Confusing Words & False Friends

Confusing Words & False Friends

Confusing words are two or more words which:

  • have a similar meaning to each other but are used in a different way (e.g. during, while and for)
  • are related to the same topic but have a different meaning (e.g. control and inspect)
  • look similar but have a different meaning (e.g. loose and lose)

False friends are words in English which have a similar-looking word in another language but which have a different meaning (e.g. specific in English and специфический in Russian).

In this article, let’s look at some commonly confused words.


Look at the pictures below:

Picture 1. The car crashed into something (another car, a tree, a wall or something else). We can also say that the driver crashed the car because they hit something with it, causing damage.

Picture 2. To crash is to hit something noisily: the waves are crashing; the ball has crashed though the window; the plates crashed to the floor; the plane crashed into the sea. 

Picture 3. The plane crashed = it fell from the sky. It’s also possible to say that someone crashed the plane (e.g. he crashed his plane on landing). Perhaps, it crashed with another plane.

Picture 4. If you crush something, you press it to break in into very small pieces or into a powder: I have crushed the pill; crush the garlic with the knife; we need some crushed ice. 

Other examples:

  • My arm was crushed in the accident (it was pressed so hard it broke).
  • The rock crushed them to death (it killed them by crushing them, i.e. hitting them very hard).
  • The revolution was crushed (they stopped the people from opposing).
  • My hopes were crushed (I lost all hope).
  • Thunder has crashed (it made a sudden loud noise).
  • My computer has crashed (it has stopped working).
  • I’ve crashed the system (I made it stop working).


An incident is an event (often unusual, important or violent):

  • We have a major incident on board (e.g. a passenger died).
  • The plane landed without incident (there was noting unusual).
  • He is a witness to the incident (he witnessed a criminal/violent event).
  • It’s just an isolated incident (this event is not connected with any other events).
  • It’s a major diplomatic incident (a serious disagreement between some countries).

Note that “incident” is a formal word and it is not used in everyday English very often.

An accident is a crash:

  • Many car accidents occur in the rain.
  • That was a fatal rail accident.
  • It’s a horrible plane crash accident.

It’s also an event that results in damage, injury or death: mining/riding/climbing/hunting accident. If you make a mistake that causes minor damage or harm, you can say it was an accident. Something that happens unexpectedly is an accident (e.g. a baby, pregnancy, etc.).


Activities are things that we do to achieve an aim or to have fun:

  • I like outdoor activities.
  • What leisure activities do you like?
  • Fund-raising activities are very important.
  • Don’t forget about the importance of physical activity.

Action is the process of doing something:

  • Avoid drastic action (don’t do anything drastic).
  • Let’s take action (let’s do something).

Our actions are things we do, but they are not always done in order to achieve a particular goal):

  • You need to be responsible for your actions.
  • Love can justify her actions.
  • Don’t copy my actions (movements).


Affect is a verb:

  • Our decisions affect our lives.
  • The country is affected by the earthquake.
  • We are all affected by what happened.

Effect is a noun:

  • The change had a big effect on me.
  • What are the long-term effects of alcohol?
  • The cream has the effect of making your skin smooth.


Continual means constant, i.e. continuing for a long time without stopping:

  • I hate continual rain.
  • We need to improve ourselves continually.
  • She faced continual bullying at school (it was repeated many times and it was not just annoying but dangerous).

Continuous is continuing to happen or exist without stopping too. But something that is continuous is not annoying or dangerous:

  • The reform guarantees continuous economic growth.
  • I hear a continuous hum of the fridge.
  • A continuous flow of information is guaranteed.


All the three words are related to how long something lasts. But we use them in different ways:

  • During the winter, there are many tourists in this town.
  • I’m usually busy during the week.
  • I’ve known him for 5 years.
  • I’ve been waiting for an hour.
  • I heard something while I was doing homework.
  • I heard something while doing homework.

So, we say “during + noun/noun phrase,” “for + period,” and “while + doing something / subject + predicate.”


If you inspect something, you look at it carefully in order to check that it is correct or good enough:

  • The Administration can inspect the facilities.
  • Inspect the goods carefully.
  • The National Health Foundation will inspect the laboratory.

Controlling something doesn’t mean checking it. It means having the power to decide what will happen to the thing we control:

  • They control the whole country.
  • The government of this country controls the media.
  • This may be difficult for authorities to control.


Loose is an adjective:

Picture 1. Loose hair is not tied in position.

Picture 2. A loose dog can move around easily because it’s unleashed and/or not kept inside something.

Picture 3. If clothes are loose, they are large and do not fit your body tightly.

Picture 4. If your tooth is loose, it’s not firmly fixed in position.

Lose (lost; lost) is a verb:

  • I have lost the key.
  • You lost me.
  • Try not to lose your job.


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