Commonly Confused Words

Commonly Confused Words

We’ve collected some questions from teachers about how to teach commonly confused words. The questions and answers are below.

Awhile or a while?

Question:

A student recently asked me to settle a bet. He thought that the following sentence should use awhile—one word, while his sister thought it should be a while—two words. Take off your coat and stay awhile.

Answer:

A good way to remember this is that awhile is an adverb meaning “for a while.” In this context while is a noun, therefore it sometimes needs an article a, as when it is the object of a preposition. The same sentence using a while: Take off your coat and stay for a while. In short, your student is right, but his sister can use a while to mean the same thing by adding for. A good rule of thumb: for a while= awhile For a while is an adverb phrase, or a prepositional phrase functioning as an adverb. That means it modifies a verb. Awhile is an adverb; it modifies a verb. Both of the following sentences are correct: Let’s linger awhile after dinner. or Let’s linger for a while after dinner.

Lie and Lay

Question:

I sometimes use lie and lay incorrectly. Can you clear up my confusion? Then I’ll be able to clear up my students’ confusion!

Answer:

The verb lay—with the principal parts lay (present), laid (past), and laid (past participle)—demands a direct object in a sentence. In the sentence She laid down the glass, for example, the glass is the receiver of the action. On the other hand, the verb lie—with the principal parts lie (present), lay (past), and lain (past participle)—never takes a direct object. In the sentence She lay down and napped or Robert has lain down, for example, there is no receiver of the action.

Raise and Rise

Question:

Even after instruction, my students still confuse raise and rise. Is there an easy way to help them understand how to use these verbs?

Answer:

When deciding between these two words, determine the correct choice by asking yourself a couple of questions. Does it go up by its own power? If the answer is yes, then you should use the word rise. Does someone or something else cause it to go up? If the answer to this question is yes, then you should use the word raise. Teach students to ask these two questions and they’ll have it.