Tricky Pairs and Groups of Words Part Four

This week, we’re going to clarify several more pairs and groups of “tricky words” that both native and non-native speakers have difficulty using correctly. In our commonly-confused words lessons, we’ve focused on words with similar spellings and/or pronunciations but different meanings. Our tricky words lessons, by contrast, focus on words whose uses are confused for reasons other than just how the words look or sound.

Be Worth and Be Worth + Gerund

To be + worth means “be in equal value to.” Because worth is a preposition, it appears in front of nouns and pronouns:

My grandmother’s antique writing desk is worth a lot of money.


Is it worth the headache of learning a new spreadsheet program for a slight increase in efficiency?


However, in a question beginning with “how much,” you should put worth at the end of the question:

How much is the writing desk worth? It is worth over $5000.


When be worth is followed by a gerund (-ing word), the resulting phrase is equivalent to “it is useful/helpful/valuable to do this”:

Wonder Woman is worth seeing twice.


The new prep guide is not worth buying. It’s almost identical to the previous edition.


Marry and Get/Be Married (to)

Marry is a verb. You can marry and get/are married to (not with) someone. You can use get married to talk about the place or time of the event:

My brother got married is 2009.


            My brother has been married for eight years.


You can use either marry or get married to to name the person:

Sarah married her longtime girlfriend.


            Sarah got married to her longtime girlfriend.


Keep in mind that marry is more formal than get married to.



Only a Few and Quite a Few

Only a few and quite a few have opposite meanings. Only a few means “not many”:

            There were only a few kids playing Pokémon Go at the Prado this morning.

(There were not many kids playing Pokémon.)

But quite a few means “many”:


            There were quite a few kids playing Pokémon Go at the Prado this morning.

            (There were many kids playing Pokémon.)


Pretty and Fairly

The adjective pretty means “nice-looking” or “physically attractive”:

The new manager is very pretty.

In informal English, pretty can also mean “a little bit” or “not completely”:


            The newest episode of Doctor Who is pretty good.


Don’t use this meaning of pretty in academic or business writing. Use fairly instead:

I’m fairly certain we can have the prototype ready for the winter trade show.


What and Which

Both what and which can be used before nouns. Which one you should use depends on your intended emphasis. Use what to ask for general information:

What history courses are available this fall?

And use which to show that there is a choice:

Which history course should I take this fall?