Confusing Word Pairs

Is this student laying or lying down? Read on to find out!

In English, there are a number of words that share similar spelling or meanings that can make them hard to differentiate from each other. Here we will be looking at some commonly confused word pairs that can be tricky to master, even for those who speak English as a native language.


Confusing Lose and Loose

Lose is a verb that means to be without something:

If you keep skipping class, you could lose your F1 visa!


Lose is also the opposite of win:

If Sarah loses the game on Saturday, her team be eliminated from the playoffs.


Loose is an adjective that means to be free from or not restricted by. It is the opposite of tight:

The wind blew the loose pile of leaves all over the yard.

Remember to wear loose-fitting closing the day of the surgery.


Lay and Lie

These words confuse many native speakers because lay is actually the past tense of lie. However, lay is also a present tense verb in its own right. Making the situation even more confusing, the present tense lay has its own unique past tense form: laid.


In the present tense, use lie when there is no direct object:

I need to lie down.


But use lay when there is a direct object:

Please lay the brochures on the table in the lobby.


Here is an example of lay as the past tense of lie:

I lay down after I finished the race.


Finally, here is an example of lain functioning as the past tense of the present tense lay:

He laid the brochures on the wrong table.


These words can be confusing at first, but you can master these and other tricky English vocabulary with time and practice. If you need help with grammar, pronunciation, or words like these, the dedicated teachers at the English Island in Atlanta can help improve your skills through a variety of ESL classes designed for students of all levels.