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March 18, 2012

OK, I’m not sure if it’s exactly 80% of English learners who confuse these verbs – but it’s definitely a lot! Most of them have very similar meanings, but are used in different contexts.

close / shut

You can use both close and shut with doors and windows:

  • Please close the door.
  • I shut the window because it was getting cold.

With eyes and mouths, close is probably a little more common than shut (especially with mouth):

  • He closed his eyes and tried to sleep.
  • The dentist asked me to close my mouth.

When talking about a store, bank, post office, etc., use only close:

  • The bank closes at 4 PM.
  • What time does the post office close?

start / begin

You can use both start and begin for an activity:

  • I started playing the piano when I was 8 years old.
  • What time does the meeting start?
  • He’s beginning to read more advanced books in English.
  • We left the park when it began to rain.

When you turn on a car or vehicle, use “start”:

  • I had to call a mechanic because my car wouldn’t start.

In general, begin is used for more formal and more abstract ideas:

  • Scientists are studying how life began on earth.
  • World War II began in 1939.

end / finish

When something ends, it means it stops:

  • My English class ends at 7:30.
  • I ended my last relationship because I felt we had nothing in common.

When something finishes, it means it is completed:

  • She finished the test and gave it to the teacher.
  • We need to finish painting the house.

listen / hear

Hear is often used for the action that you do accidentally:

  • Did you hear that? It sounded like a gunshot!

Listen is often used for the action that you do intentionally:

  • I listened to the new CD.

There are some exceptions:

  • I heard (= listened to) an interesting show on the radio last night.

English Lessons at EspressoEnglish.net

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View all entries from Espresso English Blog >

06:23 AM Mar 22 2012


Hello friend,

Thank you for the friend request. Glad to meet you.:)

Have a nice day.


01:54 AM Mar 22 2012

United States

It's good for you to make a distinction in using these verbs.  Thanks for your instruction to help the students.

04:53 AM Mar 20 2012


Thanx a lot, very interesting. I've just realized that I used to confuse them when I began learning English. Just a kind reminder - in some cases we use SHUT YOUR MOUTH but of cos it's impolite::)