List of confusing sets of words to watch out for

English book

Just admit it. Sometimes, you get confused over which of two similar words to use. Sometimes, you even use the wrong word while trying to feel important, only to discover months or years later that you messed yourself up. Imagine the embarrassment! Does it not remind you of attending an event without knowing that you were wearing your shirt inside out or that the fly of your trousers was open all along? You will begin to recall who saw you and what you did at the event, wishing you could turn back the clock.

Well, you are not alone: it happens to the best of us.

But there is a way out: Constant practice, researching and crosschecking.

Just banish all assumptions!

Having this list close by will help you a lot. You can print it out: keep one by your bedside and one by your office desk for constant reference.

Most importantly, I have created codes and mnemonics to make it easy to remember the right options.

  1. severally vs several times

WRONG: I have warned you severally to mind your own business.

“Severally” does not mean “several times.” It means “separately” or “individually”. Example: The company’s directors are jointly and severally liable.

RIGHT: I have warned you several times/repeatedly to mind your own business.

  1. Complement vs compliment

WRONG: Thanks for the complements.

RIGHT: Thanks for the compliments.

Note that complement and compliment are both verbs as well as nouns. They both have 10 letters, start with a “c” and end with a “t.” All their letters are the same except the “e” and “i” somewhere in the middle.

Complement means “to make complete”, or something that makes (another) complete. Examples: A wife complements a man. A wife is a complement to a man.

Compliment means a praise or to praise. Examples: Never get tired of complimenting your wife. Never get tired of giving your wife compliments.

Code: Complement and complete have the same meaning and also have two “e’s”.

  1. Sometimes, some time and sometime

WRONG: There was a full eclipse of the sun sometimes in 1947.

RIGHT: There was a full eclipse of the sun some time in 1947.


Sometimes is written together as one word that ends with an “s”. It means “occasionally.” For example: Sometimes we laugh and sometimes we cry.

Some time

Some time, written as two words, refers to the amount of time involved, and usually implies a long period.

The “some” in some time functions as an adjective that qualifies “time.”


He has been writing a book for some time.


When written as one word, sometime is an adverb that implies a vague time in the future. It has a similar meaning as “someday.”


Let’s meet sometime and discuss the project.

  1. Emigrate vs immigrate (plus migrate)

To emigrate means to leave one’s country to live in another.

To immigrate is to come into another country to live permanently.

To migrate is to move, like birds in the winter.

If Majek Fashek leaves Nigeria to settle in Jamaica so as to be closer to Bob Marley, someone in Nigeria can say that Majek Fashek has emigrated to Jamaica, while someone in Jamaica would say that Majek Fashek has immigrated to Jamaica.

So to emigrate is to “go out,” while to immigrate is to “come in.”

Code: You can use the “e” in “exit” or “external” to remember “emigrate,” while the initial “i” in “immigrate” should remind you of “inside” or “internal.”

To migrate is to move, especially in large numbers, like birds and fish do seasonally. Human beings can also migrate for a season and return, or migrate to another part of the country for work or to be closer to their family.

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  1. Being vs been

WRONG: The government has being paying lip service to the welfare of the people. (from a newspaper)

RIGHT: The government has been paying lip service to the welfare of the people.

Being is the present continuous tense of the verb to be. Example: He is being investigated. Being cannot follow “has” or “have.”

Been is the past participle of the verb to be: Example: He has been promoted.

Code: Been is always used with the verb to have, which is its auxiliary verb. The auxiliary verb for being, on the other hand, is the verb to be (e.g., is, are, was).

  1. Seeing vs seen

WRONG: Have you seeing my phone?

RIGHT: Have you seen my phone?

Seen is the past tense of the verb see: see, saw, seen.

Seeing is the present continuous tense of see. It is also a gerund (a verb which functions as a noun – It usually has an -ing ending): Seeing is believing.

  1. Cite vs site

Note: The two words are pronounced alike (just like “sight” too), but their meanings are different. That means that they are homophones.

Cite: to quote, mention, praise, summon, etc. For example: The geographer cited five reasons to prove that the earth is spherical.

Site: to fix or build (something) in a particular place. Example: The governor sited the new stadium in his hometown.

As a noun, site means a particular place where something is happening or has happened, or a piece of ground for building on. Example: The university has moved to its permanent site.

Sight: As a verb, it means to catch a glimpse of. Example: Muslims have sighted the new moon, which signals the beginning of Ramadan.

As a noun, it is derived from the verb to “see.” For example: At 80, his sight is still good.

Code: To site means to situate.

  1. Dupe vs fraudster

WRONG: The notorious dupe has finally been arrested.

What a life! When trouble visits a person, it brings along its kith and kin. Why should a person who has been duped be called “notorious” and arrested?

A dupe is a person who has been deceived or tricked, and not the perpetrator of such deceit.

RIGHT: The notorious fraudster (duper) has finally been arrested.

  1. Mediocre vs mediocrity

WRONG: This company stands for excellence. Mediocres are not tolerated.

Mediocre is an adjective and cannot be a person. Mediocrity is (A) the state or quality of not being very good, (B) a person who does not show very good qualities or abilities.

RIGHT: This company stands for excellence. Mediocrities are not tolerated.

He who wants to be a leader must rise above mediocrity.

A mediocre writer cannot make it to the top.

  1. Taxing vs tasking

Wrong: Writing may look simple but it is really tasking.

“Task” can be a noun (a piece of work one does as a duty or a difficult undertaking) or a verb (to assign a job to someone, or to make great demands on someone’s resources or abilities). But it is not an adjective.

So you can have expressions like:

Noun – Your new task is to man the organisation’s website.

Verb – You are tasked with the new role of manning the organisation’s website.

Verb (present continuous) – Before tasking me with the new role, why not give me some training?

On the other hand, to tax is to impose a tax on someone or make heavy demands on (someone’s powers or resources).

Right: Writing may look simple but it is really taxing.

In this case, “taxing” is an adjective qualifying “writing”. It means: physically or mentally demanding.


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