Confusing English Words

English Words and Phrases Frequently Confused and Misused

Words are neither effective nor ineffective; they just impart different meanings to the sentences in which they are used. It is the writer’s effective use of words and phrases that makes sentences effective or ineffective.


The English language is made up of nearly a million words and phrases. A writer, especially one whose English is not his or her first language, may face two major problems in writing: not knowing “enough” words; and not knowing how to choose the “right” words. 


Writing is made up of words. Effective writing requires having a good stock of vocabulary, as well as selecting the most suitable words and phrases to express the intended ideas.


There are many English words and phrases that are frequently confused and misused by ESL learners. This book provides hundreds of those words and phrases with examples to show how they should be used correctly.


Right Rightly


e.g. Do it right now.


e.g. Do it right away.


e.g. I rightly canceled the trip.


e.g. We refused the offer, and rightly so.


Recourse Resort


Recourse means turning to others or something for help; resort means to turn to for help (both noun and verb).


e.g. His only recourse was the police.


e.g. The police should not resort to violence to stop the peaceful demonstration.


e.g. The army decided using violence as the last resort.


Circumspect / Circumstantial


Circumspect means being careful and cautious of behavior; circumstantial means giving full details.


e.g. You have to be very circumspect when you meet the Governor.


e.g. The prosecutor is looking at the police’s circumstantial report.


Refrain / sustain


Refrain means to hold back; sustain means to hold up.


e.g. Everybody is asleep; you have to refrain from making any noise here.


e.g. Can you sustain the silence?

Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau