Posted by: Idioma Extra | January 4, 2012

Thursday Tidbit — Often Confused Words


Often confused words: quiet / quite, terrific / terrible, owe / own

Many English language learners often have trouble correctly using the following pairs of words: quiet/quite, terrific/terrible, owe/own. Here is a brief explanation of each to help clarify the difference:

Quiet / quite

Quiet is the synonym of “silent,” while quite is used to mean “very,” and is a bit formal in usage. The confusion comes from the pronunciation of each word which is very similar. Quiet has two syllables (QWHY-et), while quite has just one syllable (QWHITE). Here are some examples:

I prefer to work at home because it is more quiet. (silent)

He was quite hungry after working hard all day. (very)

Terrific / terrible

The similar pronunciation and spelling of these two words also leads to confusion; however, they are quite different in meaning.  Both are adjectives, but terrific is a positive word meaning “great” or “fantastic.” Terrible, on the other hand, is negative and means “bad” or “not pleasant.” Here are some examples of how they are used:

That pizza was terrific! I could have eaten the whole thing by myself. (positive)

That movie was terrible! I left the theater before it ended. (negative)

Owe / own

The same confusion with pronunciation exists here because both sound very similar and are difficult to distinguish in speech. Both have the same /oh/ sound. The only difference is the /n/ at the end. Owe is a verb that is used when someone has to repay something, with respect to money, a favor, etc., or is in debt to someone. Own can be used as either a verb or a possessive adjective. As a verb, own means to be in possession and responsible of something: the owner of something (a house, a car, land, etc.). As a possessive adjective, it is used when describing someone as the sole owner of something. Here are some examples:

I owe him a big favor after he helped me paint my house. (in debt)

She owes the bank a lot of money after taking out a loan for her car. (in debt)

I have never owned  a house, but I would like to. (in possession and responsible for)

I would like to buy my own house someday when I have the money. (sole owner)

Check yourself

Underline the correct word to complete the sentence.  

1. I prefer to live in a (quiet / quite) neighborhood.

2. I gave you $10 dollars and you returned $5 to me. You (owe  / own) me $5 more.

3. This book is (terrible / terrific). It is so boring!

4. The teacher was (quiet / quite) upset with the students because of their bad behavior.

5. Manuel Antonio is (terrific / terrible)! There are so many interesting things to see!

6. I want to order my (owe / own) food because I don’t like what the other people like.

7. He is a (quite / quiet) student who doesn’t participate in class.

8. How many CD’s do you (owe / own)? I have more than 100!

9. Some people think the taste of beer is (terrific / terrible). They prefer wine.

10. I just did a big favor for you. You (owe / own) me one!

Answers to last week’s Check Yourself

1.  We have 5 classes to make up because of holiday cancellations. (reconcile / recover)

2.  I could tell that he was making up the story by the look on his face. (put in order / invent)

3. It’s a good idea to make up right away with a co-worker after an argument to maintain a healthy work atmosphere. (reconcile / invent)

4. My son refused to make up his room. (constitute / put in order)

5. A computer is made up of many complex circuits. (put in order / constitute)

6. We have to make up for lost time. (recover / invent)

7. He’s always making up stories that never happened to him. (put in order / invent)

8. Many types of ethnicities make up the US population. (constitute / recover)

9. Giving flowers is a good way to make up with a loved one. (reconcile / put in order)

10. I never feel like making up my bed in the morning. (put in order / recover)


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