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12 Tricky English Words

Tricky Words in IELTSSpeaking from experience, there are some words in English that IELTS test takers misspell quite often. A word spelt wrong isn’t the end of the world, but here’s the thing – when you spell one of these words wrong, the autocorrect feature (your usual lifeline!) won’t save you. It won’t let you know that you made a mistake and there will be no red underline. Why? Because the second spelling also exists in its dictionary – but the word spelt that way means something completely different!

Here are the 12 tricky words that can get you in trouble – and what each spelling means.

Cause vs. Course

A cause is a reason for something that happened.

A course is a sequence of events or it could also mean a learning program at school or university.

Compliment vs. Complement

A compliment is something you say to a person to show your admiration.

A complement is an item that completes a group of other items, makes it better, for example a hat that completes an outfit.

Destruct vs. Distract

To destruct means to destroy.

To distract means to take your attention away from something you were doing.

Desert vs. Dessert

A desert is a land with no water, covered with sand.

A dessert is a sweet dish that you have at the end of your meal, such as ice cream or cake. An easy way to remember the double ‘s’ in dessert is to think that dessert is ‘So Sweet’.

Dairy vs. Diary

Dairy is a place where milk is processed.

A diary is a personal journal where you write about your experiences.

Launch vs. Lunch

To launch something is to let it fly.

Lunch is the meal that you have at midday.

Mail vs. Male

Mail means letters and parcels.

Male is the gender of a man.

Message vs. Massage

A message is a bit of information that you pass on to someone.

Giving someone a massage means rubbing a person’s muscles to help them relax.

Plain vs. Plane

Plain means simple or flat.

A plane is the same as an airplane.

Reminder vs. Remainder

A reminder helps you remember something.

A remainder is a part of something that is left after the rest was removed. An easy way to remember the difference in spelling is to think of the word ‘remain’ as part of ‘remainder’.

Stationary vs. Stationery

The word ‘stationary‘ refers to something that isn’t moving (e.g. a stationary vehicle).

Stationery means pens, pencils, paper and envelopes.

Trail vs. Trial

A trail is a cleared path through the forest.

A trial means a test of performance of a new product or service.

What other words do you find confusing or tricky? Let us know in comments, and we’ll add them to the list!

1 thought on “12 Tricky English Words”

  1. This is a great article. I especially like the top ones: compliment/complement and destruct/distract. Many of my students make these same mistakes and it affects their vocab score badly.

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