Choice of Right Words

  1. Notorious—famous

Famous is like well-known but is a stronger word and means ‘known over a wide area’.

Ranjan is a well-known/famous athlete.

Notorious means famous for something bad. (Infamous is rather literary.)

Amrit was notorious for his evil deeds.

  1. Occurred to me—happened to me

If you say that something ‘occurred’ you mean that it happened:

The accident occurred whilst passengers were waiting to board the plane.

But if you say that something ‘occurred to you’ you mean that an idea came into your mind:

Something suddenly occurred to me while I was waiting for the plane.

Be careful, therefore, no   t to use this expression if you mean that something happened which concerned you. Instead you can say:

Something suddenly happened to me whilst I was waiting for the plane.


  1. On Tuesday afternoon—in Tuesday afternoon

In general we use ‘in’ with the word ‘afternoon’.

In the afternoon we went to a stadium to see a match.

But when afternoon is specified, we have to use ‘on’ with afternoon or any other parts of a day.

I will phone you on Tuesday afternoon.

Collect all stationery on the morning of your exam.

  1. Outset—onset

The onset is a beginning/starting, especially of something unpleasant.

From the onset of a nasty cold, he has been ill.

Outset is a very beginning of an event.

I have been involved with the project from the outset.


  1. Party—person

One of the meanings of the word ‘party’ is a political organization whose members all have the same aims and beliefs, usually one that is trying to win elections to parliament. There is another meaning which might cause confusion to many. 

The guilty party has promised to pay Rs. 50, 000 in compensation. (This is the person who has confessed his or her crime.)

A certain person told me that Binaya voted for Subash Chandra Nembang.

  1. Pass an exam—pass in an exam

The word ‘pass’ is a transitive verb. It always takes a direct object to make complete sense. So the word ‘pass’ is not followed by a preposition. Many Nepalese translate Nepali sentences into English without any modification. Consequently, a common mistake is made.

Ma parikshyama pass bhaye. (‘ma’ a Nepali preposition)

Wrong          I passed in an exam. (Because the word pass does not take any prepositions.)

Right             I passed an exam.

  1. Passage—aisle

Many people are confused of these two words, who unknowingly misuse these words while speaking and writing. The word ‘aisle’ means a passage between rows of seats in a church, theatre, railway carriage, bus, aeroplane, etc. or between rows of shelves in a shop or supermarket:

The bride and groom walked slowly down the aisle (ie after their wedding ceremony).

‘Passage’ or ‘passageway’ is a long, narrow space that connects one place to another:

There is a passage to the side of the house, leading to the garden.

  1. People—peoples

The word ‘people’ itself indicates a plural noun or more than one person, however, we can use write peoples as a plural form of people.

Our school employs over 200 people. (more than one person)

Europe is made up of man different peoples. (all the people of a race)

  1. Plan—think

Do you first think or plan? When you plan, you think and decide what you are going to do or how you are going to do something in advance.

She is just planning her holidays.

When you think, you consider an idea or a problem.

You should think about where you want to live.

  1. Practicable—practical

The word ‘practicable’ means ‘that which appears to be capable of being put into practice; that which appears to be capable of being done.’ For example,

          Kalpana’s plan, I feel certain, is practicable.

The word ‘practical’ means that something is ‘known to be workable or effective.’ For example,

          All of the participants got some really practical advice.

The parliament believes that Amar’s plan, which has never been tried in any form, is practicable. (not practical because the plan has never been implemented)

Note: The word ‘practicable’ is never applied to persons. Only the word ‘practical’ when applied to persons, means ‘realistic’, calculating’, interested in actual conditions rather than in unknown or imaginary practices.’

  1. Read—study

When you study, you engage in the activity of learning, especially by serious reading.

Apekshya is in her bedroom, studying for the upcoming exam.

But when you read, you look at words that are written and say them aloud for other people to listen to.

I always read my children stories at bedtime.

Wrong          Which class do you read in? (because you learn about subjects at school)

Right             Which class do you study in?

  1. Refuse—deny

These two words mean ‘not to accept’ in general. Nevertheless, they have different clear-cut meanings.

When you refuse, you say that you will not do or accept something.

Messi refuses to admit that he was interested in leaving Barcelona.

When you deny, you say that something is not true, especially that you are accused of.

Sampada denied killing her friend at the party.  

  1. Remember—memorize

Remembering is not possible without memorizing. You memorize something well so that you can remember it exactly.

Akhil has memorized all his friends’ birthdays.

If you remember a fact or something from the past, you keep it in your mind, or bring it back into your mind.

I cannot remember the name of the film I saw last month with my wife.

  1. Rent—hire

In UK English you rent something for a long period of time.

Sikha has rent a 2-bedroom flat.

You hire something for a short period of time.

My family hired a car for the weekend.

In US English the word rent is used in both situations.


  1. Ride—drive

You ride a bike, cycle, horse. (small means of transport). When you ride these vehicles, you control them; you are no longer a passenger.

I always ride my bike to work.

She taught me to ride a horse.

You drive large means of transport like a bus, car or truck. (You control them.)

But you ride a bus to work. (as a passenger in US English.)

  1. For sale—on sale

For sale means ‘things offered to anyone anywhere who wants to buy them.

There are three houses for sale near us.

On sale means ‘things are in the shops for people to buy’.

The latest model of this video recorder is now on sale in your high street.

  1. Scene—view

A view is the whole area that you see from somewhere, for example when you look out of a window or down from a hill and see a beautiful place.

Simla had a great view from her window across the park.

A scene is what you see in a place, especially when you are describing a place where something unusual or shocking is happening:

Farsha described the horrific scenes which followed the bombing.

  1. Search for someone—search someone

Many of the students in Nepal use the latter one. If you search a place or person, you are looking for something in that place or on that person.

The police searched the man (looked in his clothes or frisked) for some illegal things at the airport.

If you search for something or someone, you are looking for that person or thing because you have something to do with them.

I am searching for Chiranjibi sir.  (I want to talk to him.)

Students call their teachers by title plus their surnames in the UK. For example,

Mrs Tamang, Mr Limbu, etc.

  1. Sensible—sensitive

Both the words are adjectives to describe how someone is. The adjective sensitive tells others how easily you feel or experience something.

Sambhu is a very sensitive man and gets upset easily.

Sensible is related to making decisions based on reasons rather than feelings and imagination.

It would be more sensible to leave before the traffic gets bad.

  1. Shade—shadow

Shade is the protection from the sun, a darker, cooler area behind something, example a building or a tree.

I am hot. Let’s find some shade to sit in.

A shadow is the ‘picture’ made by something that blocks out light. Moreover, a dark area on a surface caused by an object standing between direct light and that surface:

In the evening your shadow is longer than you are.

The shadows lengthen as the sun go down.

  1. Shift—move

‘Shift’ is one of the most frequently used words by the Nepalese. These two words have almost same meaning; therefore, Nepalese writers/speakers make a blunder. Compare their meanings:

If you shift something, you move that from one place to another. Moreover, we shift something that is movable and small enough to be transported.

We need to shift all these boxes into the other room.

If you move, either you change your position or go to a different place to live or work.

We moved into a new apartment at New Baneshwor. (to change the living place)

We moved the chairs to another room. (to change place or position)

Wrong          Our family have shifted to Biratnagar.

Right             Our family have moved to Biratnagar.



  1. Sick—ill

The word ‘sick’ should not be used broadly as a synonym for ‘ill.’ although they bear almost the same meaning, a careful speaker or writer must not misused these words.

In UK English to be sick is to bring food up from the stomach. Another way of saying this is the word ‘vomit’. For example,

Aakash doesn’t want to eat anything because he has been sick since morning.

The word ‘ill’ means ‘not feeling well or suffering from a disease’.

Ramesh has been feeling ill for a couple of weeks.

  1. Sleep—go to bed

Nobody knows what time they exactly sleep because as soon as we lie in bed, we do not sleep. Hence, we sleep at approximate time.

Right                       I sleep at around 10 pm.

Wrong                              I sleep at 10 pm sharp.

Many native speakers of English prefer to ask, ‘What time do you go to bed?

I always go to bed at 10 pm. (I sleep at around 10:05.)

  1. Small—little

Small simply refers to size. It is the opposite of big or large.

You are too small to be a soldier.

The adjective little usually expresses some kind of emotion. It is an emotive word.

My relatives have bought a pretty little house at Swindon, the UK.

He is a funny little man.

  1. Some time—sometime—sometimes

Some time (with two stresses) means ‘quite a long time’.

I am afraid it will take some time to fix your car.

Sometime refers to an indefinite time, usually in the future; it often means ‘one day’.

Let’s have dinner together sometime next week.

Sometimes is an adverb of frequency. It means ‘on some occasions, ‘more than once’.

Sometimes, in the long winter evenings, I just sit and think about life.

  1. Speak English—speak in English—talk English

Speaking English means ‘to be able to communicate in English.

Do you speak English?

We always speak a language, but we write in a language. Therefore, you write something in a language.

Right                       Can you write a short paragraph in French?

Wrong                    Can you speak in French?

When you talk, you say something to someone. You talk politics or business ( a particular subject/issue). But you do not talk a language.


  1. Stamp your feet—bang your feet

The words ‘stamp’ and ‘bang’ are, to some extent, synonymous and associated with annoyance and sound. However, a conscious speaker or learner is suggested to carefully use these two words in different contexts:

You may bang a part of your body by accident or deliberately to express your anger or get attention. For example,

Ram banged on the wall angrily. (deliberately)

Dipesh banged his head when he dived into the pool. (unknowingly)

You stamp your feet to express anger or produce a sound; it is done deliberately.

They walked up and down, stamping their feet to keep warm.

  1. Stand first—come first

When we have to talk or write about the positions/ ranks we have to be careful to select a word that collocate with the words like first, second and third.

Manisha came first in the art competition.

Geeta finished the race in second position.

Dhan Bahadur stood first in the singing competition. (The word stand does not collocate with ordinal numbers like first, second and so on.)

  1. Stop doing something—stop to do something

Stop doing something means ‘not continue with an activity’.

Suddenly, everyone stopped talking in the classroom.

Stop to do something means ‘stop one activity so that you can do something else’.

All of the staff stopped to have their lunch. (They were working, but they stopped as it was lunchtime.)

  1. Surprised at—surprised by

By is used after passive verbs to introduce the agent (the person or thing that does the action).

My little sister was surprised at the gift.

After past participle (was/were+v3) that are like adjectives, we prefer other prepositions. Compare:

The burglar was surprised by the family coming home unexpectedly.

(Surprised is part of a passive verb referring to an action.)

I am surprised at your attitude.

(Surprised is an adjective referring to a state of mind.)

  1. Surroundings—environment

Surroundings (always plural) are an area that a place or person is in, such as the buildings or the countryside—use this to say whether a place is pleasant or unpleasant.

The hotel is in beautiful surroundings on the edge of a lake.

Environment means all the things, people and ideas among which you live and which make you the person you are:

His political beliefs were influenced by the environment he grew up in.

  1. Sympathize—empathize

When you sympathize with someone, you understand and care about their problems.

It is a really bad situation—I do sympathize with her.

If you empathize with someone, you will have the ability to imagine what it must be like to be in someone’s situation. In other words, empathizing with someone is being in someone’s shoes.

I find it difficult to empathize with a working mother of three small children.

  1. Take exam—give exam

Many students in Nepal think that they give exams because they go to school, write in paper and submit the paper to the invigilators.

Santosh went to school to take an exam. (Santosh is a student.)

But it is teachers who give exams to students because they provide students with stationery, question papers and other assistance in need.

Sunita ma’am is giving an exam to her students. (She is a teacher.)


  1. Thankful—grateful

Grateful is the normal word for people’s reaction to kindness, favours, etc.

I am very grateful for all your help. (I am grateful to you.)

Thankful is used especially for feelings of relief at having avoided a danger, or at having come through an unpleasant experience.

We feel very thankful that she didn’t marry a politician after all. (We ourselves are happy; we are not thankful to anyone.)


  1. Think about—think of doing

Think about someone or something means to have thoughts in your mind about a person or thing, or to consider them.

I thought about the question before answering.

Think of doing something means to consider the possibility of doing something.

My pals are thinking of having a part at my home.

  1. Tired from—tired of

If you are tired of something or of doing something, you are bored or annoyed by it.

I am tired of hearing his awful jokes.

But if you are tired from something, you want to rest because of it.

I am tired from the long journey.

  1. Today morning—this morning

Morning is the earlier part of the day. It gives a sense of past action. Therefore, it is wrong to say today morning.

Right                       I had delicious breakfast this morning.

Wrong                              We had delicious breakfast today morning.

  1. Too—very

 ‘Too’ usually suggests something bad or unsuitable.

It’s too cold today (so I do not go out).

Very suggests that something is neither good nor bad:

It’s very cold today (but I have a warm coat, so the temperature is no          problem).

We can use ‘too’ before adjectives on their own.

This coffee is too sweet.

Amar Bahadur Sherma (ELT)

Mr Sherma is HOD of English at Euro School, Online English Teacher and Content Writer at MiDas Education, English Textbook Writer at KEDC and Editor-in-Chief of Writers' Diary.

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