Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

December 14, 2009

English Verbs that Confuse!

Before I begin this post I have to report that a few days ago I was asked ‘What is a tamper-evident-seal? I was thrilled at this question. It proves that some of what I am saying about language exposure is right!! So flowers for me. Hurray!!! If you have read my posts on increasing vocabulary you will know what I am talking about if not then you can find out here (More Vocabulary on the go)

I thought it was time to say something about verbs in English. This is a daunting task as there is so much to say! I decided to begin with two thorny verb problems

  • verbs that are similar in usage and as a result often confused
  • verbs which are confused although they are in fact opposites

Verbs with similar meanings

make/do, take/bring, been/gone etc..

The difference between these verbs is often quite subtle. They often have similar meanings but are used in different ways.  Sometimes the meaning is identical but a preference for one has been made in English (see post on collocation)

Here is a list of the most commonly confused verbs:

These verbs collocate with certain words. Find a list of these in your grammar book and make sure you know which to use when. 

  • lay/lie

Lay describes an action – They laid out the papers for signing.

 lie a state  – He found the papers lying on the table.

Lay takes a direct object.

  • raise/rise

Raise describes an action done by someone – to raise tax

rise describes the action itself  – taxes will rise 

Raise always has a direct object.

  • talk/speak

These have very similar meanings and can be used interchangeably. – I’ll talk/speak to her about it.

 However there are some differences;  

a formal speech uses speak – He spoke to the Board of Directors.

Also when referring to languages – She speaks French, Italian and Japanese.

Talk would be used for speaking at length – He talked to them about his war experiences.

  • steal/rob

Again very similar in meaning. We use rob for the place that suffered the theft and steal for the items taken.

They robbed the shop and stole cash.

Check in your grammar book to make sure you have them right.

Verbs with opposite meanings

Although this may sound strange some verbs with opposite meanings can be confused. The two most common pairs are;

  • lend/borrow

Borrow from (you take the item) –  Can I borrow your pen?

Lend to (they give the item) – Can you lend me your pen?

  • bring/take/fetch

Bring means that you carry the item with you here – Can you bring some salad with you to the picnic? (towards the speaker – the picnic may be at the speaker’s home)

Take means you carry the item with you there – Can you take some salad to the picnic?  (away from the speaker – the picnic is in some other place)

Fetch is used when you have to collect something and then bring it with you. – Can you fetch the car from the garage tomorrow?

Make sure you understand the difference and then memorise and practise!!

Try these exercises on Gapfillers


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