• Mai Duc Nguyen

IELTS Vocabulary Tips – Differences between Confusing Pairs of Words



1, Effective vs. Efficient


Being “effective” means doing the right thing, whereas being “efficient” means doing things in the right way. For example, if two salesmen both hit their monthly targets, then they are effective. However, the person using a lower advertising budget is considered more efficient if cost is the evaluation criteria for efficiency.



2, Study vs. Learn


“Studying” is the act of attending classes or lectures in a traditional educational environment or preparing for an exam, while “learning” is the process of acquiring new knowledge. Thus, learning can happen at school or in many other places.


Example: By studying economics, I learn how to analyze market trends and make logical assumptions.



3, Affect vs. Effect


When talking about impact or influence, “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun. Furthermore, the latter is accompanied by “on” or “upon”.


Example: The COVID-19 pandemic negatively affects the tourism industry/ The COVID-19 pandemic has a negative effect on the tourism industry.



4, Believe vs. Trust


“Believing” something means that you think it is right or credible. Therefore, a belief is often based on facts and logical reasons. On the other hand, “trust”, which can be a verb and a noun, is a status that needs to be earned.


Example: Biologists believe that there are at least thirty endangered species in this forest/ The CEO earns her employees’ trust by treating everyone with respect.



5, Control vs. Manage


“Controlling” is the act of using physical forces, the rule of law or social standards to make sure that something goes as planned or someone behaves as expected. However, “managing” an organization or a team means using different skill sets to facilitate cooperation and to work towards a common goal.


Example: Because of strict gun control, ordinary citizens are not allowed to possess firearms in this country/ He struggled to manage stakeholders in the project as they all had different needs and interests.



6, Global vs. International


If something is “global”, it has a worldwide audience, network, or impact. On the other hand, if something is “international”, it has a foreign component to it. For example, a global bestseller title means that book is the most sold in the world, whereas an international bestseller is a book that is most sold in countries other than its place of original publication.



7, Exam vs. Test


An “exam” is an academic assignment that students must complete; therefore, it is often used in educational contexts. A “test”, which is used to measure something, has wider meanings – It can mean an English test, a test of vocabulary or a test of patience.


Example: To earn three credits for this course, students must complete a mid-term and a final exam/ A new car version can only be introduced to the market if it passes all required safety tests.



8, Household vs. Family


A “household” consists of a group of people living together in an apartment, house, or building, and they may or may not be biologically related. For example, a dorm room with two students living together can be considered a household. However, a “family” often refers to people, e.g., moms and dads, which you are biologically related or people with whom you have special bonds.



9, House vs. Home


A “house” is a physical property. By contrast, a “home” has wider meanings – It can be your company, your little apartment, your hometown, or a place where you feel like you are part of it.


Example: House prices in this city are dropping significantly/ We call this town home because that is where we grew up.



10, Wage vs. Salary


Wage and salary can both be a source of income. “Wage” is often calculated by hour and applied to seasonal, short-term workers. However, “salary” is a monthly source of income paid to you by your employer and this amount is stated in your work contract.


Example: The labor union is calling for an increase in minimum wage to 15 dollars per hour/ In this city, many people spend up to half of their salary on rent.



Are there other pairs of words that you struggle to differentiate? Please comment below and we will offer you some thoughts!



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