Many confusing verbs share similar uses with specific duties. Several pairs are explained with a handy infographic for visual assistance.
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Make or Do
Make: used when a physical object, an action/reaction or a sound/speech is created. It can also refer to food.
“My dad likes to make furniture.”
“Frogs make me laugh.”
“Chickens make clucking noises.”
“Suzie will make dinner.”
Do: used for jobs or activities and can be paired with words like “anything” or “something.” It is also used as generic action, such as “do the dishes” or “do my hair.”
“I need to do housework.”
“Before she can do anything, Betty needs to do her hair.”
Refuse vs Deny
Refuse: to decline to accept/give; unwillingness.
“The patient refused treatment.”
“I refuse to argue.”
Deny: declaring untruth, disagreement, to withhold or disown something, to reject or contradict.
“Most deny that the sky is orange.”
“He denied taking my cheeseburger.”
“The kids were denied a snack when they broke the lamp.”
Say vs Tell
Say: a verb usually used without an object. With an object, add “to.”
“She knew what to say to her sister.”
Tell: informs or instructs; usually, the person instructed immediately follows.
“Tell your brother to make his bed.”
“Please tell me where my shoes are.”
Stay or Remain
In most cases, these words are interchangeable.
“Audrey will stay/remain behind.”
“We decided to stay/remain in Peoria another week.”
Both words have also developed unique idiomatic uses.
“When she visits, she will stay with her aunt.” (temporary residence)
“Don’t stay out late.” (away from home)
“Though the team lost, fans remain loyal.” (continue in spite of)
“The crooks remain in custody.” (idiom requires both “remain” and “custody”)
Sit vs Seat vs Seated
Sit: a verb.
“Find somewhere to sit.”
“Most prefer to sit when they eat.”
Seated: a verb.
Incorrect: “Please wait to be sat.” “The waitress sat them.”
Correct: “Please wait to be seated.” “The waitress seated them.”
Seat: a verb and a noun.
“Please seat yourselves.”
“Please find a seat.”
Shall or Will
Traditionally, “shall” is coupled in future tense with first person “I” and “we.” “Will” is used for second and third person: you, he, she, they and it. To emphasize conviction, “shall” is used in second and third person, and “will” is used in first person.
“We shall take a walk.”
“He will go home when the movie is over.”
Both are simply action sentences.
“He shall do the dishes before he plays video games.” This shows conviction and says that Mom really wants those dishes done.
“I just bought a new dress; I will go to that dance if I have to crawl there.” The speaker is determined to get to that dance.
Tip: now that you have a headache, here is some encouragement. Some continue to use “shall,” but it is fading from even the most formal writing, and many experts feel it is not dying fast enough. If the shall/will rules have thrown you like a wild horse, use “will;” even if it is wrong according to the traditional rules, it is unlikely that anyone will challenge you.
Can you think of other verbs that have given you trouble?