TOEIC Vocabulary and Words : Understanding Common Confusing

toeic vocabulary words

It’s not easy to understand TOEIC Vocabulary and Words!

Like any exam, TOEIC has many pitfalls and common mistakes that are frequently made by its test-takers. This article will help you understand confusing words that may be present on the exam. Let’s start with understanding more complex word sets in the English Language: homonyms.


TOEIC Words : Homonyms

Maybe you have heard of this word category before: a homonym. The word homonym comes from the Greek words ‘homos’, meaning ‘of the same’, and ‘numon’, meaning name. Homonyms are words that have the same ‘name’ (spelled the same) or that sound the same in speech, but that have a different meaning. For example: a pitcher can mean the athlete in a baseball game who throws the ball, or it can mean the large glass container from which you serve drinks (a pitcher of beer). Homonyms have two sub-types: homographs and homophones. In homograph, the ‘-graph’ refers to the Greek ‘grapho’, which means ‘to write’, and in homophone the ‘-phone’ refers to the Greek word ‘phone’, meaning ‘voice’. Can you guess what these different categories mean?

A homograph is a word that is spelled the same, but has a different meaning. These words can have the same or a different pronunciation. For example, a bat can refer to the animal, or to a piece of sports equipment (a baseball bat). Another classic example is lead, which can mean to lead or to guide someone, or lead which is the heavy metallic material. Despite being written the same, lead and lead are pronounced differently (/liːd/ and /lɛd/).

A homophone is a word that is spelled differently and has a different meaning, but pronounced the same in speech. Two classic examples are two, meaning the number 2, and to, such as in ‘to do something’. Despite being spelled differently, their pronunciation is the same (unlike with lead and lead from the previous example).


TOEIC Words : Homographs

These words are confusing because they could change the meaning of a sentence completely. In these instances, it is important to understand the context of the sentence. If we take the last example of ‘pitcher’, we can make the following sentence; “the pitcher caught the ball before it hit the ground”. With relative ease, you can assess which definition of ‘pitcher’ we are talking about in this example. Can a large drinks container catch a ball? Or is it more logical that an athlete called the ‘pitcher’ caught a ball in a sports event?

Sometimes though, even the context is difficult to determine. Take this sentence as an example; “The politician forgot to address the housing shortage to the press”. You may see the words ‘address’, and ‘house’, so you might think this sentence regards someone’s living location, or their ‘mailing address’ (like a street name and house number). But the second definition of address is to ‘point something out in a conversation’, or to ‘address’ a topic. In this instance, ‘address’ becomes a verb, not a noun. The sentence means; “The politician forgot to mention the housing shortage to the press”.


TOEIC Words :Homophones

As mentioned, homographs are in the written form. But also in speech there are homonyms, called homophones. Think of the words right and write, for example. Despite being written differently (and have a different meaning), if you speak them out loud, they sound the same. Homographs are mostly important for the reading and writing aspect of the TOEIC exams, and homophones will be mostly important for listening and speaking sections.

Two common examples of homophones are plain and plane. Plain refers to something that is simple or bland. Plane is the shorter name for ‘airplane’, and is the mode of transportation used to travel long distances by air. If someone is wearing a ‘plain shirt’, it does not mean a shirt with a pattern of little airplanes on it, but a shirt that is simple or undecorated. This may sound obvious in text, but can be confusing in speech. Similarly, there are the words bare and bear, one meaning ‘naked’ and the other referring to the large wild animal. When saying someone ‘cleaned up the trash with his bare hands’, it doesn’t mean that the person cleaning up the trash has the ‘hands of a bear’, but it means they did it with their naked hands.


Solving TOEIC Homonyms

Solving for a homonym can be tricky, but there are some steps you can take to identify and understand homonyms in a sentence.

  1. Verb or noun?
    There are many homonyms that in one definition are a verb, and in the other a noun. Take the two classic homonyms: lead (to lead someone, providing guidance) and lead (the heavy metallic element). Identifying the verbs and the nouns in a sentence can make it easier to spot the homonyms, and get rid of any illogical definitions.
  2. Synonyms
    Synonyms are practically the opposite of a homonym; it is a word that is spelled entirely differently, or sounds entirely differently, but that has the same meaning as another word. For example, a jug is another word for the previously mentioned pitcher (drinks container). Replacing the words in a sentence with synonyms may help you understand the sentence better.
  3. Context
    Not all homonyms are verbs in one definition, and nouns in the other. Sometimes two homonyms may both be verbs, or both nouns. In our last example of the pitcher, although the meaning is different, both the athlete pitcher and drinks container pitcher are nouns. This is why it is important to understand and figure out the context of a sentence when trying to identify homonyms and to find the correct meaning of the sentence.Context is the circumstances that create a certain narrative, or set of events, that tells a bigger story. Lucky for us, sentences are usually part of a larger text, and with this previous information we can understand the context of a sentence. If the story regards a baseball game, the definition of pitcher is most likely the athlete.
  4. Adjectives
    If a context is not immediately clear when writing (more difficult in reading however), you can use adjectives to help the reader understand the definition of the homonym. An adjective is a describing word, it describes certain attributes of a noun. For example, colors are often used as adjectives (the blue car). Using adjectives together with the homonym may help you visualise the correct definition of the word. For example; “the famous pitcher caught the ball” and “the glass pitcher was filled with beer”.


Learning English isn’t easy, and it may take some time to fully understand the ins and outs of homonyms and other complex English word structures. It is recommended to practice using and identifying homonyms often in order to gain a better understanding. Increasing your vocabulary and reading/viewing English language guides may help you understand this aspect of the English language more. Just remember, learning any language takes time, but it certainly is possible!



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