Standard expressions and confusing words

Standard Expressions

There are certain typical combinations of words in English. For example, we say ‘Please give a warm welcome to Ms. James, our next speaker. We don’t say ‘a warm hello’ or ‘a hot welcome’!! The choices in some of the questions in Part 5 of the Bright concern vocabulary, as well as how the given words fit into the context of a given sentence.

There are different ways of organizing the expressions you encounter (from reading or doing exercises on GlobalExam!) in order to help you in the learning process.

One way is to find all the different words that can be combined with common verbs, such as ‘make or ‘do’:

  • Make: a reservation, progress, up one’s mind, a mistake, a speech, a phone call, a deal, a good impression, a request, a complaint, a profit, money
  • Do: one’s best, one’s duty, as I say, not as I do, business, homework, a good job, a favor, the accounts, an experiment, harm

Other verbs don’t have as many expressions:

  • Run: a business, a machine, like clockwork

Other expressions include prepositions – you can organize them like this:

  • On behalf of, on account of, on the whole, on average
  • In general, in regard to, in connection with, in accordance with

Sometimes there are 2 nouns put together for a specific meaning which you can organize as follows:

  • Product launch, product placement, product life-cycle
  • Market share, market leader, market segment, housing market

You can also try organizing by theme:

  • Human Resources: pay rise, layoff, background check, cover letter, be shortlisted
  • Finance: cash flow, go bankrupt, remain stable, steady increase, tax evasion, cash withdrawal

There are many, many idiomatic expressions which every language contains. These expressions are used to get an idea across often using colorful or amusing language. Some may be similar to the ones in your language.

  • ‘As red as blood’, ‘green with envy’, ‘as busy as a bee’
  • ‘to be under the weather’ means someone isn’t feeling well
  • ‘it’s a piece of cake’ means something is easy

You can organize them like this:

‘Caught red-handed’ (caught with proof of doing something illegal)

‘Give a hand (help someone)                                    ‘Out of hand (out of control)

‘Once in a blue moon’ (not very frequently)               ‘Out of the blue (unexpectedly)

And be careful, just because some expressions look similar, they don’t necessarily mean the same thing:

  • ‘get straight to the point’ (speak directly about a subject)
  • ‘get your point across’ (make yourself understood)
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Confusing Words

On the Bright Grammar, you will need to demonstrate that you are familiar with the nuances found amongst words which have similar meanings, spellings or sounds. These words cannot be interchanged. The following is a list of pairs or groups of words which are commonly confused. You have to be careful to choose the right one in the context of the given sentence.

Raise – is a regular verb & takes a complement    Rise – is irregular (rose, risen), no complement

  • They raised the flag.                
  • The sun rises in the east.

Earn – about salary                 win – about games                 gain – with other expressions

  • She earns a lot in bonuses.    
  • They always win at poker.     
  • He’s gained a lot of weight/time, etc.

Cash – bills or coins      Change – what’s left after paying    Currency – the money of a country

  • She took cash from the machine.      
  • Here’s your change.   
  • The Euro is a new currency.

Accept – take something that’s offered                   Except – not including

  • She didn’t accept their offer.                                     
  • I’ll take everything except the keyboard.

Affect – to have an influence on                    Effect – an event or situation produced by a cause

  • The loss of her job greatly affected her.      
  • The policy change had little effect.

Fee – amount paid generally for a service        Fare – money paid for travelling

  • The doctor’s fees were very high.
  • The bus fare will increase next year.

Say – we say something (to someone)           Tell – we tell someone something

  • He said he was going to be late.                   
  • He told his wife that he was going to be late.

Insure – to buy insurance     Assure – to make certain                   Ensure – to make safe or sure

  • She insured her new car.   
  • I assure you that it will arrive tomorrow.  
  • We ensure passenger safety.

Their – possessive adjective pronoun   There – used with to be   They’re – contraction of the are

  • Their car was stolen.             
  • There isn’t anyone in this room.        
  • They’re all going home.

To found – to establish           To find – to discover

  • The company was founded in the 1960s.      
  • He found a solution to the problem. 

Other confusing words include ‘false cognates’ (faux amis) whereby a word may resemble a word in another language, but may not necessarily be correct in English.

We say:

  • to attend a meeting or a conference’ – ‘assist’ means to help
  • ‘to postpone a meeting’- ‘report’ is used in ‘I report directly to the marketing director.’
  • ‘The company increased their turnover/profits.’ – ‘benefits’ means something extra a company pays their employees (health insurance, for example).
  • Is he actually the head of the department?’ – here ‘actually’ means ‘really’
  • ‘He is currently/presently acting as department head. – here ‘currently’ or ‘presently’ means ‘now’
  • ‘It’s a very sensitive topic for her, so don’t mention it.’ – ‘sensitive’ means something upsets you easily
  • She’s made a sensible decision.’ – ‘sensible’ means showing good judgment.
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