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- The present is a good time to present the present.
PRESent (“now”) and PRESent (“gift”) are both stressed on the first syllable, but preSENT (“to give”) is stressed on the second syllable. In all cases the s sounds like z – which is why we sometimes call a gift a prezzie!
- In HRM, it’s vital not to let personnel problems affect your personal life.
personNEL (Dutch “personeel”) is stressed on the last syllable, but PERSonal (Dutch “persoonlijk”) is stressed on the first syllable.
- Two trainees would be too difficult to cope with, too.
Two, to and too all sound the same, but many people get the spelling of too wrong – remember, too means “additionally” or “more than enough” – and has the extra o to prove it!
- Wearing protective lead clothing, the LED lighting team were led into the laboratory by the leading expert in the field.
The name of the metal lead rhymes with bed and is easily confused with led, the past tense of lead “to lead”, which rhymes with need. LED (light-emitting diode) is spelt out in English pronunciation: ell-ee-DEE.
- I understand they’re now trying to get their business plan together there.
They’re (“they are”), their and there all sound the same.
- The principal problem was that the principal players in the project insisted on sticking to principles.
Principal can be an adjective (bijvoeglijk naamwoord) meaning “main” or a noun (zelfstandig naamwoord) meaning “head of a college or firm”, or “sum of money”. These should not be confused with the noun principle (“basic idea”), which sounds the same but is spelt differently.
- If the button on your jacket is loose, there is a good chance you will lose it.
Loose (“not tight”) sounds like the Dutch name Loes, and rhymes with goose (with a sharp s). It is often confused with lose “to no longer have, to fail to win”, which rhymes with booze and cruise.
And if you’re wondering whether the past tense of “to spell” is spelt or spelled, it depends on whether you’re writing British or American English: the British tend to use spelt, the Americans spelled.
Don’t forget, if you have any questions about English usage that have been bothering you, let us know and we’ll see if we can answer them!