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Confusing Verbs

There are many verbs that sound similar and it’s easy to get confused between them. Here is a list of some of the most common confusing verb pairs, their meanings and examples of how they should be used in a sentence.

Verb Meaning/ Use The Verb in Context
borrow To take a loan Can I borrow $20 from you please?
lend To give a loan I will lend you $20.
say
  1. To report someone’s words
  2. To ask about how to use a language
  1. Did she say anything about me?
  2. How do you say “hello” in Spanish?
tell
  1. To instruct
  2. To narrate
  1. Tell him to stop the car.
  2. He’s telling a good joke.
do To carry out activities or tasks He needs to do his homework.
make
  1. To cause to happen
  2. To create or build something
  1. Don’t make him angry.
  2. Don’t forget to make a list.
can
  1. To show ability
  2. To request (informal)
  1. I can contact the company if you would like me to.
  2. Can I help you?
may
  1. To express a possibility
  2. To request (polite)
  1. I may see you later at the party.
  2. May I help you?
meet
  1. To come into contact with someone
  2. To be introduced to someone
  3. To arrange to see someone
  1. He met her for the first time yesterday.
  2. I will meet you in front of the main building.
know
  1. To be familiar with someone
  2. To understand a fact or truth
  1. I’ve known Sheila for a long time.
  2. He knows a lot about geography.
waste To fail to use something valuable in an effective way
  1. Don’t waste your time watching too much TV.
  2. Don’t waste water! We don’t have enough of it.
spend
  1. To pay out
  2. To pass time
  1. I spent a lot of money at the shop yesterday.
  2. He spends much of his time at the beach.
lie
  1. To recline or to rest
  2. To not tell the truth
  1. The cat lies in the sun most of the day.
  2. The documents are lying on the table now.
  3. He lay on his bed in pain last night.
  4. He lied to me about the money he’d spent.
lay To put, place or set down
  1. He lays his keys on the counter every day.
  2. He laid the mail on the table when he came in.
bring To carry towards someone or somewhere He brings me flowers every week.
take To carry away from someone or somewhere He always takes his brother to hockey games.
adopt To take or claim as one’s own They adopted a child from Vietnam last year.
adapt
  1. To get used to
  2. To change
  1. John adapted to the weather in the East quite quickly.
  2. That company adapts and resells the ideas of others.
rise
  1. To get up
  2. To go up
  1. He rises at 5:00 every morning
  2. Gas prices are steadily rising.
raise to make higher The government is raising the price of fuel.
emigrate To leave a country Joshua emigrated from the UK in 2001.
immigrate To move to another country She immigrated to Canada in 2002.

Exercises – Confusing verbs

Choose the correct word from the parenthesis at the end of the sentence as in the example.

  1. As a child, I spent each summer in France with my grandmother. (spent/wasted)
  1. I have already ____ to the customs in this new country I live in. (adapted / adopted)
  2. Ed ______ Suzanne at a single’s party last month. (met / knew)
  3. The girls ____ money from their father to buy their mom a gift. (lent / borrowed)
  4. My father _______ the American flag on all US holidays. (raises / rises)
  5. He’s ________ down because he doesn’t feel well. (laying / lying)
  6. Cho left China and _______ to Australia in 1998. (emigrated / immigrated)
  7. I don’t know how to do it, but I’m sure the service department ________ help you. (can / may)
  8. I hope you will _______ your job well. (make / do)
  9. Anna parties every night. It has started _______ her work. (effecting / affecting)
  10. Please turn off the lights. We don’t like to _____ energy. (spend / waste)

Answers:

  1. adapted
  2. met
  3. borrowed
  4. raises
  5. lying
  6. immigrated
  7. can
  8. do
  9. affecting
  10. waste