms that tend to trip up non-native speakers of English. Homonyms are words that sound the same when pronounced, but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

Example: 'Loose' and 'lose'

Many people make this mistake. They inevitably interchange the words 'loose' and 'lose' while writing. 'Lose' means to 'suffer a loss or defeat'. Thus, you would write:

~ 'I don't want to lose you," and not 'I don't want to loose you.'

'Loose', on the other hand, means 'not firm' or 'not fitting.' In this context, you would write,

~ "My shirt is loose," not "My shirt is lose." 

Here's the second to last instalment, through the letter S. Friday, we'll conclude the series on homonyms.


past tense of know, as in: I knew I should have backed up my hard drive.


fresh, original, or not used before, as in: The World Wide Web is a good way for a business to get new customers.


recognise, be familiar with, understand, as in: A good designer for a business web site must know marketing as well as HTML.


not any, as in: A business with no customers doesn't stay in business for very long.

no one

nobody, as in: No one came to the party in costume.


not one, as in: None of the children finished lunch.

no body

no group, as in: No body of laws enacted by humans can be called perfect.


no person, as in: Nobody is mad at you.


authorised, as in: Later this afternoon the mayor will present an official statement.


meddlesome or intrusive, as in: She was an officious busybody who made trouble for everyone.


single person or thing, as in: The store is located on a one-way street.


past tense of win, as in: Who won the basketball game?


regulation or law, as in: The city council passed an ordinance against disturbing the peace.


military weapons and equipment, as in: The ordnance was stored in bunkers near the airfield.


form of to be, as in: What are you doing tonight?


sixty minutes, as in: It seemed like I waited an hour, but it was only twenty minutes.


belonging to us, as in: Please visit our Web site and see our new book reviews.


do too much or go too far, as in: If you overdo your exercise one day, you may be sore the next.


past the expected time, as in: The library books are overdue.


crowded together, as in: The airport was packed with people trying to get home for vacation.


agreement, as in: The two countries signed a mutual non-aggression pact.


bucket with a handle, as in: The child filled his pail with sand at the seashore.


lacking color, as in: When she heard the news, her cheeks turned pale.


suffering, as in: He took a nap, and when he awoke the pain of his headache was gone.


sheet of glass set in a window, as in: We had to buy a new pane of glass for the front window because the kids were playing ball in the house.


two of a kind, as in: I need a new pair of shoes.


trim the outer layer of, as in: Do you pare an apple when you eat it, or do you like it unpeeled?


bell-shaped fruit, as in: She had a juicy pear for her lunch.


a variable or a factor, as in: The following parameters serve as guidelines for decison-making by the school site councils.


the outer boundary, as in: He measured the perimeter of his property and bought enough fencing material to go around it.


a divider, as in: They used bookshelves as a partition in the large living room.


formal request, as in: She signed the petition to change the zoning law.


to some extent, as in: The dog was partially blind in one eye.


in some parts, as in: The movie was partly based on fact, but the rest was fiction.


moved or proceeded, as in: The parade passed in front of the reviewers' stand.


having occurred in a time before now, as in: In the past, the pace of life seemed slower.


ability to wait without complaining, as in: Teaching children requires a lot of patience .


people undergoing medical care, as in: The doctor visits her patients in the hospital every morning.


absence of war or troubles, as in: She works hard to make her home a place of rest and peace for her family.


separate part of a whole, as in: May I have the last piece of pie?


highest point, as in: They reached the peak of the mountain by midday.


a quick look, as in: Peek in on the baby and see if she's still asleep, please.


feeling of sharp anger or resentment, as in: She canceled the party in a fit of pique.

stimulate interest or curiosity, as in: If you want visitors to read the words on your website, you have to pique their interest in some manner.


loud, prolonged sound, as in: The peal of the bells at midnight woke everyone in town.


outer covering of a fruit or vegetable, as in: Where can I put my banana peel?


use a foot-operated lever, as in: As I get older, it's getting harder to pedal my bicycle up the hill.


go from place to place selling, as in: The farmer came to town to peddle his surplus tomatoes.


an equal, as in: When it comes to playing the violin, he has no peer.


landing place for ships, as in: We waved from the pier as the cruise ship sailed.


next to last, as in: Y is the penultimate letter of the alphabet. According to the Random House Dictionary of 1966, penultimate means almost last, a contraction of the Latin phrase paene ultima. According to my old, old Roget's Thesaurus (1960), penultimate can mean last but one or last but two.


last or final, as in: The ultimate cost of the project will be over one million dollars.

percent, also per cent

per one hundred, as in: The unemployment rate went down one per cent.


proportion in regard to the whole, as in: Only a small percentage of the people voted for a raise in taxes.


free from defects or complete, as in: The sweater is a perfect fit.


high-ranking official, as in: He made an appointment to interview the prefect about the new policy.


perform or commit, as in: Only a depraved person could perpetrate such a horrible crime.


preserve forever, as in: The statue will perpetuate the memory of our hero.


special privilege accorded a position or office, as in: A luxury car is a perquisite reserved for top executives of that company.


something required in advance, as in: The Principles of Business class is a prerequisite for Marketing 22.


oppress or harass, as in: It is unlawful in the US to persecute someone for his or her religious beliefs.


conduct legal proceedings against, as in: This store will prosecute anyone caught shoplifting.


private, as in: She didn't want to discuss her personal affairs in such a public place.


Human Resources Department of a company, as in: Please take your resume to the Personnel Department.


point of view, as in: From his perspective, it looks unfair.


expected or future, as in: The prospective buyer went to the company's Web site to learn about the new product.


read all the way through carefully, as in: The head of our department set aside time to peruse the report before making a decision.


chase or follow for a specific purpose, as in: You must be willing to pursue your goal despite setbacks if you want to succeed.


scare or worry, as in: The flash-flood warnings didn't seem to faze him at all.


aspect or stage of development, as in: Two-year-olds go through a rebellious phase.


medicine, as in: Grandmother gave him a physic for his stomachache.


well-developed bodily structure, as in: Arnold Schwarzenegger [Images] is an actor famous for his physique.


having extra-sensory mental powers, as in: A person would have to be psychic to predict the outcome of that race!


financial, as in: The fiscal year begins July 1.


relating to the body or the material world, as in: I must make an appointment with my doctor for a physical examination.


(1) clear and distinct, as in: The facts are plain.

(2) flat, level ground, as in: A famous battle took place in 1759 between the French and English armies on a high plain adjoining the city of Quebec, Canada [Images].


(1) aircraft, as in: Have you ever flown on a plane?

(2) a level of development, as in: I've reached a higher plane of mental clarity.


in a court case, the one suing, as in: The counsel for the plaintiff made her opening statement.


sad, as in: The abandoned dog let out a plaintive howl.


earnest requests or appeals, as in: His pleas for help brought the rescuers quickly.


be agreeable to, as in: If it please the court, I would like to ask for a recess at this time.


long, slender, wooden rod, as in: He got his fishing pole and went down to the lake.


survey of public opinion, as in: The poll shows that your candidate is taking the lead.


not having wealth, as in: The family was poor, but they seemed happy.


to study attentively, as in: Before the presentation, she will likely pore over her notes.


cause to flow in a continuous stream, as in: Would you like me to pour you some tea?


all the inhabitants of a place, as in: The circus entertained the populace with a huge parade through town.


having many inhabitants, as in: India is a populous country.


indicate beforehand, as in: Those gray clouds do not portend a sunny afternoon for our picnic.


give a false show of, as in: Most children like to dress up and pretend they are adults.


divide up and distribute by shares, as in: I want to apportion the money among all the children.


an allotted amount of something, as in: He didn't eat his portion of dessert.


ratio of one thing to another, as in: The proportion of women to men using the Internet is increasing.


workable or feasible, as in: I do not believe your plan is at all practicable.


useful, based on past performance, as in: She is interested in the practical applications of your idea.


entreat or call upon a higher power, as in: Many people pray before eating a meal.


victimise, as in: Confidence men and women prey on unwary, trusting people.


to go or come before, as in: The bridesmaids will precede the bride down the aisle at the wedding.


move ahead, as in: After a short intermisssion, we will proceed with the show.


act of coming before, as in: The need for safety took precedence over everything else.


actions that serve as patterns for future actions, as in: The judge could find no precedents that would allow him to find the defendant innocent.


part of speech that shows relationship between a noun or pronoun and another word, as in: The word for is a preposition that originally meant on account of, instead of, or because of.


proposal, offer, or suggestion, as in: We gave them our proposition and they accepted it on the spot.


give as a direction to be followed, as in: Perhaps the doctor will prescribe a short period of rest for you.


prohibit or condemn, as in: Most cultures proscribe stealing.


state of being at a specific place, as in: Your presence is requested at the wedding of our daughter.


gifts, as in: To show how happy she was, she bought presents for all her friends.


premonition, as in: He had a strong presentiment that the deal was about to fall through.


offering of a note or bill of exchange for acceptance or payment, as in: We will be happy to pay you upon presentment of a properly signed bill of exchange.


soon, as in: My father will come down presently.

at present

now, as in: I'm afraid that I don't have enough money at present to make you a loan.


head of a school, main person, or amount of money borrowed, as in: Interest will be charged on the principal at the rate of 6.9 per cent.


fundamental law or basic truth, as in: The Golden Rule is the principle that you should treat other people the way you'd like to be treated.


amount left after all costs of a business are paid, as in: To grant you a loan, the bank will want a Profit and Loss statement.


one who foretells the future or interprets divine will, as in: Jeremiah is a prophet named in the Bible who was persecuted for his beliefs.


prediction, as in: Constantly calling a child stupid can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


tell beforehand what is going to happen, as in: No one can prophesy with accuracy how the economy will be a year from now.


suggest or plan, as in: I propose to increase revenue by 100 per cent in three months.


result or goal that is desired, as in: The purpose of my call is to tell you about our new product.


signal to begin, as in: At the meeting, I won't say anything until I get the cue from you.


people in line, as in: We had to wait in the queue to get tickets for the movie.


not noisy, as in: I need to find a quiet place to study.


discontinue or resign, as in: She wants to quit her job but she can't afford it.


completely or to a considerable degree, as in: Are you quite sure that the door is locked?


water falling as drops from the sky, as in: The game had to be canceled because of rain.


rule as a monarch, as in: The US Declaration of Independence was written during the reign of King George III of England [Images].


leather strap attached to the bridle of a horse, as in: To tell the horse you want to turn right, give a gentle pull on the right rein.


lift or elevate, as in: She was so eager to give the answer, she forgot to raise her hand.


narrow beams of light, as in: The rays of sunlight through the blinds woke me up early this morning.


demolish, as in: The town council voted to raze the factory and put in a park.


knock or tap sharply, as in: Rap on the door again; I'm sure someone's home.


to put a cover around something, as in: Be sure to wrap the baby warmly in this cold weather.


technique used to descend a vertical surface by rope, the speed being controlled by friction between the rope and a braking device, as in: The coordination of arms and legs is essential in rappel.


ward off or keep away; drive back: as in: This garlic cream is sure to repel insects and humans.


understand something written, as in: When all else fails, read the instruction manual.


past tense of to read, as in: I read the letter again to make sure I hadn't misunderstood.


tall grass found in marshes or part of a musical instrument, as in: I need to buy a new reed for my clarinet.


a color, as in: The teacher circled the mistakes with a red pencil.


actual, true, or genuine, as in: I wonder if her necklace is made of real pearls?


wind up a line, as in: When the fish gets tired you can reel it in.


actually or truly, as in: That was a great story, but now tell me what really happened.


fact, as in: He awoke from an unpleasant dream, happy to find it wasn't reality.


land and buildings on it, as in: We are going to the realty office to look at listings for new homes.


written record of something received, as in: Here is a receipt for the money you paid me.


ingredients and directions for making a food or drink item, as in: I wish he would give me his recipe for meat loaf.


just before now or of a time not long past, as in: The most recent news I heard is that the deal will go through.


feel bitterness toward, as in: I resent being called a dummy.


(1) a direction of attention to, as in: He made a brief reference to your last letter.

(2) a book used for helpful information, as in: I hope you have found this reference list useful.


deepest respect, as in: In many cultures, reverence is shown to elderly people.


(of time) pass by, as in: Three minutes elapsed before her page had completely loaded--too many graphics!


(1) to slip or fall, as in: When the announcement came, we all lapsed into silence.

(2) to lose effect, as in: Your insurance policy will lapse if you don't pay the premiums.


a slip backwards, as in: Just when we thought he was going to get well, he suffered a relapse.


place where one lives, as in: The suspect left his residence around noon.


inhabitants, as in: The residents of the little town were sad to see the visitors leave.


properly and decently, as in: The two young ladies were very respectably dressed.


courteously and with respect, as in: I respectfully submit my resignation.


in the same order as the preceding, as in: Jane Nguyen and Maria Lopez are, respectively, the CEO and Chairman of the Board.


to try to vomit, as in: The awful smell made me retch.


a pitiful or despised person, as in: I'd like to get my hands on the wretch who robbed the blind old man.


correct or accurate, as in: Careful writers strive to use the right word.


customary and solemn ritual or ceremony, as in: The rite of baptism is taken very seriously in many faiths.


someone who makes or repairs something, usually in combinations, as in: My grandfather was a shipwright and my grandson is a playwright.


to mark letters or symbols on a surface with a tool, as in: Class, I want you each to write your name on the top of your paper.


position or function, as in: What will be my role in the new company?


(1) move by wheels, as in: Roll this car forwards.

(2) piece of bread, as in: I'd like a buttered roll with my soup.

(3) list of names, as in: The teacher forgot to take roll today.

en route

on the way, as in: En route to town to sell the cow, Jack traded the cow for some magic beans.


(1) underground part of a plant, as in: A carrot is a root vegetable.

(2) origin or source, as in: We can't solve this problem until we get to its root.

(3) cheer for or wish success for, as in: Whom did you root for in the Olympics [Images]?


terrible defeat, as in: The Super Bowl turned out to be a complete rout.


a path which is planned and followed regularly, as in: I'm thinking of supplementing my salary with a newspaper route.


unthinking routine, as in: Foreign languages used to be taught by the rote method.


past tense of to write, as in: I wrote to the company last week but I haven't received any answer yet.


canvas sheet attached to a boat, as in: The sail caught the wind and we went speeding across the lake.


transfer of ownership for a price, as in: Everything on this counter is for sale.


place where something happened, as in: The detectives roped off the scene of the crime.


past participle of to see, as in: Have you seen today's newspaper?


one-hundredth of a monetary unit, as in: In the US, a penny is worth one cent.


odor, as in: The detective smelled the scent of almonds.


past tense of send, as in: I sent you a letter yesterday.


plural of cent, as in: His opinion is only worth two cents.


uses the sense of smell, as in: A herd of zebras will flee if it scents a predator.


method of perception, as in: Ears provide us with the sense of hearing.


upper limit of a room, as in: A light-colored ceiling makes a room seem brighter.


closing airtight, as in: Sealing the containers is important to keep the contents fresh.


line formed by joining two edges, as in: Every seam bulged when he tried on his old army uniform.


appear to be, as in: The children seem to be healthy.


yield, as in: At the war's end, the loser had to cede the disputed territory to the winner.


beginning of a new plant, as in: The seed of an avocado can be planted in soil or water.


stop, as in: If someone violates your copyright, send them a Cease and Desist letter immediately.


grab, as in: The guerillas tried to seize control of the town.


prolonged period of trouble or annoyance, as in: Our family has had a siege of bad colds this year.


small room, as in: She will spend two months in a prison cell for her mistake.


offer for sale, as in: I will sell you my car.


underground room, as in : In our house, the cellar was always damp.


one who offers for sale, as in: is a seller of books in an online storefront.


population count, as in: The last census showed an increase in single-parent families.


sound mental faculties, as in: Don't call me until you have come to your senses.


a kind of fabric, as in: I think I'll wear my navy blue serge suit to the meeting.


a strong forward movement, as in: When the doors opened there was a surge in the crowd.


breakfast food prepared from grain, as in: My favorite cereal is Corn Flakes.


arranged in a series, as in: I hope they catch that serial killer soon.


take care of people, as in: Our mission is to serve clients by designing a Web site their customers will like.


take care of equipment, as in: We will service your machine for one whole year at no extra charge.


act of ceding (surrendering) to another, as in: The treaty included cession of all captured territories.


meeting or term, as in: I will take two classes during the summer session.


place something somewhere, as in: You may set the package on the counter.


be seated, as in: Please, sit here by me and tell me about your new job.


stitch, as in: The ability to sew my own clothes has saved me a lot of money.


in such a manner or very much, as in: I am so tired I must lie down.


scatter seed, as in: Farmers will reap the same type of crop that they sow.


cut off, as in: It is time for us to shear the wool from the sheep.


(1) transparent, as in: Women usually wear sheer hosiery in warm weather.

(2) pure, unmixed with anything else, as in: That was an act of sheer stupidity!


past tense of shine, as in: Yesterday, the sun shone, but today it's rainy.


past participle of show, as in: Smoking has been shown to be bad for your health.


slanted shaft from a higher level to a lower one, as in: The gravel came rumbling down the chute.


to discharge a weapon, as in: Don't shoot! I'm unarmed.


quote, as in: Your proposal will be more persuasive if you cite results of a recent survey.


vision, as in: Our eyes provide us with one sense of sight; our imagination, another.


exact location, as in: Thank you for visiting my web site. Please come back again.


uncomplicated, as in: She likes to wear simple styles in beautiful colors and patterns.


overly simplified, as in: The drug problem hasn't been solved by simplistic slogans like "Just say no".


skill and dexterity, as in: Magicians use sleight of hand to make illusions seem real.


slender, as in: The weather forecaster predicted a slight chance of rain.


fly upward, as in: We watched the eagle soar into the sky and disappear.


painful, as in: I went for a long walk and came home with sore feet.


flew upward or rose very high, as in: Their spirits soared when they heard about the award they received.


a long, pointed weapon, as in: The knight buckled on his sword and went to the battle.


(1) bottom part of the foot or shoe, as in: I have a hole in the sole of my shoe.

(2) only one, as in: She is the sole proprietor of her business.


person, as in: Not a soul was in the office when I arrived this morning.


capable of being dissolved in another substance, as in: Salt is soluble in water.


capable of being solved or explained, as in: I'm sure this problem is solvable if we work on it as a team.


any part of, as in: Would you like some of my cookies?


the total of, as in: The sum of one and one is two.

some one

any person in a named group, as in: Some one of the officers is going to have to tell her.


somebody, as in: Someone is going to have to tell her.

some time

a period of time, as in: I will need some time to think over your offer.


at an unspecified time, as in: We must have lunch sometime.


now and then, as in: I love my work, but sometimes I need a rest to restore my creativity.


male child, as in: He brought his son and daughter to work today to teach them about our industry.


star that provides heat and light to the earth, as in: Too much exposure to the sun can damage skin.


roomy, as in: She invited me into her spacious living room.


counterfeit, as in: Be careful, he is known for using specious arguments to back up his claims.


standing apart uniquely from the rest, as in: The air quality where I live is especially bad.


given unusual treatment, as in: Look in the specially-marked boxes for your entry blank.


conservative or sedate, as in: She became increasingly staid as she grew older.


past tense of stay, as in: Her parents stayed by her side through all the trouble.


a step, as in: The carpet is loose on that first stair.


gaze fixedly, as in: I asked him what was wrong, but all I got in response was a vacant stare.


strong stick or post, as in: A young tree may be tied to a stake for support.


a slice of meat or fish, as in: We went out for dinner and he ordered steak.


in the same place, as in: In the ancient past, people believed the earth was stationary and that the sun revolved around it.


writing paper and envelopes, as in: A resume should be on fine stationery.


carved or molded image, as in: There is a statue of a famous war hero in the town square.


height or uprightness, as in: My father was a man of average stature.


a law, as in: The statute of limitations has passed for that particular crime.


commit a theft, as in: The burglars came to steal the diamond.


alloy of iron noted for strength, as in: Superman is also called "the man of steel."


not crooked, as in: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.


narrow waterway, as in: To get from the state of Washington, in the US, to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, in Canada, we crossed the Juan De Fuca Strait by ferry.


distressing situation, as in: If we don't get that bank loan, we will be in dire financial straits.


(1) a legal action, as in: They brought a class-action suit against the tobacco companies.

(2) a matched set of clothes, as in: He bought a business suit.

(3) meet the requirements of, as in: This will suit our needs.


matched furniture or connected rooms, as in: We made reservations for a suite of rooms at the hotel.


pleasant like sugar or honey, as in: I feel like having something sweet to eat-maybe I'll have some fruit.


MORE English bloopers

If you'd like to share common bloopers you come across when people speak/ write in English, do mail your list, along with their correct alternatives to -- we'll highlight them right here as a helpful guide to those trying to improve their English. Also, make sure you include your FULL NAME, AGE, OCCUPATION and the CITY you are based in.

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