Skip links

Words of Caution

Has anybody ever told you to choose your words carefully? Well, when it comes to the English language, you need to keep a guard not only on your tongue, but also on your pen (or keyboard). As you most probably know, a great deal of English vocabulary has tricky spellings. However, what you might not entirely realise is that there are pairs of words that completely bamboozle English users because they are so similar in spelling but so different in meaning!


Take notice of this set of lookalikes.


If you want my advice, do what teachers advise! Remember that advice rhymes with nice and means an opinion about what you should do. To advise rhymes with wise and describes giving such an opinion. (A helpful hint to remember the difference is that many verbs end in “-ise” or “-ize”, for example realize, recognize and organize.)


Practice makes perfect. If you want to speak English well, you need to practise.  Though pronounced the same way, these two, just like the pair above, belong to different word classes. To practise is a verb and means to train regularly in order to improve; practice is a noun and refers to such an activity.


A rich vocabulary is an effect of practice and it pays because it significantly affects your communication skills. An effect is a result, while to affect means to influence.


You blink when you quickly open and close your eyes; you wink when you do the same with just one. The first activity might help when you have something in your eye, the other when you want to show that you’re joking.


If you get offended when someone plays a joke on you, are you sensible or sensitive? The answer is sensitive because it refers to emotional reactions. Sensible means reasonable and it relates to the ability to make good judgments based on reason.

Confusing these words is classic but not classical, that is typical but not traditional.

Historic means important in history or likely to be remembered, like a historic moment or building. Historical means connected with the past or with the study of history, like historical context or research.

Oddly enough, economic means relating to the economy of a country or an area, like an economic policy or development. Economical describes things that are not expensive or do not use much money or resources, like an economical car.

Pens, pencils, paper and similar office supplies are stationery. A car that is not moving is stationary.

You’ve made great progress! Now, is that a complement or a compliment? If it is meant as a “verbal present” it’s definitely the second choice, a compliment. A complement combines well with something else, as in whipped cream is a perfect complement to strawberries.

That, in turn, would make a perfect dessert, but not a desert.  The latter has nothing to do with sweets but a lot with sand, rocks and lack of water, and it goes with names such as Sahara or Gobi.

By now, the extent of your knowledge has improved considerably, but tricky words extend beyond this list! (The first one is a noun and refers to a size; the second one is a verb and describes the activity of increasing a size.) Whenever you spot a pair of lookalikes, make an effort to understand their intricacies. Write them down, provide examples and learn by heart! You cannot be too careful when it comes to tricky vocabulary!

More Resources

This website uses cookies to improve your web experience.