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No Wonder English Is Difficult…

I have often heard it said that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. I’m not sure how true this; any language that involves an alphabet different than your own would seem to me to be pretty tough. For example, an English speaker learning Spanish only has to deal with the different grammar rules and vocabulary, whereas an English speaker learning Russian or Chinese has a new alphabet to learn on top of the other things. Nevertheless, in the case of English, there are thousands of exceptions and irregular word usage conventions that must be very confusing for anyone trying to learn the language from scratch.

Here’s a list of perfectly correct phrases that must be frustrating for non-native English speakers. For each example cited, I have provided my own brief explanation on the second line that I hope will reduce reader confusion.

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
(The first “wound” is the past tense of the verb “to wind” something in a circular motion; the second “wound” is a noun meaning “cut” or “bruise”, as in “injured”.)

2) The farm was used to produce produce.
(The first “produce” is the verb phrase “to produce”, as in “grow something”; the second “produce” is the noun that means “agricultural produce” such as fruits, vegetables, etc.)

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
(The first “refuse” is the verb meaning “decline to accept”; the second “refuse” is the noun that means “garbage or trash”.)

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
(The first “polish” is the verb phrase “to polish”, as in wax or shine a car; the second “Polish” is an adjective that refers to the furniture as being made in the country of “Poland”.)

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
(The first “lead” is the verb meaning “to show the way” or “go in front”; the second “lead” is a noun that refers to the heavy metallic element known as “lead”. The colloquial phrase “to get the lead out” means “to hurry up”.)

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
(The first “desert” is the verb phrase “to desert” or “to leave behind”; “dessert” with a double “s” is the noun for the sweet course after the main meal; the second “desert” is an area of arid land such as the Sahara.)

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
(The first “present” is the noun that refers to “this time or now”; the second is the verb phrase “to present” as in “to give”; the third “present” is the noun for “gift”.)

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
(The first “bass” is a noun that refers to a type of fish; a “bass drum” is a percussion instrument that makes low frequency sounds when played.)

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
(The first “dove” is a noun that refers to a type of bird; the second “dove” is the past participle of “to dive”, meaning “to plunge”.)

10) I did not object to the object.
(The first “object” is the intransitive verb meaning “to oppose or disapprove of”; the second “object” is the noun referring to any material thing that can be seen and/or touched.)

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
(The first “invalid” is an adjective meaning “not officially acceptable”; the second “invalid” is the noun that refers to “a person weakened or disable by an injury or illness”.)

12) There was a row among the oarsmen in the first row about how to row.
(The first “row” is the noun meaning “a disagreement”; the second “row” is the noun meaning “a line of seats”; the third “row” is the noun that means “to propel a boat with oars”.)

13) They were too close to the door to close it.
(The term “too close” means “situated a very short distance from”; the second “to close” is the transitive verb meaning “to shut” something.)

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
The first “does” is the third person singular of the verb “to do”; the second “does” is the plural form of the noun “doe”, which means “a female deer”.)

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
(Both “a seamstress” and “a sewer” are people who make and/or repair clothing by “sewing” the material; a “sewer line” is a trench or pipe that channels unwanted water and sewage to other locations.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
(The first “sow” is the noun for “a female adult pig”; the second “sow” is a verb that means “to plant”, as in “plant some seeds”. Yes, pigs are smart but this statement is unlikely in reality!)

17) The wind was too strong for him to wind the sail.
(The first “wind” is the noun that means “air in rapid motion”; the phrase “to wind” is the verb phrase that means “to move something in a circular or spiral motion”.)

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
(The first “tear” is a noun that means “a rip”, “a hole”, or “a rent” in something; the second “tear” is the noun that refers to the salty liquid that can flow from the human eye in emotional situations.)

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
(The verb phrase “to subject” means “to expose”; the second “subject” is a noun that refers to the person to be tested.)

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friends?
(The first “intimate” is a verb that means “to state” or “to make known” something; the second “intimate” is an adjective that means “closely acquainted” or “very familiar”.)



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Words Commonly Confused and/or Misused (2)

Image Credit: Pixabay


This current post is the second in my latest series of articles about commonly confused and/or misused words. The previous article covered words/terms beginning with the letters “a” to “c”; this one covers the letters “d” through “f”.

decision (make or take)
“make a decision” is the traditional phrase that was (and still is) used.
“take a decision” has become common in popular usage and is generally accepted.
They both mean “to decide about something”.
I believe that he has made a wise career decision.
The review committee is expected to take a decision later today.
Use “decision making” NOT “decision taking”

defective, deficient
“defective” refers to something lacking in quality.
“deficient” refers to something lacking in quantity.
The transformer was found to be defective and had to be replaced.
The study showed that 70% of subjects tested had deficient iron levels.

dependant, dependent
In British English, dependent means reliant on. A dependant is a person that relies upon another person. In American English, you can use dependent for both.

different, various
“different” implies uniqueness and/or separateness.
“various” implies number and diversity.
Each of the three proposals offered a different approach to the project.
After the meeting, various attendees signed the petition.

disinterested, uninterested
“disinterested” means unbiased or impartial.
“uninterested” means not interested, or unconcerned, or indifferent.
The panel of judges was asked to provide a disinterested opinion on the matter.
My boss seems to be uninterested in any of the plans proposed so far.

“each” should be treated as singular and used with a singular verb.
Each of them is now free to choose sides on his/her own.
Each municipality administers its own road maintenance program.

economic, economical
“economic” relates to the economy or economic system.
“economical” refers to a person who is thrifty and tends to avoid waste.
Things have improved since the economic crisis eight years ago.
He is economical about all things, including his choice of a small hybrid car.

effective, efficient
“effective” refers to producing a good or desired result.
“effective” can also be used to indicate that something is “in effect” or “in force”.
“efficient” refers to the skillful use of time, effort, energy, and/or money to produce desired results.
Despite her inexperience, the new president proved to be highly effective in her job.
That new law will become effective on January 1st of next year.
Pressure to reduce carbon emissions has forced manufacturers to produce more efficient engines.

emigrate, immigrate, migrate
“emigrate” means to leave one country or region and move to another.
“immigrate” means to enter and settle in a new country or region.
“migrate” means to move from one place to another. (people or animals)
A large number of Irish people emigrated to Canada during the potato famine.
Last year, this country accepted more than 150,000 immigrants from African countries.
Hunters tend to migrate from one forest area to another in search of migrating herds.

fewer, lesser, less
“fewer” always refers to a number of things that can be counted.
“lesser” or “less” usually refer to quantity, amount or size.
“Less” can also refer to number, when it can be thought of as an amount.
They sold fewer cars this year than last.
He chose that option because it was the lesser of two evils.
Your workload is expected to be less from now on.
When searched, she had less than $200 in her purse.

figuratively, literally, virtually
“figuratively” means “not really” or “not literally”; in an abstract sense.
“literally” means “really” or “actually”; in actual fact.
“virtually” means “almost entirely” or “for all practical purposes”.
Figuratively speaking, he was over the moon about it.
It was determined that they were literally minutes away from death when found.
As far as we could tell, it was virtually a dead heat as they crossed the line.

financial, fiscal
“financial” refers to money matters or transactions in general.
“fiscal” refers to public finances derived from tax revenues.
The company’s financial performance was better this year than last.
The central bank has recommended the adoption of a policy of fiscal restraint.

flaunt, flout
“flaunt” means to “display boastfully”.
“flout” means to “treat with contempt and disregard”.
She made a point to flaunt her new engagement ring to everyone she encountered.
He has a tendency to flout the highway traffic laws.

flounder, founder
“flounder” means to struggle awkwardly, without making progress.
“founder” as a noun refers to a person who founded an institution.
“founder” as a verb; refers to: a ship filling with water, or a building collapse, or a horse falling down lame.
After six months, the business was already seriously floundering.
His father was the founder of that college.
After the collision, the ship quickly foundered.
As soon as they depressed the plunger the building foundered.
Right after crossing the finish line the horse foundered and then buckled to the ground.

forego, forgo
“forego” means to “go before” or “precede”.
“forgo” is an accepted variant spelling of “forego”.
By the last week of the campaign her election was a foregone conclusion.
Members were not willing to forego/forgo their dining room privileges that evening.

former, latter
“former” refers to the first mentioned in a series.
“latter” refers to the last mentioned in a series.
Of the two on the list, I tend to favor the former. (For more than two, use “first-mentioned”).
Of the two mentioned, I prefer the latter. (For more than two use “last-named”).



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Be Very Careful How You Post Online

Image Credit: Pixabay

These days, with social media being a major part of our everyday lives, how you present yourself in writing is increasingly important. If you don’t pay careful attention to the quality of the posts you make online you could be hurting yourself in ways you haven’t even thought of, or can’t even imagine.

A Good Example of This on Facebook

A post appeared recently wherein the author had decided to go into some sort of rant about how they were very upset with people who used animal and cartoon images as their Facebook profile picture. This person wanted only photos of the actual person to be used, and they were therefore going to “unfriend” anyone on  who used an image other than their own photo. In this case that the person’s little rant also made numerous disparaging remarks about the characters and motives of the people who don’t use their own photo on Facebook.

The real kicker was that the individual’s rant was absolutely riddled with errors in basic English spelling and grammar.

What would your reaction to this post be? Exactly.

When a post seems to be bordering on illiterate, it loses all credibility. Whatever point they were trying to make about the FB profile photos suddenly became meaningless at best, and hypocritical at worst. And you wouldn’t be the only one to dismiss this person based on the poor quality of that post.

But here’s the most important part: whether you intend for it or not, your post may well be seen by thousands of people worldwide.

Yes, thousands. Even if you have your settings updated to maximum privacy. Anyone within your approved circle of friends can screenshot what you say and post it anywhere else.

Employers are Watching

Prospective employers routinely check out the Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin profiles of job applicants. If you have a habit of making posts with spelling and grammar errors (because it’s only social media, right?), chances are that this will be noticed and taken into account by hiring managers. Any job that requires at least high school graduation will require good writing skills.

College Admission Staff Are Watching

Admissions staff at universities and colleges also check out the online posts of applicants. Do you want to present yourself as semi-illiterate to a college or university? The worst thing about this is that if you get “screened out” by applications staff for your poor social media posts, you’ll never even know that this was the main reason you didn’t make the cut!

Prospective Dates Are Watching (Really!)

In Aziz Ansari’s book “Modern Romance” (Penguin Press, 2015), he states that poorly written text messages are a turn-off and sometimes a deal-breaker for many people during the initial phases of dating.


First, you would be surprised as to how many people claim to have college-level education and then post a profile that is rife with errors in spelling or grammar. So it makes the prospective date wonder: are you telling the truth about your education? If not, what else are you lying about?


Second, if you’re not willing to put your best foot forward when you’re actively trying to impress a date – whether it be for a short-term relationship or a spouse for life – it indicates you’re unlikely to put any effort into the relationship. And who wants to waste time on that?

Always, always have a grammar and spell checker program installed and running whenever you compose any type of social media post or text. Also, after drafting even the shortest of messages, STOP and read it over BEFORE you send it. Correct any errors and edit it for clarity if necessary.