10 Confusing Word pairs that seem like synonyms but actually aren’t
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
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!
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
7 Refuse vs Refute
Only a single letter differentiates the two words and while there are many who think they have similar meanings, that is not so. Refuse means to decline or indicate that you are unwilling to do something. Like refusing a job offer. Refute, on the other hand, means to prove something wrong or debunking it. Like refuting a scientific theory or a statement made by someone.
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.
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:  The President implied in his speech that he isn’t a racist.  I inferred from the President’s speech that he isn’t a racist (from a listener’s perspective).
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.