Archive for the difference between words

the difference between words: it and this/that


One of the most difficult things to understand for my students is knowing when to use “it” and when to use “that” (or sometimes “this”). I have to admit that I found it difficult to explain this but I think I’ve managed to come up with a few rules about the usage of these pronouns.

First of all, it’s important to note that the pronouns “this” and “that” are stronger in nature than “it”. They are generally used to emphasize something. However, it is important to note that something is usually only emphasized once in a space of one or two sentences. We use “this” or “that” to emphasize it first and after that we use “it”. For example:

A: What is this?

B: It‘s a toy for children.

I don’t know what this is used for. Do you think it‘s used in the kitchen?

A: Is that a cat?

B: No, I think it‘s a rabbit.

I can’t understand why you did that. It was a really stupid thing to do.

We also use “that” to make reference to something a person has just said in the previous sentence or statement. This can be someone else the speaker is talking to, or it can be the speaker himself or herself. For example:

A: We should paint our house yellow.

B: I don’t think that is such a good idea.

I think it would be a good idea for you to eat more vegetables. That will help you lose weight.

We can sometimes use “this” instead of “that” when it’s the same person speaking, but this will make the explanation seem more intimate. It is often used when doing some kind of presentation or demonstration. For example:

You should cut up the onions very finely. This will allow them to cook more quickly.

It’s important to note that it makes a difference if the original noun is an object or an idea. If it’s an object, we often use “it” as the pronoun. However, if the original noun is an idea or something non-tangible, we often use “that” or “this” as the pronoun. For example:

Peter thinks we should get a bigger sign. He says it will help us increase sales.

Peter thinks we should move to a new location downtown. He says that will help us increase sales.

In the first sentence, the pronoun “it” refers to a physical object, the sign; however, in the second sentence the pronoun “that” refers to an idea, the plan to move to a new location.

I hope today’s blog entry helps people understand this complex feature of English a little better.


the difference between words: at and in


Today’s entry is a seemingly simple one, but it’s something that confuses the majority of my students. It is the difference in usage between the prepositions “at” and “in”.

There are several ways to use prepositions, but for the purposes of this blog entry, I’m going to focus on using them to talk about places.

When we are talking about places, we use “at” to talk about a location such as a school, store, hospital, etc. These locations exist within a wider, spread out area. We use “in” to talk about that wider area. For example:

Right now, I’m at a hospital in Brentwood.

When you called I was shopping at the department store.

A: Where do you live?

B: I live in Shinjuku in Tokyo.

We use “at” for ‘hospital’ and ‘department store’ because they are small locations, we use “in” for ‘Brentwood’, ‘Shinjuku’ and ‘Tokyo’ because they are wider areas. It doesn’t matter how big the wider area is; we always use “in” for these situations. Therefore, we could say “in New York”, “in the United States”, “in North America”, and “in the world”. However, if we talk about planets, such as Earth, Mars, or Jupiter, we use “on”.

It’s important to note that it is possible to say “in” for a location such as a school, store, hospital, etc. In these cases, we are talking about being physically inside the building. Therefore, if person A and person B are at a hospital and person A is inside the building and person B is outside the building, we can say that person A is “in the hospital” and “at the hospital”, but person B is only “at the hospital”. We CANNOT say person B is “in the hospital” because they are not inside the physical building.

the difference between words: lie and lay


Hello again. I’m back after a long break, and I have a complicated but important entry for you today. This one is about two verbs that have long confused even native English speakers: lie and lay.

The chief difference between these two verbs is about whether it’s about a person or a thing. If we’re talking about a person (or an animal) putting their own body on something, we use “lie”, and if we’re talking about a person setting a thing on a certain surface, we use “lay”. For example:

I want to lie down on my bed and take a nap.

The cat often tries to lie on my computer while I’m trying to work.

Please lay the package on the table.

I will lay my textbook next to my bed so I can study it easily.

As you can see from these example, the verb “lie” is intransitive, which means that it doesn’t have an object. The verb “lay”, on the other hand, is transitive, so it always has an object. Please note that we often use the word “down” after “lie”, as in my first example.

When we use these verbs in the past tense, it becomes a little confusing. This is because the past tense form of “lie” is “lay”, and the past tense form of “lay” is “laid”. For example:

I lay down on my bed and took a nap.

The cat lay on my computer while I was trying to work.

I laid the package on the table yesterday.

I laid my textbook next to my bed so I could study it easily.

It’s also important to note the -ing form of these verbs. For “lie” it is “lying”, and for “lay” it is “laying”. For example:

I was lying down on my bed when you called me.

The cat is lying on my computer now.

A: What are you doing?

B: I’m laying the package on the table.

The most important thing to remember about these verbs is that the past tense of the verb “lie” (“lay”) is the same as the present tense verb “lay”.

Also please note the past participle forms in red:

lie – lay – lain

lay – laid – laid

the difference between words: study and learn


Sometimes my students get confused about when to use “study” and when to use “learn”. Therefore, I would like to write about that in today’s blog entry.

Both words are used to convey the idea of trying to intake information in order to become more knowledgeable or intelligent. When we put them in order, however, we have to place “study” first, and then “learn” after that. Therefore, when we “study” we are reading, watching or listening to something in order to keep it in our memories. If we do this successfully, we can say that we “learned” it. Let me give you some example sentences using these words.

I have to study fifty new words for my final exam in Spanish. I hope I can learn all of them.

I studied really hard in my history class, but I couldn’t learn all of the information.

I learned a lot in my economics class because I studied every day.

As I said before, learning is successful studying. Therefore, just because you study something doesn’t mean you will learn it. But if you never study at all, then you will never learn.

In addition, it’s possible for us to learn something and then over a period of time, forget it. I’m sure all of us have had this experience when we think about our high school or university days.

We can also “learn” something in ways that don’t involve studying. All of us learn things just from living our lives and making mistakes. Some people don’t learn from their mistakes, but I hope that most of us do.

the difference between words: affect and effect


This is my first blog entry for 2016. I hope everyone had a very happy new year! Today I want to write about the difference between the two words “affect” and “effect”. They’re quite similar, especially in spelling, and even native English speakers can get confused between them sometimes. The main difference between them, apart from the spelling, is that “affect” is a verb, and “effect” is a noun.

We use the verb “affect” when we want to talk about something or something that makes a change or reaction in a certain person, place, or thing. We use the noun “effect” to talk about the change or reaction itself. Let me give you some examples.

The bad weather we’ve been having recently is really affecting our business. Our sales have gone down.

The bad weather we’ve been having recently is really having a bad effect on our business. Our sales have gone down.

The color of the walls tends to affect my mood. If the walls are green or blue, I feel more relaxed.

The color of the walls tends to have an effect on my mood. If the walls are green or blue, I feel more relaxed.

As my examples show, both of these words can be used to indicate negative or positive reactions.

Please note that we use the verb “have” with “effect” and it is followed by the preposition “on”.  We can also place an adjective in front of the word “effect”. The adjectives most commonly used are “good” and “bad”. This is the case of my second example sentence. In the case of my last example, we could also say:

Blue or green walls tend  to have a good effect on my mood.

I hope that is clear to everyone. Have a great 2016 and I’ll write another blog entry next month.




the difference between words: find and find out


Recently, one of my students was having trouble understanding the nuance between “find” and “find out” in English. So, I’ve decided to write about that today.

I think the easiest way to think about the difference between these two is to realize that we use “find” when talking about discovering something that is tangible or physical such as a person or an object. However, we use “find out” when talking about discovering or learning some kind of information. Here are some examples to help you:

I need to find an apartment downtown which is not so expensive, but it’s really hard.

I found this watch when I was cleaning the house. Is it yours?

Can you find out what Harold’s phone number is?

I just found out that my coworker got married last weekend! I’m so happy for her!

It’s important to note that both of these can be used when talking about actively looking for something or some information or passively discovering it by accident. In the case of my first sentence with “find”, the person is actively searching for a physical thing (an apartment); in the second sentence, the person accidentally discovers something (the watch).

In the case of my first sentence with “find out”, the person actively wants to know some information (the phone number); in the second sentence, the person accidentally discovers some information during a conversation (the marriage).

You can also think of “find out” as the first step in the process of knowing something. First, we “find out” some information, and then we “know” it for a long time, unless we happen to forget it.

I hope this is clear to anyone who has ever been confused about these words.

the difference between words: power and strength


This will be my last blog entry for 2014. I’ve decided to go back to this blog’s most popular topic: the difference between words. This time I want to write about the difference between the nouns “power” and “strength”.

The word “power” refers to the capacity of a group, person or machine to do something. This word can refer to a mechanical situation (a machine) or something political or social (a group or person). For example:

This car doesn’t have enough power to pull that trailer.

I think there’s enough power left in this battery to play my music for another two hours.

My sister has the power to persuade anyone to do anything.

It seems like most politicians these days only run for office to gain power.

The word “strength” refers to a person’s physical capability to do something. In other words, we’re talking about their ability to use their muscles to do something. For example:

I don’t have enough strength in my upper body to lift that desk.

In order to increase your strength you should work out at the gym more often.

We can also use the word “strength” to talk about an advantage that a certain person or group has that makes it more likely for them to be successful. For example:

I have many strengths, but my biggest strength is my ability to communicate with other people.

The strength of that baseball team comes from their ability to work together as a team.

The word “strength” has a direct opposite which is the word “weakness*. However, “power” does not have a direct opposite. If we want to express its opposite, we would just say “lack of power”.

As I mentioned, these words are nouns. However, we often use the adjective forms which are “powerful” and “strong”. In regular conversation in English, it’s often more natural to use the adjective forms as it sounds more casual. Using nouns forms very often can make the sentences sound technical and formal.

I hope everyone has had a great 2014, and I wish you all Happy New Year! All the best to you in 2015!

the difference between words: within and over


Some of my students have a slight misunderstanding about the words “within” and “over” when talking about a future time, so that is what I’d like to write about today.

Sometimes, especially in business English, we say something like “We want to do that within the next five years.” or “We want to do that over the next five years.” However, there is an important difference between these two sentences.

When we say “within the next five years”, and it’s now 2014, it means that the thing will be finished in 2019 or before. It could be accomplished at any time between now and 2019. However, when we say “over the next five years”, it means that that thing will be finished in 2019 and NOT before then. It will take the entire five years to complete it.

Here are some more examples of how to use “within” and “over”.

I’ll probably be able to finish my project within the next two weeks.

Within ten years, I think Bill will become the manager of his department.

We were able to prepare the presentation within one week.

My company plans to expand into the Asian market over the next four years.

I will study French over the next six months because I will be transferred to our Paris branch next year.

We did a study over six months about what types of shampoo people in this city like to use.

As you can see from my examples, we can use “within” and “over” in the past tense or the future tense, but when we use “within” in the past tense, it means we don’t know exactly how much time it took.

When using these words in the future, it’s very common to put “the next” in the sentence, but this is not necessary.

I hope everyone will have a great weekend!

the difference between words: ethical and moral


Today, I’d like to write about the difference between the words “ethical” and “moral”. The adjective “ethical” refers to a set of principles which state what kind of behavior is good. The adjective “moral” also refers to the idea of good behavior but is less formalized. The word “moral” focuses on a personal or societal judgement about what is right and wrong. Let me give you some ways to use these words in sentences.

That company’s policies are very ethical, so I respect them.

That company uses cheap labor in foreign countries to manufacture their products. It’s not illegal, but I don’t think it’s ethical.

Many of the business practices ABC Company uses aren’t ethical. For example, they don’t pay for overtime but force their employees to work very long hours.

My parents are very moral people. They always taught me to be honest and never cheat.

Some people think stealing is ok if you help poor people with the money, but I still don’t think it’s moral behavior.

My friend cheated on his test. Should I tell the school about it or stay loyal to my friend? It’s a real moral dilemma for me.

So, as you can see from my examples, the word “ethical” is often used in business situations, and the word “moral” is often used to talk about people’s personal behavior.

Please note that the opposite of these words is “unethical” and “immoral”. We can also say “not ethical” and “not moral”, but this is a little weaker. Generally speaking in English, words like “unethical” and “immoral” are very strong.

It’s important to note that being “unethical” is not the same thing as being “illegal”. Many business practices are legal but not necessarily ethical. My second sentence is an example of this.

the difference between words: expect and look forward to


Today, I’d like to write about the difference between “expect” and “look forward to”. This is a common misunderstanding for many English learners.

We use the verb “expect” when we want to talk about something that we anticipate will happen in the future. For example:

I’m expecting the package to be delivered at 3:00 p.m. That’s when the courier company said it would be here.

Why do you look so worried? Are you expecting something bad to happen today?

I expect that the economy will improve soon, so I’m going to start investing now.

However, we use the term “look forward to” when we want to talk about something that we are planning to do in the future and which we are very happy or excited about. For example:

I’m really looking forward to my vacation in Italy! I’ve always wanted to go there!

I’m looking forward to the day that I retire. I’m really tired of working!

I look forward to meeting you in person at the conference in New York.

When using “look forward to”, we always use a noun or the -ing form of a verb after the word “to”.

You should also be aware that there is a difference in formality between “I look forward to…” and “I’m looking forward to…”. When we use the simple present (I look forward to) it is much more formal than the present continuous (I’m looking forward to). Therefore, we usually use the simple present for business situations and the present continuous for daily conversations.

Please note that we can use “expect” for all types of situations: positive, negative and neutral, but we can only use “look forward to” to talk about positive situations.

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