Proven Tips on How to Easily Learn Confusing Verbs

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In my experience, learning English in a non-native English-speaking country and then moving to Toronto to study English at college, I’ve faced a serious challenge with confusing verbs that either look similar or have the same spelling.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s had this issue.

Have you experienced the same problem, where you get confused between verbs like “money is” or “money are,” or “police is ” and “police are”?

If you have, then welcome to the club!

In this blog post, I’ll discuss this common challenge.

Confusing Verbs

Confusing Verbs

Confusing verbs, often referred to as “tricky verbs,” are verbs that can be perplexing for learners of English due to their similar spellings, pronunciations, or meanings.

These verbs are significant to understand because using them correctly is crucial for effective communication in both written and spoken English.

Misusing confusing verbs can lead to misunderstandings, awkward language, or miscommunication.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to grasp the distinctions between confusing verbs.

  • Clarity of Communication
  • Grammatical Correctness
  • Professionalism
  • Improved Writing
  • Avoiding Embarrassment
  • Native-like Fluency

Examples of confusing verbs in English:

  • Affect vs. Effect: “Affect” is a verb that means to influence or have an impact on something, while “effect” is a noun referring to the result or outcome of an action. Understanding when to use each can be challenging.
  • Lose vs. Loose: “Lose” is a verb meaning to misplace or not win, while “loose” is an adjective meaning not tight or released. These two words are often confused due to their similar pronunciation.
  • Lay vs. Lie: “Lay” is a transitive verb that requires a direct object (you lay something down), while “lie” is an intransitive verb meaning to recline or be in a horizontal position. These verbs are frequently mixed up.
  • Their vs. There vs. They’re: These homophones have different meanings. “Their” is a possessive pronoun, “there” is an adverb indicating a place, and “they’re” is a contraction of “they are.” Misusing these can lead to confusion in writing.

Why are verbs so difficult?

The difficulty arises from various factors, including irregular verb conjugations, the extensive use of phrasal verbs, homophones, multiple meanings for one verb, the nuances of different tenses and aspects, context-dependent usage, idiomatic expressions, and regional variations. Navigating all of these intricacies can be a significant hurdle.

Look at this:

Irregular Conjugation: English has many irregular verbs that don’t follow regular patterns when it comes to changing forms for past tense, past participle, etc. For example, “go” (went, gone) doesn’t follow the typical -ed ending for past tense.

Phrasal Verbs: English uses phrasal verbs extensively, where verbs are combined with prepositions or adverbs to create new meanings. These combinations can be hard to predict and vary by context.

Homophones: English has many homophones, words that sound the same but have different meanings. Confusing verb homophones can lead to misunderstandings. For example, “to” and “too.”

Multiple Meanings: Some verbs have multiple meanings, and selecting the right one for a specific context can be tricky. “Run,” for instance, can mean moving quickly, managing, or operating something.

Verb Tenses: English has a wide range of tenses and aspects, which can be complicated for learners. Understanding when to use past, present, future, continuous, perfect, and other tenses accurately requires practice.

Context-Dependent Usage: The choice of verb often depends on the context of the sentence. English has many subtle nuances and exceptions in verb usage, making it challenging to select the right verb.

Idiomatic Expressions: English includes numerous idiomatic expressions that use verbs in unique ways. Learning these idioms can be confusing, especially for non-native speakers.

You can also read:

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Exploring English Idioms & Mastering Vibrant Colorful Conversations

Idioms: How to transform chats into captivating Verbal Arts

Regional Variations: Different English-speaking countries, such as Australia, the United States, and Canada, may have variations in verb usage, adding complexity for learners who encounter multiple dialects.

These regional differences extend to not only verbs but also vocabulary and pronunciation.

For instance, there are distinct differences between American English and Canadian English.

I, for instance, learned British English, and when I arrived in Canada, I was taken aback by the variations in vocabulary and pronunciation.

For example, I once asked for the “tram station” but the person I was talking to didn’t understand me – in Canada, it’s called a “streetcar stop”.

These regional linguistic nuances can be quite surprising and sometimes challenging for learners transitioning between different English-speaking countries.

The funny thing was, once I had learned the Torontonian dialect,  I encountered a manager from Newfoundland.

Can you believe that I couldn’t understand a word she was saying?

It took not only me but the entire team some time to get used to her accent.

She was a wonderful person, though.

Nice memories but let’s go back to the confusing verbs.

Read my tips and include them in your daily routine.

Irregular Verbs

Confusing Verbs

Irregular verbs are verbs that don’t follow the regular pattern of adding “ed” to form their past tense and past participle forms. Learning and memorizing irregular verbs can be challenging, but here are some tips to help you:

Proven Tips on How to Easily Learn Confusing Verbs: Irregular Verbs

1. Start with a List

Obtain a comprehensive list of irregular verbs.

You can find these in textbooks, language learning resources, or online.

2. Categorize by Groups

Group the irregular verbs by common patterns, if possible. For example, group verbs with similar vowel changes, those that change their base form, and those with unique irregularities. Some common groups include:

  • Verbs with vowel changes (e.g., sing-sang-sung)
  • Verbs with a different base form (e.g., be-was/were-been)
  • Verbs with a similar past and past participle (e.g., cut-cut-cut)
  • Unique irregular verbs (e.g., go-went-gone)

3. Prioritize Common Irregular Verbs

Start with the most frequently used irregular verbs, such as “be,” “have,” “do,” and “go.”

These are the building blocks of English and will be most beneficial in everyday communication.

4. Use Memory Tricks

Mnemonics and memory aids can be helpful.

Create associations or visual images that connect the verb to its irregular form.

For example, for “drink,” you might visualize someone “drinking” a strange, non-existent beverage called “drank.”

5. Language Apps Transform memorization into a game

Many language learning apps and websites offer exercises and quizzes specifically for irregular verbs. These can be an engaging way to practice.

6. Practice with Sentences

Don’t just memorize verbs in isolation.

Write sentences using irregular verbs in their past tense forms.

For example, “She went to the store yesterday.” This helps you see how the verbs function in context.

7. Learn with Rhymes and Songs

Some irregular verbs form patterns that can be turned into rhymes or songs.

For instance, you might create a rhyme to remember verbs that change their vowel sound, like “sing,” “sang,” and “sung.”

Phrasal Verbs

Confusing Verbs

Phrasal verbs are combinations of a verb and one or more particles, such as adverbs or prepositions. They can be challenging to learn due to their various meanings and the fact that the meaning of a phrasal verb often cannot be deduced from the individual words.

Proven Tips on How to Easily Learn Confusing Verbs: Phrasal Verbs

STEP 1. Break Them Down

Divide the phrasal verbs into categories based on their meanings (e.g., phrasal verbs related to travel, emotions, or daily activities). This categorization can make memorization more manageable.

Breaking down phrasal verbs into categories based on their meanings is a powerful learning strategy. By grouping them into related themes or concepts, you can make memorization more manageable and coherent. Here’s an explanation with examples:

1. Travel-related Phrasal Verbs: Categorize phrasal verbs related to travel, such as “take off,” “get on,” “check-in,” “pull over,” “set out,” “touch down,” and “pass through.” This grouping allows you to focus on these verbs when discussing travel or transportation.

Example: “We need to get on the train before it leaves.”

2. Emotion-based Phrasal Verbs: Group phrasal verbs that express emotions or feelings, including “cheer up,” “calm down,” “break down,” “lighten up,” “warm up,” “get over,” and “give in.” This category will help you understand and express emotions more effectively.

Example: “After a long day, I like to relax and wind down.”

3. Daily Activities Phrasal Verbs: Categorize phrasal verbs that relate to everyday routines and tasks, like “wake up,” “get dressed,” “brush up,” “clean up,” “show up,” “work out,” and “run out of.” Organizing these verbs together can simplify your conversations about daily life.

Example: “I woke up early today to get some work done.”

HEADS UP! By breaking down phrasal verbs into such categories, you’re essentially creating mental folders in your mind. This makes it easier to remember and apply them when you encounter situations related to these themes. Additionally, it enhances your overall understanding of how phrasal verbs work, improving your language skills.
Check this article to learn more about swipe files and how they can help you organize your resources.

STEP 2. Focus on One at a Time

Instead of overwhelming yourself with a long list of phrasal verbs, focus on learning one or two at a time.

For example, start with “take off.”

Understand its different meanings, such as “remove clothing” and “lift off the ground (for an aircraft).”

Use it in sentences like, “She took off her jacket,” or “The plane took off on time.”

STEP 3. Visualize the Meaning

Try to visualize the action represented by the phrasal verb.

For “break up” (meaning to end a relationship), imagine a heart breaking into pieces.

When you associate a mental image with the phrasal verb, it becomes easier to remember.

STEP 4. Keep a Phrasal Verb Journal

Create a journal or notebook dedicated to phrasal verbs.

Write down new ones you encounter, their meanings, and example sentences.

For instance, “run out of” means to deplete a resource. You could write, “I ran out of milk, so I need to buy more.”

STEP 5. Use Mnemonics

Create mnemonic devices or memory aids for phrasal verbs.

For “stand by” (meaning to support or be ready), think of a friend who always stands by your side in tough times.

STEP 6. Contextual Practice

Practice phrasal verbs in real-life situations.

When you’re chatting with friends, try to use a phrasal verb you’ve recently learned.

For “look forward to” (meaning to anticipate with pleasure), you might say, “I look forward to our weekend trip.”

STEP 7. Interactive Apps

Many language learning apps offer interactive exercises for phrasal verbs.

For example, the app might present a sentence with a missing phrasal verb, and you have to choose the correct one from multiple choices.

STEP 8. Regular Review

Make it a habit to review previously learned phrasal verbs regularly.

This reinforces your memory. For “give in” (meaning to yield or surrender), you could review it by saying, “I don’t want to give in to laziness; I’ll finish my work.”

STEP 9. Conversation Partners

Engage in conversations with native speakers or fellow learners.

When you actively use phrasal verbs in discussions, you’re more likely to remember them.

For “run into” (meaning to meet someone unexpectedly), you might share a story about running into an old friend.


Confusing Verbs

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings and often different spellings.

They can be quite challenging, I can say that based on my experience, there are strategies I used to help me distinguish and remember them more effectively.

Proven Tips on How to Easily Learn Confusing Verbs: Homophones

Visual Associations

Create visual mental images for homophones that represent their meanings or spellings.

For example, visualize a “pair” of shoes when thinking of a “pair” and imagine a “pear” fruit for the word “pear.”

This way, you associate the correct meaning with the right word.

Visual Memory: Use visual cues to remember homophones. Visualize the meanings or differences in the words.

For example:

  • Break (visualize something breaking)
  • Brake (visualize a car’s brake)


Create flashcards with the homophones on one side and their meanings or example sentences on the other.

Regularly review them to reinforce your memory.

Spelling Exercises

For homophones with different spellings, practice spelling them correctly.

This reinforces the distinction between them.

For example, “they’re,” “their,” and “there” are homophones with different spellings.

Spelling Drills: Regularly practice spelling the homophones correctly. Here are some examples:

  • Your (possessive form, e.g., Is this your book?)
  • You’re (contraction of “you are,” e.g., You’re going to the party, right?)

Word Pairs: Group homophones into word pairs based on their meanings. Create associations between the words in each pair to remember them. For example:

  • To (preposition, e.g., I’m going to the store)
  • Too (meaning also or excessively, e.g., I want some cake too.)

Practice in Context: Read sentences or passages that contain homophones and their correct usage. This helps you understand how they are used in real sentences. For example:

  • “He couldn’t bear the thought of losing his pet bear.”

Rhymes and Mnemonics: Create rhymes or mnemonic phrases for tricky homophones. This helps you remember their differences.

For example:

To / Too

  • To: A preposition indicating direction or purpose.
    • Example: She went to the store.
  • Too: An adverb meaning also or excessively.
    • Example: I want some cake, and I want some ice cream too.

Bear / Bare

  • Bear: A noun for a large mammal or a verb meaning to tolerate or carry.
    • Example: The grizzly bear was in the forest.
  • Bare: Adjective meaning naked or uncovered.
    • Example: He walked with his feet bare on the sand.

Brake / Break

  • Brake: A noun for a device that stops a vehicle or a verb meaning to slow down or stop.
    • Example: He pressed the brake to stop the car.
  • Break: A verb meaning to shatter or separate.
    • Example: Be careful not to break the glass.

Flour / Flower

  • Flour: A powdery substance used in baking.
    • Example: Add a cup of flour to the recipe.
  • Flower: A plant’s blossom.
    • Example: The garden is full of colorful flowers.

Your / You’re

  • Your: A possessive form indicating ownership.
    • Example: Is this your jacket?
  • You’re: A contraction of “you are.”
    • Example: You’re going to the party, right?

HEADS UP! These examples illustrate how similar-sounding words can have different meanings and uses. Learning to distinguish and use them correctly can improve your communication and writing skills.

Modal verbs

Confusing Verbs

Modal verbs are a category of auxiliary verbs in English that are used to express a speaker’s attitude, necessity, possibility, obligation, permission, or ability.

These verbs add nuance to a sentence by indicating the mood or modality of the action.

Common modal verbs in English include:

  1. Can: Indicates ability or permission.
    • Example: I can swim. (ability)
    • Example: Can I go to the bathroom? (permission)
  2. Could: Used to express past ability, possibility, or polite requests.
    • Example: She could run fast. (past ability)
    • Example: Could you please pass the salt? (polite request)
  3. Will: Signifies future actions, predictions, or willingness.
    • Example: I will call you tomorrow. (future action)
    • Example: She will probably win the race. (prediction)
  4. Would: Often used for polite requests or hypothetical situations.
    • Example: Would you mind closing the window? (polite request)
    • Example: If I had the money, I would travel the world. (hypothetical)
  5. Shall: Used for suggestions, offers, or future actions (primarily in British English).
    • Example: Shall we go for a walk? (suggestion)
    • Example: I shall arrive at 3 PM. (future action)
  6. Should: Indicates advice, obligation, or probability.
    • Example: You should see a doctor. (advice)
    • Example: It should rain later. (probability)
  7. Must: Signifies necessity, strong obligation, or a logical conclusion.
    • Example: I must finish my homework. (obligation)
    • Example: The door is locked; she must be inside. (logical conclusion)
  8. May: Suggests possibility, permission, or a wish.
    • Example: It may rain later. (possibility)
    • Example: May I use your phone? (permission)
  9. Might: Used for a lesser degree of possibility or a polite request.
    • Example: She might come to the party. (possibility)
    • Example: Might I borrow your pen? (polite request)
  10. Ought to: Implies duty, obligation, or a strong recommendation.
    • Example: You ought to apologize. (obligation)
    • Example: You ought to try that restaurant; it’s excellent. (recommendation)

Modal verbs play a crucial role in shaping the meaning of sentences and are commonly used in everyday communication to express various shades of meaning and politeness.

Memorizing modal verbs can be made easier with these easy but powerful tips:

Proven Tips on How to Easily Learn Confusing Verbs: Modal Verbs

Associate Emotions:

  • Tip: Link modal verbs to emotions or feelings for better recall.
  • Example: Connect “Must” with a sense of necessity, as in “I must finish my homework.”

Compare Similar Modals:

  • Tip: Compare and contrast similar modal verbs to highlight their differences.
  • Example: Distinguish “Can” (ability) from “May” (permission) by practicing sentences like “I can swim” and “I may swim.”

Act Out Scenarios:

  • Tip: Act out scenarios where modal verbs are used to reinforce their meanings.
  • Example: Role-play a situation using “Could” for past ability, like “When I was younger, I could run very fast.”

Create Flashcards:

  • Tip: Make flashcards with modal verbs on one side and example sentences on the other.
  • Example: For “Shall,” the flashcard might include: “We shall meet at the park at 3 PM.”

Word Maps:Tip: Build word maps or mind maps for modal verbs, connecting them to related words and concepts. – Example: Create a map with “Could” at the center and branch out to related words like “past ability” and “polite requests.”

Compare and Contrast:Tip: Compare and contrast modal verbs with similar meanings to understand their subtle differences. – Example: Differentiate between “Can” and “Could” by noting that “Can” indicates general ability, while “Could” relates to past ability or polite requests.

You might find it interesting to learn how you can incorporate ChatGPT into your daily routine to make learning confusing verbs easier. Check out my series here and here.

Conclusion: Proven Tips on How to Easily Learn Confusing Verbs

Learning and memorizing confusing verbs can indeed be a challenging task.

Verbs, with their various forms and meanings, often present hurdles for language learners.

However, I’ve shared some effective strategies that I’ve personally used during my studies to tackle this difficulty.

The good news is that these strategies are not only practical but have also been proven to work.

In this post, we explored a range of tips and techniques, making the process of learning and memorizing confusing verbs more manageable.

From tackling irregular verbs to mastering phrasal verbs and understanding the nuances of modal verbs, these strategies aim to provide you with a clear roadmap.

Let’s recap some of the key tips we discussed:

  • For irregular verbs, break them into categories and visualize their patterns.
  • Create mnemonic devices and practice regularly to reinforce memorization.
  • Learn phrasal verbs by breaking them down into categories and practicing in context.
  • Pay close attention to homophones, understanding their meanings and usage.
  • Master modal verbs by grasping their meanings and specific use cases.
  • Create memorable associations for modal verbs to reinforce your understanding.
  • Compare and contrast modal verbs with similar meanings to grasp their nuances.
  • Utilize flashcards, quizzes, and interactive games for engaging practice.
  • Keep practicing and reinforcing your knowledge through continuous use.

When incorporating these strategies into your learning routine, you can not only overcome the challenges posed by confusing verbs but also enhance your language proficiency.

I hope that these tips have been helpful and will empower you to master the use of confusing verbs.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time!


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