Commonly confused expressions

In the way and on the way

These expressions have different meanings. In the way or in my way is used to talk about obstacles – things that stop people from getting where they want to.

  • Please don’t stand in the door – you are in my way.

‘On the way’ or ‘on my way’ means ‘during the journey or movement’ or ‘coming’.

  • We had lunch on our way.
  • Summer is on the way. (= Summer is coming.)

Way of and means of

We do not use way of before a noun. Instead, we use means of or method of.

  • We tried all possible means of communication, but we couldn’t contact him. (NOT We tried all possible ways of communication, but we couldn’t contact him.)

Backward and backwards

The expressions backwards, forwards, northwards, outwards etc can only be used as adverbs.

  • Why are you moving backwards and forwards?

The expressions backward, forward, northward, outward etc can be used both as adjectives and as adverbs.

  • You can’t make a forward pass in rugby. (NOT You can’t make a forwards pass in rugby.) (Adjective modifying the noun pass)
  • Keep going upward and you will get to the top. OR Keep going upwards and you will get to the top. (Adverb modifying the verb going)

Used + infinitive and be used to + -ing

These structures have quite different meanings.

Compare:

  • I didn’t use to live in a big city. (= Once I didn’t live in a big city, but now I do.)
  • I wasn’t used to driving in a big city. (= Living in a big city was a new experience – I hadn’t done that before.)

Too and too much

Before adjectives without nouns and before adverbs we use too, not too much.

  • You are too kind to me. (NOT You are too much kind to me.)
  • He arrived too late. (NOT He arrived too much late.)

Too much is used before a noun.

  • There is too much noise. (NOT There is too noise.)
  • You have bought too much meat. (NOT You have bought too meat.)

At what time or what time

Prepositions are usually dropped before common expressions of time.

  • I am busy. Can you come another time? (More natural than ‘Can you come at another time?’)
  • What time does the train arrive? (More natural than ‘At what time does the train arrive?’
  • I won’t lose this time.

Surely and certainly

Surely does not usually mean the same as certainly. Compare:

  • You are certainly not going out in that old coat. (= I am certain that you are not going out in that old coat.)

Surely, you are not going out in that old coat? (= I will be surprised if you go out in that old coat.)

Such and so

Such is used before a noun with or without an adjective.

  • She is such a beautiful woman.
  • She is such a lady.

So is used before an adjective without a noun or an adverb.

  • She is so beautiful. (NOT She is such beautiful.)

Difference between so and then

So and then can both be used to mean ‘since that is so’. There is a slight difference. So is used when the same speaker wants to connect two ideas.

Both so and then can be used when one speaker replies to another.

Compare:

  • ‘I will need the car, so I think you will have to hire a taxi.’ (NOT I will need the car then I think you will have to hire a taxi.) (One speaker)
  • ‘I will need the car.’ ‘So / then I think I will have to hire a taxi.’ (Two speakers)
  • ‘He isn’t ready yet, so we will have to go without him.’ (One speaker)
  • ‘He isn’t ready yet.’ ‘Then / so we will have to go without him.’ (Two speakers)
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