Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

English traps how to avoid

Ugh do you ever get frustrated when things get tangled and you have to unravel them?

For example, maybe your headphones always get tangled and you have to unravel them.

Do you find certain words such as “unravel” to be confusing in English?

We’re going to look at confusing words and traps in the English language to make sure that you can keep connecting!


Here’s a question from a listener:


Hi, Lindsay

I have a question.

I can’t understand the difference between “ravel” and “unravel”.

I guess the prefix “un” means “the opposite of something”, but I think “ravel” and “unravel” don’t mean the opposite.

It’s very confusing to me.

I appreciate your help.

Thank you.


Keishu Tachibana


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Breaking It Down One Part At A Time

This focuses on something that can be confusing for many of us.

When you look it up, the dictionary says that ravel is a synonym AND antonym of unravel!

Basically, it means to untangle something OR to tangle something!

Ravel also can be a noun–“a tangle or complication”

No wonder this is confusing, even to natives this is a lot to handle.


Focusing On Everyday Usage

Most people don’t say “ravel” in everyday conversations.

This is perhaps where a lot of the confusion comes into play.

Most people would tend to say unravel or untangle in their conversations.

What we’re focusing on right now is talking about something being physically tangled, and you are trying to work at untangling it.

There are other ways to say untangle which include:

  • Undo
  • Unwind
  • Untie


When Some Words Mean Different Things

What we really want to take some time with today is this –words that sound like they mean one thing but mean the opposite or something else.

Why is this important to know?

So often when we are learning, we pick up patterns along the way.

We use prefixes and suffixes to make guesses about words and this is SO great and very helpful.

However, there are some instances where a word seems easy to guess but it’s actually wrong.

So why learn the patterns?

It’s a pretty surefire way to guess a word, but it’s not 100 percent.

As you progress and get to this more advanced level, you can learn some of the words that confuse even native speakers.

It’s a challenge, but one that will really pay off!


Putting This Challenge Into Action

Once you learn about these words, it helps to advance your comprehension and your speaking.

Do remember that these are words that challenge even native speakers.

It’s something that may be difficult at first, but it will improve your vocabulary.

Here are a few good examples to begin this aspect of grasping the language.

  • Invaluable: Sounds like it means NOT valuable, but it actually means greater than valuable
    • “I had a lot of valuable jewelry that was lost in the fire, but nothing is as invaluable as my life.”
  • Infamous: Means famous in a bad way
    • “Donald Trump is infamous for tweeting at all times of the day and night.”
  • Disinterested: Means unbiased
    • “I’m not picking anything, I’m disinterested. You choose.” (You are using uninterested to say that you’re not interested at all.
  • Inflammable: Means careful!
    • “That chemical is highly inflammable!” (this one could be dangerous)
  • Irregardless: Don’t use this word, instead use “regardless”
    • “I’m still glad I participated because I got a chance to meet so many nice people.”

These are just a few examples that can help to elevate your language and comprehension.

Keep practicing and have fun with this challenge!



Just because you think  you know the meaning based on a prefix doesn’t make it 100 percent correct.

This is a good way to keep you on your toes as you learn more and more.

Keep questioning everything even when you are at the level where you want to be.

This is how you learn and progress in a new language and culture.

There is always something new to learn–and this is how you make connections and integrate into a new culture!


If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can. 

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