10 Confusing Word pairs that seem like synonyms but actually aren’t

Nov 14, 2016 | Language

English language, with its vast vocabulary and peculiar nuances, can play with your head at times and cause confusion. In this article, we look at some of the most commonly confused words and help you understand how to use them correctly.

Is the weather good? Or should it be climate?

Is she jealous of her? Or is she envious?

Am I disinterested in the subject? Or am I uninterested?

For a lot of us who speak English, especially non-native speakers, such word dilemmas are quite common. Some word pairs look alike (affect vs effect), some sound alike (loose vs lose) and some seem to be synonyms (jealous vs envious); yet, they all have different meanings and are quite often used incorrectly, sometimes with embarrassing consequences. Also, those of us who rely heavily on spell checkers and grammar checking software, won’t get much help from them in such cases of misused words. It is, therefore, a good idea to take the rough path and understand the differences between these seemingly interchangeable words. In this article, we will help you understand some of the commonly confused word pairs that cause people problems.

Commonly confused words that are widely misused

Commonly Confused Words: Regardless vs Irregardless

1 Regardless vs Irregardless

An easy one to start off with. Regardless means ‘despite’ or ‘in spite of’ while Irregardless, unlike what many people think, is not a word!

Difference between Weather and Climate

2 Weather vs Climate

Weather refers to a short-term variation in atmospheric condition. Climate, on the other hand, refers to weather conditions over a long period.  The key thing to remember is the difference in the time horizon- Weather is short-term and climate is long-term.

Difference between Sex and Gender

3 Sex vs Gender

This is one of the most misused word pairs. Sex refers to the biological or physical attributes that distinguish males from females. Gender, though, refers to the physiological and behavioral features that are attributed to masculinity and femininity by society. So, while your sex is defined from the time you were conceived, your gender may be defined over time as you begin to understand yourself.

Often confused words: Envy vs Jealous

4 Envy vs Jealousy

This is another highly confused and misused word pair. Envy is what you feel when you want something that someone else has but you don’t have. Jealousy, though, is used in an opposite context. Jealousy is what you feel when you are worried that someone will take what you have. So, while you can be envious of the world’s richest man, there’s no reason for you to be jealous of him (Unless, of course, he smiles at your girlfriend!).

Difference between Disinterested and Uninterested

5 Disinterested vs Uninterested

While both words seem to indicate a lack of interest, that’s not true. Disinterested means unbiased or not influenced by considerations of personal advantage. For example, bankers are expected to give you disinterested advice. Uninterested, on the other hand, means not interested in or bored by something. For example, Ayesha was uninterested in Economics.

Difference between Non-flammable and Inflammable

6 Non-flammable vs Inflammable

The prefix ‘in-‘ is quite often used in English to indicate ‘not’ or ‘the opposite of’ such as in insane and insipid. However, that’s not always the case as evidenced in this word pair. Non-flammable, as the name suggests, means not catching fire easily or fireproof. Inflammable, however, means the same as flammable i.e. easily set on fire! If you are ever confused between the two, just use the one which sounds most like not (non-flammable) if you want to convey that something is fireproof.

Difference between Redundant and Repetitive

8 Redundant vs Repetitive

These two words are again confused quite often and used interchangeably, especially in the corporate world. However, they have quite different meanings. Redundant indicates that something is not needed or is unnecessary or expendable. For example, in the phrase “free gift”, free is redundant since gifts are, by definition, free. Repetitive, however, means containing repetition or occurring repeatedly. In some cases, it is possible that repetitive things may be redundant as well if the repetition is unnecessary.

Difference between Infer and Imply

9 Infer vs Imply

Infer means to deduce or draw conclusions based on evidence and reasoning. For example, inferences made from scientific lab experiments. Imply means to hint or suggest something indirectly rather than explicitly saying it- like implying that someone is wrong. To better understand the difference, consider these 2 sentences: [1] The President implied in his speech that he isn’t a racist. [2] I inferred from the President’s speech that he isn’t a racist (from a listener’s perspective).

Difference between Amuse and Bemuse

10 Amuse vs Bemuse

Amuse means to find something funny or to entertain someone by a humorous action. For example, being amused by a stand-up comedian. Bemuse, however, means to be confused or puzzled. For example, being bemused by a crossword puzzle. The confusion in the 2 words is probably due to the root word ‘muse’, which, incidentally, means something completely different- to think or reflect deeply over something.