There are a lot of words in English that seem to be the same – and in fact they are very similar – but we use them in different ways.
Here are 5 pairs of words my students have asked me about. To learn more, check out my e-book on 600+ Confusing Words.
deem / regard
There’s not much difference in meaning between deem and regard – both mean that something is considered or believed to be a certain way. In fact, the dictionary gives “regard as” as one of the definitions for “deem”!
Note that “deem” doesn’t use “as”:
- This restaurant is deemed excellent.
= This restaurant is regarded as excellent.
In some cases, “deem” can imply pronouncing a judgement (like a decision), which is stronger than regard:
- The results were deemed inaccurate. (= they were examined and decided to be inaccurate)
- The results were regarded as inaccurate (= many people believe they are inaccurate, but it still might be possible that they’re not)
elder / older
Elder and older mean the same thing, but “older” is much more common.
- John is my elder brother.
= John is my older brother.
“Elder” can only be used with people (never objects) – and it is most often used with relatives: “my elder brother,” “my eldest daughter,” etc. It can only be used before the person (ex. “elder brother”; but never “He is three years elder than me.”)
If in doubt, just use “older” because it’s more common and can be used in more situations.
“Elder” can also be a noun referring to “older people,” for example:
- In my culture, we always respect our elders.
“Elderly people” and “the elderly” can also be used to talk about older adults in general (usually 70+ years old). These are more polite than saying “old people.”
loyal / faithful
Both loyal and faithful describe someone who is devoted to a person/country/cause/belief, and who can be trusted and relied upon. There are some situations in which we tend to prefer one over the other.
We tend to say a person is loyal to their country or company, if they have always supported it and acted in its best interests. You can also describe a friend as loyal if he/she has been a good and supportive friend for a long time. The opposite of loyal is disloyal.
We tend to use faithful when talking about romantic partners – someone is faithful to their romantic partner if they have never cheated (kissed or had sex with someone else). When someone has cheated on their romantic partner, we can say they were unfaithful to their husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend.
crush / squeeze
Both crush and squeeze refer to applying pressure to something. However, squeeze is a lighter pressure, and crush is so much pressure that it damages the object.
When I go to the supermarket, I might squeeze fruit with my hand to see if it’s ripe. When giving someone a hug, you squeeze their body with your arms. Pressure is applied, but no damage is done.
If I run my car over an object, that object would be crushed. If a giant rock falls on my hand and crushes it, it causes serious damage to my hand.
joke / prank
A joke is verbal – it is a story or a question and answer that is supposed to be funny. Comedians tell jokes and try to make the audience laugh.
A prank involves action – you set things up to put another person in a funny or embarrassing situation. An example of a prank might be switching the “push” and “pull” labels on a door, so that people can’t figure out how to open it. A prank can also be called a practical joke.
Learn more: wonder vs. wander