Top 5 Words Students Confuse

The Survey Says:

As educators, we know how complex the English language is for emerging readers. It’s inevitable that students mistake certain words for another.  ESGI and ThinkFives polled hundreds of teachers and these are the words that most often cause them to take out their red pens.

Its — It’s

San Francisco has an ice cream treat called It’s It.  We’d have to say it’s its best dessert.  Yep, It’s It is its.  Still with us or completely lost?  This pair of words is a perfect example of how a single apostrophe can make all the difference. And what is most confusing is that “its” is a possessive pronoun and many possessive words have apostrophes (Jim’s, the dog’s, etc.). 

  • It’s is a contraction for “it is.”  So every time you use “it’s” make sure you ask yourself, can I replace this with “it is?”  It’s (It is) a nice day. YES. It’s (It is) time has come. NO.
  • Its means belonging to it. The teacher put the book back on its shelf. 

Got its?

Your — You’re

This pair is another example of how a single apostrophe, coupled with the addition of one letter, can completely change the meaning of a word. Make sure you’re right about your intended meaning.

  • You’re is a contraction for you are. You’re an incredible teacher!
  • Your means belonging to you. I’m sure your students appreciate you very much.

You’re welcome, your majesty.

To — Too — Two

Now that you mastered the difference between two words, how about 3?

These three can be very confusing. They’re all pronounced exactly the same but used in completely different contexts. Teaching students how to differentiate to, too, and two will help students understand when the score is two to two, too.

  • To is a preposition or part of a verb infinitive. The student went to school to learn English.
  • Too means also or in addition. She would like the banana cream pie too.
  • Two refers to the number 2. The two students ran to the playground during recess.

This is all two too much, too.

Dessert — Desert

If the genie (or parent) says you can get anything you want, don’t get these words confused.  You would much rather have a cherry-topped ice cream sundae than a bucket of sand.  These two words look similar but have very different meanings and pronunciations. One we can eat and one – well not so much.  And to complicate things, the one you can’t eat has another meaning too.  In other words, two words and three meanings.

  • Dessert means the sweet foods that we usually eat. My stomach has a special compartment for dessert.
  • Desert (noun) is a large dry area, often full of sand dunes.
  • Desert (verb) means to leave or abandon — like — please don’t desert me here in the Kindergarten room. And it’s not pronounced like the sandy place but instead like the ice cream thing. Confused?  I am.

The only way I remember it is that if I had my way I’d always have two desserts — and that means two “ss.”

I won’t desert a desert dessert.  Would you?

There Their They’re

If there wasn’t confusion enough with one “there” how about three of them?  Coming in at #1 as the words teachers think students confuse the most is the triplet:  there, their and they’re.  One is an adverb, another a possessive pronoun and the final is a contraction.

  • There” is a place, like over there. 
  • Their” is a possessive, like it is their turn.
  • And “they’re” is contraction, like they’re trying to confuse me.

And yes we agree, It’s not our there, it’s their there where they’re.

Honorable Mentions?

Ask teachers (we did) and you’ll find there are many more.  How about these:

  • were –  where
  • me – my
  •  of – off
  • are – our
  • hear – here
  • an – and
  • threw – through
  • by – bye

Source: ESGI-ThinkFives Survey

Do you have words your students confuse?  Comment below.


What do you THINK?

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