Posted by: Idioma Extra | March 26, 2014

Grammar Guru

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

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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:

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)

Now, take a practice quiz to put these confused words to use!


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