Lend or borrow? Raise or rise?

Here are some pairs of words which usually confuse English learners

English can be troublesome when it comes to vocabulary, especially when we come across certain words which sound very similar but have very different meanings, or have the same meaning but they are used in different grammatical contexts.

In order to help you overcome such problems, I thought I’d make a list with some of the most commonly mistaken words in English with explanations about their use and meaning.

Rise vs Raise

Both verbs mean the same thing, describing `movement upwards`, but the difference is that rise is intransitive (which means there is no object, something rises on its own, without any exterior influence) , while raise is transitive (which means we have a subject and an object).

Another difference is that rise is irregular – rise/rose/risen and raise is a regular verb.


Prices have risen a lot recently (an intrinsic event)

We have raised our prices to keep up with the market trend.

He rose to the occasion.

He raised his hand.

Specially vs Especially

Despite their similarities, these two adverbs have a difference in meaning which one should take into account.

Specially means in a special manner, or for a special purpose, while especially is used to indicate something that deserves special attention, something more than usually.


I made this dress specially for the occasion.

He treated some of the employees specially.

He was especially concerned about the contract.

There is nothing especially radical about that idea.

Analyse vs Analysis

As one can see, these two words are part of the same word family, but the difference is that analyze (to study something closely and carefully) is a verb, while analysis (careful study of something to learn about its parts, what they do, and how they are related to each other) is a noun.


We analyse data every month.

We make an analysis of the data.

Advice vs Advise

The situation here is the same as the one above. Two words are part of the same group, one is the verb – advise (ədvīz – to make suggestion about what someone should do ) , and the other one is the noun – advice ( ədvīs, suggestion)

Don’t forget that advice is an uncountable nouns, so it doesn’t take a plural form.


I have some advice for you.

The doctor advised him to get more rest.

Desert vs Dessert

2cd530f216278ee8574b52828478d689These two words seem to have everything in common, right? They are only separated by one little s. But is fact, their meanings couldn’t be more different.

The desert (dezərt) is an arid land with usually little vegetation, while dessert (dizərt) is the sweet food you eat after the main part of a meal (or all the time).

So, I really think the desert is no place to eat dessert. Because you might get thirsty and there’s hardly any water there.

Besides vs Beside

These two prepositions always seem to play tricks on English learners. They sound almost the same, but they really are not.

Beside actually means `by the side of someone or something, next to`. It can also mean `not relevant`  (beside the point)

Besides means in addition to (something).


Come and sit beside me.

Besides playing the piano, Tom also knows how to play the guitar.

By vs Until

Both until and by indicate `any time before, but not later than`.

Until tells us how long a situation continues. If something happens until a particular time, you stop doing it at that time.

If something happens by a particular time, it happens at or before that time. It is often used to indicate a deadline.


They lived in a small house until September 2003. (They stopped living there in September.)

I will be away until Wednesday. (I will be back on Wednesday.)

You have to finish by August 31. (August 31 is the last day you can finish; you may finish before this date.)

Say vs Tell

There are many contexts in which you can use the verbs as synonyms. However, their core meanings are different.

Say means to use your voice to express (something) with words, to express a thought, opinion, or suggestion, or to state a fact or instruction.

Tell means to say something to someone, often giving them information or instructions.


I often say the wrong thing.

I usually say `hello` to people.

I often tell people how to practise their English.

Haven’t I told you it’s not always easy to say things in English?

Borrow vs Lend

If you don’t know exactly what these two verbs mean you might get in trouble. You might accept giving someone something without even knowing it.

Borrow means to take and use something that belongs to someone else for a period of time before returning it, while lend is the opposite (to give something to someone)

So, both actions imply an exchange but it depends who gives and who takes.


I don’t have car, can I borrow yours?

Sorry, but I have already lent it to my brother for the week-end.

Lay vs Lie

The difference between these two verbs is similar to the one between rise and raise. Lay is transitive, while lie isn’t.

Lay is an irregular transitive verb (lay / laid / laid) which means to put something or someone down (often in a horizontal position).

Lie is an irregular intransitive verb (lie / lay / lain) which means to rest in a horizontal position or to be located somewhere.


If you are tired, lie here and have a rest.

Romania lies in Eastern Europe.

Lay your head on the pillow.

And to make things and more confusing, there is the homonym verb lie (`not to tell the truth`).

I don’t lie when I say Romania lies in Europe!

Autor: Laura Sîrbu

Laura Sîrbu este absolventă a Facultăţii de Litere din cadrul Universităţii Bucureşti, specializarea Română – Engleză. Tot în cadrul Universităţii, ea a absolvit masteratul „Studii Americane”, organizat la Facultatea de Limbi şi Literaturi Străine.

Laura deţine autorizaţie de traducător pentru limba engleză şi atestatul lingvistic „Cambridge Proficiency Certificate.”