1. Real/Really – Real is an adjective meaning “true” or “in fact. It is used to describe nouns. Really is an adverb (clue: Most, but not all, words ending in -ly are adverbs) meaning “to a great extent”; therefore, it is used to describe verbs. Hmmm….but adverbs can also be used to describe nouns or other adverbs. What you really want to avoid is using real when you mean really.
Is this a real diamond?
Is she really going out with him?
I did really well. (really describes the adverb well)
This is really beautiful. (really describes the adjective beautiful).
I did real well. (Incorrect: adjectives don’t describe adverbs)
This is real pretty. (Incorrect…use really. Means to what extent? How pretty?)
2. Regretful/Regrettable – Regretful means full of regret. Regrettable means to be regretted. People are usually regretful, but circumstances are regrettable. Here are some examples:
I am regretful that I didn’t study harder as a kid.
It is regrettable that I didn’t make better use of my education.
3. Respectfully/Respectively – These two words are entirely different. Respectfully means full of respect. Respectively means in the order given.
Please respectfully stand when the national anthem is played.
My favorite colors are blue, green, and red, respectively. (Blue, and then green, and then red.)
4. Rise/Raise – Refer back to lay and lie for this one.It is the same rule. Rise is intransitive and has no direct object. However, raise has a direct object. In other words, you must raise something:
Please raise the flag when I give the instructions.
I watch the sun rise from my balcony every morning.
Note: The past tense of raise is raised. Past participle is has/have raised. The past tense of rise is rose. Part participle is has/have risen.
5. Say/Tell – Well, although it is difficult to describe, there is a difference that is pretty easy for those of us who are native English speakers. Saying is like speaking. Telling usually involves saying something to someone. Sometimes say doesn’t have a direct object. Tell generally does, and it often has an indirect object as well.
He told me a story. (He didn’t say me a story.) (Me is the indirect object, and story is the direct object.)
He said that he was going. (Said doesn’t really have a direct object; the whole clause the he was going is the object.)
Tell me the truth. (Don’t say me the truth. Me is the indirect object, and truth is the direct object.)
6. Shall/Will – Shall is pretty much gone from our language except in very formal writing. If you want to use shall, use it with first person pronouns only (I,we); use will for second (you) and third (he/she/it) person. In cases where you want to want to appear determined or for special emphasis, turn it around. Use will for first person and shall for second and third person.
I shall go to the movies. You will go to the movies. He will go to the movies.
I will overcome this obstacle. You shall overcome this obstacle. He shall overcome this obstacle.
For the colloquialism, shall we? or shall we dance?, however, we cannot use will. Imagine saying Will be dance? It has an entirely different meaning. Shall we dance means Let’s dance.
7. Shined/Shone – Both are acceptable past tenses of shine. However, shined is often used with a direct object and shone is not.
I shined my shoes.
The sun shone.
8. Sit/Set – Thesse two verbs are like lie/lay and rise/raise. One takes a direct object and the other does not. In this case, set needs a direct object. You must set something. Note also that set is the same in the past tense and the past participle (has or have set).
Set your book down on the table.
Sit in this chair.
9. Sole/Soul – There are several meanings for these words:
Sole is a fish – I ate fillet of sole.
Sole is he bottom of your foot – My sole hurts in these shoes.
Sole means alone – She is the sole person living in this big house.
Soul means a person or the spiritual essence of a person: Don’t tell a soul! I love you with my heart and soul.
10. Sometimes/Sometime/Some Time – These three are all different, although slightly.
Sometimes means some of the time – Sometimes I like to eat candy all day.
Sometime means at some future time – You will have to come over to my house sometime soon.
Some time means just what it says – I have some time to spend with you tomorrow afternoon.