Posted by: Idioma Extra | March 18, 2010

Thursday’s Tidbit

Some Confusing Words in English

1) costume vs. custom:

A costume is something that you wear e.g.
The costumes the students wore for the school play are very well made.

Custom refers to repetitive, traditional activities e.g.
The celebration of the Day of the Dead is a typical Mexican custom.

Something custom-made is something made to the specifications or taste of someone. For example, a custom-made desk is a desk designed to someone’s specific preferences. You can even have a custom-made costume!

Patricia ordered her Halloween costume to be custom-made. She wanted to be original!

2) loose vs. lose:

Loose is the opposite of tight. It’s an adjective. Imagine a 5 year old child in an adult’s clothes.
Those jeans are really loose on Jenny. She must have lost some weight!

Lose is a verb and refers to things that have disappeared. It is also used in the example above with lose weight.
I can’t find my wallet, I’ve lost it.

3) guy vs. gay

This one can cause a lot of confusion. The mistake normally occurs in writing only, because students know the difference in pronunciation between guy and gay. They also know the difference in meaning:

guy = boy/ young man
Our new boss is a very nice guy.

gay = homosexual (in olden days, it used to mean something like: lively or bright, but that’s old fashioned and common in old literary works).
Gay rights are becoming increasingly important in American politics.

4) earn vs. win

The problem with these two is that they are both translated into Spanish with ganar. Thus, you get questions like: “How much do you win?” when referring to your salary. However, you win money in the lottery or a game or contest and you earn (or make) money at your job.

Jessica won two hundred dollars at the beauty contest!
Rob got a promotion and he now earns almost $80,000 a month!

Test Yourself!

Complete the sentences with the correct confusing word. You may have to conjugate the word if it’s a verb.

  1. Clark ______ two thousand dollars last night playing blackjack, then he bet it all and _______ it within 20 minutes. That’s why I don’t like gambling!
  2. Eating tamales at Christmas time is a typical Latin American _____________.
  3. John hasn’t met many ______ men; he thought Jack was a great _______.
  4. How much do you ________ at that company?

Answers from the Last Tidbit

  1. The little girl received a reward for finding the lady´s lost dog.
  2. William was awarded a certificate and gift certificate to his favorite restaurant for increasing the company´s sales last month by 15%.
  3. The award was a bronze statue of the company’s emblem.
  4. The reward was $100 and a thank you card.
  5. The company president rewarded everyone at Christmas for a great year with a big bonus.

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