Commonly Confused Verbs in English

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What are Commonly Confused Verbs?

You might be wondering, what are these commonly confused verbs. You need to note that English can be a very tricky language. I say this because there are times when you are in a fix when trying to choose the most appropriate word in terms of spelling or meaning. This happens most of the times, especially when dealing with some pairs of verbs that are so similar in both meaning and form. Therefore, commonly confused verbs are the verbs that pose a challenge in deciding the most suitable verb to use in a certain context.

Some of the most confusing verb pairs that we are going to look at are: sit vs sat, lie vs lay and rise vs raise.

Examples of Commonly Confused Verbs

  • Lie vs. Lay

The two verbs sound the same but in essence, they have two different meanings. The first one, lie means to rest or recline while the second one lay means to place something or put down.

Lay is usually used to denote an action that someone does for/to something or someone else. ‘Lie’ is used to denote an action that someone does for him/herself.

To understand this, let’s look at some examples in sentences:

Example 1:

Can you lay out my clothes?

In the above sentence, ‘you’ is the subject of the verb. ‘Clothes’ is the object of the verb ‘lay’. Note that, lay is a transitive verb and, therefore, should be followed by a direct object to denote the recipient of the action done by the verb.

Example 2:

He lies down for rest for two hours a day starting from 2 p.m.

In this case, our verb ‘lie’ is intransitive; this means that it does not need to be followed by a direct object to denote where the action is direct to or the recipient of the action.

The tenses of the verbs are:

Present tenseSimple past tensePast Participle
Lie, lyingLayLain
Lay, LayingLaidLaid

 

Remember that, when the past participle tense of these verbs are used, make sure they are supported by the helping/auxiliary verbs, had, has, or have.

For example:

She had laid the child on the coach.

The subject of the sentence is ‘she’. It is the subject of the past participle verb ‘had laid’. This is a transitive verb and therefore is followed by the direct object ‘child’.

What causes the confusion?

You must be wondering what makes these two verbs confusing, simply put, lay is the past tense of the verb lie and it is also a past tense verb for itself. Look at this example;

I lay down for a nap

In the context of this sentence, lay means to take a rest or recline and it is the past tense of the word lie.

To help you avoid the confusion that arises from these two verbs remember that:

  • You lay something down
  • People lie down

Having this in mind is very important when using these two in a sentence.

  • Sit vs. Set

This is another pair of confusing verbs. Sit is a verb used to mean being in a position of rest or simply put, being seated. This is usually used to denote the action of people or animals and is an intransitive verb meaning that it does not need to be followed by a direct object.

Set is a word used to mean to put or the place something. This is a transitive verb and needs to be followed by a direct object which receives the action of the verb.

Example 1

My girlfriend sits next to me in church

In this example, girlfriend is the subject of the verb sits.

Note that there is no direct object in this sentence because ‘sits’ is an intransitive verb.

Example 2

Peter set the vegetables on the shop

The subject in this sentence is Peter and set is our verb. Being a transitive verb, it takes the direct object vegetables to denote the recipient of the action done by the verb.

The tenses of these verbs are:

Present tenseSimple past tensePast Participle
SitSatSat
SetSetSet

 

Let’s look at some examples of sentences in which the meaning in the context can be confusing:

Example 1

You should sit down to eat

Here the verb sit means to go into a resting position and there is no direct object because it is intransitive

Example 2

You should set the puppy down for sleep

Here, our verb set is used to mean put or place and it has a direct object because it is transitive.

  • Rise vs. Raise

These two verbs can be quite confusing because of the fact that they share almost the same meaning yet they cannot be used interchangeably.

The verb rise is used to mean something that moves upwards. This is an intransitive verb hence it does not need a direct object for the meaning to clear. In other words, it is not required to have the recipient of the upward motion.

Raise is used to refer to something that results in upward motion or causing something to rise. This is a transitive verb and therefore needs to be followed by a direct object.

Let’s look at some examples:

Example 1

The student raised his hand to give an answer to the question.

Here the student is the subject of the verb raised which is transitive and is therefore followed by the direct verb hand. The direct object is the recipient of the action of the verb.

Example 2

The sun rises every day

In this sentence, the subject is the sun. The verb, in this case, is ‘rises’ which is intransitive and therefore there is no need to have a direct object to show the motion.

The tenses of these verbs are:

Present TenseSimple Past TensePast Participle
RiseRoseRisen
RaiseRaisedRaised

 

Let’s look at some of the common uses of the verb rise, to cause an upward movement by itself

Example 1: Let us all rise for the national anthem

The get up from sitting and assume an upright position

Example 2: Jesus was crucified and on the third day He rose from the dead

To come back from death

Example 3: It is a routine for Peter to rise at exactly 6 a.m.

To get up from sleep or bed

Let’s now look at the common uses of the word raise in the context of showing something moving upwards but with the help of something else. In this case, raise is a transitive verb and therefore needs to be followed by a transitive verb.

The following are the examples:

Example 1: The teacher raised the book

This means to lift something

Example 2: My grandmother raised me

To bring up to maturity

Example 3: The judge raised my charge by 20 years

Meaning to cause a rise in the level or amount

Other commonly confused verbs are:

  • Adopt vs. Adapt

Adopt means to take or claim someone

Adapt means to change or get used to something

Examples in sentences

  1. They adopted a child from the children’s home
  2. Peter adapted to the new environment quickly
  • Say vs. Tell

Say can be used to mean the following:

  • To give a report of someone else words
  • To ask how to use a different language

To tell can be used to mean:

  • To narrate
  • To instruct

Example in sentences

  1. Did he say something about the classes?
  2. How do you say I love you in Spanish?
  3. Tell him to come here
  4. He is telling a good story
  • Emigrate vs. Immigrate

Emigrate means to leave a country while immigrate means to move into another country.

Examples

Peter emigrated from Africa in 2010

John immigrated to the UK in 2010

Tips on Differentiating Commonly Confused Verbs

  • The most common way of differentiating between the commonly confused verbs is to identify whether the verb is transitive or intransitive.

When you are at crossroads, you don’t know which verb is the most suitable for the context you are in or in terms of the meaning your sentence.

  • A transitive verb is a verb that needs to be followed by a direct object. To identify whether you need a transitive verb, you need to ask this question;

What/who is completing the action of the verb?

  • For an intransitive verb, there is no requirement to have a direct object in the sentence.
  • Apart from these, you also need to understand the meaning of the verbs. Before using a verb that you are not sure of, you may consider to look up for its meaning. This is the easiest way of identifying the most suitable verb depending on what you want to achieve in your sentence.

Having this in mind is very important to help you distinguish between the commonly confused verbs.