This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)
Have you ever wondered if native English speakers get confused by our own language? Watch any politician speaking without a teleprompter and you will know the answer is a resounding YES! Even those of us who make our livings with English can be confused by some of the subtle nuances of the language. Look at the following sentence:
“The magician made an allusion to the illusion which the audience could not accept, except as an effect that could affect their ability to advise those seeking their advice.” (It took me ten minutes to write that one sentence!)
Many native speakers would scratch their heads in wonder at the confusing – yet similar sounding – words. Many words in English may sound similar, and even have related meanings, but can totally change the meaning of the sentence if used incorrectly.
Let’s break down that confusing sentence.
Allusion and Illusion
- Allusion is verb used to make an indirect reference.
- “He alluded to the crime without admitting any guilt.” (We all know he did it!)
- Illusion is a noun referring to something that is false or not real, but that seems to be true or real.
- “The magician created the illusion the cards were flying.” (Then he pulled a coin out of my son’s ear. My son now thinks money comes from ears and is always looking for quarters in mine!)
Accept and Except
- Accept is a verb use to receive something or answer affirmatively (yes).
- “She accepted his excuse for being late.” (That “she” is not real or isn’t like any woman I have ever met!)
- Except can be a preposition or conjunction meaning “not including”.
- As a preposition, it is followed by a noun: “No one can make me violent except Warren.” (Yes, that is my brother’s name. Yes, he has that annoying power.)
- As a conjunction, a clause or adverbial phrase follows it. “I would buy you lunch, except I don’t have any cash.” (And, sadly, that is something I say frequently.)
Affect and Effect
- Affect is a verb meaning influence or change.
- “The politician’s speech was meant to affect a change in public opinion.” (For me, that makes me vote for someone else next time.)
- Effect is a noun describing the change.
- “The effect of the politician’s speech was high voter turnout to elect someone new.” (I love a story with a happy ending.)
Advise and Advice
- Advise is a verb meaning to suggest or counsel.
- “My father advised me to never get married.” (I didn’t listen to him – twice!)
- Advice is a noun to describe guidance or suggestions.
- “I rarely took my father’s advice.” (He was right about the first marriage, but totally wrong about the second one!)
If it makes you feel any better, most native speakers pronounce those similar sounding words the same way because they have no clue which one to use in which place. Now, you are one step ahead of them! Congratulations!