Top confusing words in IELTS listening

The famous British journalist Harold Evans has written down a vocabulary list that are confusing, and many people have treated them as synonym. Have you ever come across some words that just simply confused you?

Let’s take a look at some of the words that even a native speaker might find it difficult to get them right. You can use this as quiz to test your friends too!

01. Affect / Effect

Affect: The bad weather affects my mood.
Effect: The president effected several changes in the company.

02. Alibi / Excuse

Alibi: The police broke her alibi by proving she knew how to shoot a pistol.
Excuse: I can’t buy his excuse.

03. Alternatives / Choices

Alternatives: New ways to treat arthritis may provide an alternative to painkillers.
Choices: Our choices come down to staying here or leaving here.

04. Anticipate / Expect

Anticipate: What Jeff did was to anticipate my next question.
Expect: I expect that the weather will be nice.

05. Flagrant / Blatant

Flagrant: The judge called the decision “a flagrant violation of international law.”
Blatant: Outsiders will continue to suffer the most blatant discrimination.

06. Chronic / Acute / Severe

Chronic: For those with chronic depression, she said, “keep at it.”
Acute: Acute dysentery wracked and sapped life from his body.

07. Compose / Comprise

Compose: England, Scotland and Wales compose the island of Great Britain.
Comprise: After the 2014 referendum on independence for Scotland, the UK still comprised England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

08. Continual / Continuous

Continual: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war,” Madison concluded.
Continuous: Continuous farming impoverishes the soil.

09. Crescendo / Climax

Crescendo: She spoke in a crescendo: “You are a bad girl! You are a wicked girl! You are evil!”
Climax: The fifth scene was the climax of the play.

10. Decimate / Destroy

Decimate: Famine decimated the population.
Destroy: The soldiers destroyed the village.

11. Dilemma / Problem

Dilemma: Many women are faced with the dilemma of choosing between work and family commitments.
Problem: The problem of street crime is getting worse every year.

12. Disinterested / Uninterested

Disinterested: A lawyer should provide disinterested advice.
Uninterested: He was uninterested in politics.

13. Entomb / Trap

Entomb: The city was entombed in volcanic lava.
Trap: The train was trapped underground by a fire.

14. Flotsam / Jetsam

Flotsam: The water was full of flotsam and refuse.
Jetsam: The smallest bits of jetsam, like the most transient incidents in a life, can be the most evocative.

15. Forego / Forgo

Forego: So she did his bidding and gave him the cup, which no sooner had he drunk than his head forewent his feet.
Forgo: Sometimes this priority shift means you have to forgo one goal in exchange for another.

16. Gourmet / Gourmand

Gourmet: Food critics have to be gourmets in order to write about food in an informed way.
Gourmand: He’s the kind of gourmand who swallows food without even pausing to taste.

17. Inchoate / Incoherent

Inchoate: She had a child’s inchoate awareness of language.
Incoherent: The talk she gave was incoherent and badly prepared.

18. Incumbent (Noun) / Incumbent (Adj.)

Incumbent (Noun): The incumbent president faces problems which began many years before he took office.
Incumbent (Adj.): She felt it was incumbent on herself to act immediately.

19. Inflammable / Flammable

Inflammable: Petrol is a highly inflammable liquid.
Flammable: This solvent is flammable.

20. Insidious / Invidious

Insidious: Cancer is an insidious disease.
Invidious: The boss made invidious distinctions between employees.

21. Judicial / Judicious

Judicial: a judicial enquiry.
Judicious: We should make judicious use of the resources available to us.

22. Less / Fewer

Less: We must try to spend less money.
Fewer: Fewer people smoke these days than used to.

23. Litigate / Dodge

Litigate: The case is still being litigated.
Dodge: He dodged the bullet.

24. Luxuriant / Luxurious

Luxuriant: Tall, luxuriant plants grew along the river bank.
Luxurious: They have a very luxurious house.

25. Prescribe / Proscribe

Prescribe: The doctor prescribed his patient who was down with fever.
Proscribe: The sale of narcotics is proscribed by law.

26. Refugee / Migrant

Refugee: Refugees were pouring across the frontier.
Migrant: The government divides asylum seekers into economic migrants and genuine refugees.

27. Replica / Reproduction

Replica: Replica is the more valuable, for it is supposed to be more beautiful.
Reproduction: This is a reproduction of a popular religious painting.

28. Sceptic / Denier

Sceptic: The sceptic may argue that there are no grounds for such optimism.
Denier: He is a denier of harsh realities.

29. Transpire / Happen

Transpire: Later, it transpired she had failed the examination.
Happen: ‘It just happened.’ she said, after failing her exam.

30. Viable / Feasible

Viable: Cash alone will not make Eastern Europe’s banks viable.
Feasible: She questioned whether it was feasible to stimulate investment in these regions.

31. Viral / Viral

Viral: I can’t believe that video of our puppy lounging on a pool float went viral!
Viral: Some viral proteins do well.

Related IELTS Resources

Take a practice test to find out what is your current weakness in terms of IELTS scale and allow more time to improve your weak spots. The following IELTS resources will help you to develop your skills faster:

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