Standard expressions and confusing words

Master grammar is essential to maximise your TOEIC score. Remember, preparation is the key!

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 TOEIC 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 TOEIC exercises on Global-Exam!) 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 (collocations) 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, cost of living, 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
  • ‘An early bird gets the worm’ means you are likely to be more efficient and to work more if you wake up early in the morning

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)

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)

Confusing Words

On the TOEIC 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…

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 – Expect – to anticipate

  • She didn’t accept their offer.                                     
  • I’ll take everything except the keyboard.
  • We are expected to succeed or leave.

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 (found-found) – to discover

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

To request , to require, to demand

  • I request your presence to make sure everything goes well.
  • Everyday, workers are required to clock in and out.
  • Punctuality is demanded by the director.

To attend – be present/participle and to assist – to help

  • The employees attended the seminar with pleasure.
  • The secretary assisted her boss in improving the powerpoint.

Sight – monument, Cite (quote), Site (location with a precise purpose), Sighting (observation)

  • We look forward to visiting the famous sights.
  • I cite Ghandi whenever I can.
  • The factory is on which site, the one of Paris or Lyon?
  • We love doing star sighting when it’s dark and clear.

Wage – paid by the hour or week and Salary/income by the month

  • As a waitress, my job’s wage is of $8 an hour.
  • The salary of a marketing directo ris quite high.

Suitable – appropriate, Eligible – qualified, Worthy- valuable, Allowed – authorized (law)

  • Wearing a suitable outfit is the least you can do when you start a new job.
  • This training is eligible to certified certificates.
  • All are clients are worthy of respect.
  • Smoking is not allowed in the premises.

Other confusing words include ‘false cognates’ (faux amis or deceptive words) 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.
  • In Egypt, they’ve discovered ancient tombs’ – ‘ancient’ means extremely old, antique which is different  from ‘old’ the opposite of ‘new’ and from ‘senior’ who has been working at this job or for this company for many years.

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