I haven’t written about vocabulary in a while and my recent full immersion courses made me realise I should perhaps address some commonly confused words for English learners like yourselves. They are words my clients this summer asked me to clarify for them. So let’s take a look at some of them.

Commonly Confused Words

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1. work and job

work: We can use “work” as a noun and as a verb. In this situation, I’m looking at “work” as a noun which is what confuses my learners.

We do not use “work” to talk about someone’s specific position with a company. “Work” is used to talk about a non-specific activity.

We use “work” with the following expressions: go to work, get to work, arrive at work, get off work, leave work, finish work, and take time off work. We cannot use “job” with these expressions.

I have a lot of work to do tomorrow  (non-specific).

We managed to get all the work done in time for the launch.

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job: “Job” is more specific than work. We use “job” to talk about the specific activity you do to earn money.

My job is too stressful, so I’m looking for another one. 

I have to do two jobs just to earn enough money to look after my family.

Collocations with jobs:  apply for a job, quit your job, get a job, find a job, offer someone a job, have a job.

Job also refers to a specific piece of work you have to do.

Let’s get to work people. We have a job to do. (note we use “work” in the first sentence but “job” in the second because it’s specific)


2. client and customer

This often confuses native speakers too.

customer: A “customer” is someone who pays money in exchange for a product or service.

Our shop has a reputation for selling quality products and it’s for that reason we have many loyal customers.

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A “client” is similar to a customer, but we use “client” for professional services and when there is a longer relationship between the buyer and seller. For example, a lawyer would have clients, but an owner of a convenience store would have “customers.”

When he started his job selling insurance, it was difficult to find clients.

(Source: Business English Resources)


3. meeting and reunion

These two words are often confused by my Italian and French clients where the word “reunion” means “meeting” in English. Here’s how we use these words in English.

meeting: A “meeting” is when people come together or meet, usually to talk about a specific topic or topics.

We have a meeting next Friday with the entire finance department to discuss next year’s budget.

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reunion: A “reunion” is an event that happens so people who haven’t seen each other in a long time can see each other again (a family reunion, a high school reunion, etc.).

We have a family reunion every couple of years so that we can see our extended family members who we haven’t seen in a long time.

(Source: Business English Resources)


4. history and story

Another false friend for my French, Spanish and Italian clients.

history: We use “history” to talk about a chronological collection of events that has happened over time and refers to the past (the history of a the world, a person’s medical history, the history of the Vikings, Middle Eastern history, etc.).

Our company has a long history of working closely with the local community.

Our family history dates back to the Industrial Revolution.

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story: A “story” is a description of an event or series of events (real or fake) and is often told to engage an audience, entertain a listener or share an experience.

His story about how he built his company is inspiring.

If you start your presentation with a story, you will engage your audience much more quickly.


5. safety and security

These two words really cause much confusion among my clients and it’s understandable because they are quite similar.

safety: “safety” is the opposite of “danger.” We use “safety” to describe a condition of being protected from danger, risk or injury. Think “health and safety”. Safety is the protection against accidental damage.

We take the safety of our passengers very seriously.

Please make sure you read the heath and safety regulations in the Employees’ Handbook.

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security: We use “security” to describe the state of being free from danger or threat. Think “airport security”, “national security”. Security is the protection against intentional damage (in other words, damage that is done deliberately – terrorist, burglars, armed robbers) Think “security guards”.

There is always a lot of security around the City of London when the Prime Minister has a meeting at the Bank of England.

Our work is highly sensitive which means we need to maintain tight security at all times.


6. appointment and date

appointment: We use “appointment” when we arrange to meet someone at a specific time and place (a doctor’s appointment, an appointment with a client, etc.).  Verbs that regularly go with “appointment” are: keep, make, cancel, postpone, have

I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow at 2 PM.

We need to make an appointment with the architect to go through the plans.

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date: We use “date” to talk about events with two people who have a romantic relationship or might  have a romantic relationship.Think “blind date”.  Although, we do not use “date” for non-romantic engagements, we can sometimes use it to refer to family members.
My wife and I went to the movies on our first date.

I have a special date with my nephew this weekend. I haven’t seen him in ages and it will be good to catch up. (It’s not romantic but there is affection)

Sometimes, you’ll hear people say, “I have a date this weekend with my sofa, a box of chocolates and some chick flicks!” This suggests an emotional tie with those objects and it’s said with humour.


7. anticipate and bring forward

This is often confused by my Italian  clients where the word “anticipate” means to “bring forward” for example in meetings.
They will use “we anticipated the meeting to Tuesday instead of Friday” when what they mean to use is “we brought forward the meeting …”

anticipate: We use “anticipate” to refer to things that we think are going to happen, we’re excited about something enjoyable is going to happen soon or to guess that something will happen and be ready for it. Let’s look at an example for each:

We anticipate that sales will fall slightly in the fourth quarter.

Apple fans around the world have been eagerly anticipating the launch of the Iphone 7.

We anticipated there would be a last- minute rush for tickets so we released more.

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bring forward: We use “bring forward” when we talk about meetings or appointments that have been arranged and you need to move them to an earlier date. The opposite of “brought forward” is “postpone”.

The meeting is arranged for Friday but we need to bring it forward to Tuesday.


8. nervous and irritated (adjectives)

nervous: We use “nervous” when we are worried, slightly afraid about something. It’s not to be confused with “irritated” which is what confuses my clients.

You could be nervous about an upcoming interview

You could be nervous when you have to drive on icy roads

You could be nervous when you’re at the dentist

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irritated: In the above situations, you’re not irritated because if you are, you would be annoyed or impatient about something.

“I get so irritated when I am stuck in a traffic jam”.

NB: We often use “irritate” as the verb to mean to make someone feel annoyed or impatient.

“James’s inability to make decisions really irritates me” not makes me nervous

“His constant complaints irritate the hell out of me!” 


These are just some of the words that commonly confuse my clients and other English learners. I will come back to this subject at a later date and share more words with you.

If in the meantime you are confused by some English words, drop me a line in the comments box and I’ll clarify their meaning for you. If you’d like me to write another post about other words that confuse you, let me know and I’ll make a list.

Like this post and think others could benefit from it? Then please share it with your friends and colleagues.

Ciao for now


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