Similar words can be confusing

In one of my classes last night, my student kept making the same mistake over and over. I kept correcting him, but as the lesson progressed he continued having trouble with it . The mistake he was making was an extremely common mistake that I hear all the time. Actually, I have even heard Americans make this same mistake. My student kept saying, “Pronounciation”.

Many of you out there are probably thinking,

“So? What’s wrong with that?”

Well, I’ll tell you. There is no such word as “pronounciation”.

The reason this is a common mistake is because people combine the noun “Pronunciation” with the verb “Pronounce”. Why does this happen? Because they are two words with similar meanings that also look and sound alike.

In addition to combining these two words into one, many of my students will also confuse the two. I’ve heard students use the noun “pronunciation” when they want to use the verb “pronounce” and I have heard them say “pronounce” when they want to say “pronunciation”.

Redhead woman with a blue button down shirt with her hands out and a confused look on her face -1200w X 630h

What is interesting is that this phenomenon of confusing similar words is not limited to just these two. There are lots of examples of other similar words that get mixed up quite often. I’ve taken the liberty to list a few examples below.

(Please note that the following pronunciations are all for American English. Please consult a British English dictionary
for their pronunciations, because some do differ from American English.)

Product-

Photograph-

Econo-

  • Economy /iˈkɑː.nə.mi/ (noun)
  • Economic /iː.kəˈnɑː.mɪk/ or /ek.əˈnɑː.mɪk/ (adjective)
  • Economics /ˌiː.kəˈnɑː.mɪks/ or /ek.əˈnɑː.mɪks/ (noun)
  • Economical /ˌiː.kəˈnɑː.mɪ.kəl/ or /ek.əˈnɑː.mɪ.kəl/ (adjective)
  • Economically /ˌiː.kəˈnɑː.mɪ.kəl.i/ or /ek.əˈnɑː.mɪ.kəl.i/ (adverb)
  • Economist /iˈkɑː.nə.mɪst/ (noun)

Electr-

Philosoph-

mean, meaning, & means

These three words have similar meanings (definition of a word) but are used in different ways. (Mean & Means have additional definitions as well.)

Mean /miːn/ (verb)

  • Example: What do you mean?
  • Example: What does the word ______ mean?
  • Example: What I mean is…

Means /miːnz/ This is an additional present continuous form of the word MEAN (above).

  • Example: I don’t understand what ______ means.
  • Example: Are you sure you know what this word means?

Meaning /ˈmiː.nɪŋ/ (noun)

  • Example: What is the meaning of the word _______?
  • Example: I don’t understand the meaning of that word.

The word groups above are great examples of different words with similar meanings, but different spellings and word forms. However, there are others that have the same exact spelling with similar meanings and different word forms.

Life, live, lives and alive

Life /laɪf/ (noun)

  • Example: When you get married you are promising to spend the rest of your life with that person.
  • Example: Sometimes, bad things happen in life.
  • Example: Life can be so unfair.

Lives /laɪvz/ (noun) Plural form of the noun LIFE (above). Pronounced with a long I sound.

  • Example: The fireman saved the children’s lives when he rescued them from the burning building.

Lives /lɪvz/ (verb) Pronounced with a short I sound.

  • Example: John lives around the corner from me in a big white house.

Live /lɪv/ (verb) Pronounced with a short I sound.

  • Example: Which house do you live in?

Live /laɪv/ (adjective) Pronounced with a long I sound. One of the definitions is similar to Alive (below).

  • Example: Scientists sometimes experiment on live animals.
  • Example: Tonight’s game is a live broadcast

Alive /əˈlaɪv/ (adjective)

  • Example: That was a horrible car accident. I cant believe he is still alive.
  • Example: She is that old and she is still alive?
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