Tricky Pairs and Groups of Words Part Three

In this lesson, we’re going to look at a few pairs and groups of bothersome words that didn’t make it into our previous “tricky words” lessons. English has a large number of 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.


Alive and Live

Alive and live are both adjectives meaning “not dead.” You can use live before nouns and pronouns, but you cannot do the same with alive:


            We bought live bait for the fishing trip.


            That artist is still alive despite rumors to the contrary.


            Ben can’t keep plants alive to save his life.


Live can also be used to indicate sports events, television shows, and other performances that people are watching as they are happening:

I hear the coffee shop down the street has live music every Wednesday.


            I didn’t get to watch the Atlanta United game live because I had to work.


Already, Yet, and Still

Already and yet mean “by or before now.” These words are usually used with simple present or present perfect verbs. Already is used in positive sentences and questions. It goes after helping verbs and after be but in front of main verbs:

Nat’s already seen Wonder Woman twice. / Nat’s seen Wonder Woman twice already.

It is already June.


She’s already made a decision.


            Have you already had lunch?


Yet is used in negative sentences and questions and goes at the end of a clause:

Have you had lunch yet?


            No, I haven’t eaten yet.


Still conveys the idea of “up to and continuing through a particular time.” You can use still in positive sentences, negative sentences, and questions. Place still after helping verbs, after be, in front of main verbs in positive sentences and questions, and in front of all negative verbs:

You can still donate to the fundraiser.


            Joel is still sick.


            I am still waiting for the client to call back.


            Is Julie still planning to visit London over the summer?


            I still don’t understand what the client wants.


The client still hasn’t called me back.


Close, Near, and Nearly

Close and near have similar meanings. You can use to after close but not after near:


I like to sit close to the aisle.


            I like to sit near the aisle.


You can adding –er and –est to near and close to create comparative and superlative forms. To is required after closer but is optional for closest, nearer, and nearest:


            I wish we lived closer to MARTA.


I wish we lived nearer (to) MARTA.


Close and near can also be used as adjectives:

Where is the closest MARTA station?


            Where is the nearest MARTA station?


Nearly is an adverb with the same meaning as “almost”:


            We should call it a night. It’s nearly three in the morning.


            Let’s keep going. We’re nearly finished with season three.


Pass, Passed, and Past

Pass is a verb with multiple meanings. Passed is the past tense and past participle form of pass:


            Please pass the butter.


            Time passes slowly when you’re doing household chores.


            A helicopter just passed over our house.


            June still hasn’t passed the TOEFL.


Past is a preposition or an adverb meaning “farther/later than”:

While we were in Chicago, we drove past my childhood home.

She worked past midnight to finish the project before the deadline.

Past can also be used as an adjective or noun meaning “before now”:


            Richard has been studying abroad in Paris for the past year.


            In the past, a person could work a single job for his or her entire adult life.