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Common Error: "use" vs. "wear"

What are these mannequins wearing? (Image Credit)
Hello again, and welcome to Mistake Monday! Today’s post is technically related to vocabulary, but since it’s still a common problem for my students, I decided to include it in the Common Errors section. Last week we talked about using the phrase “used to” for customs, as in “I used to be a little boy” or “I am used to waking up late.” There is another problem that is related to the word “use,” and I mainly notice the problem when people are describing clothing. Take a look:

Common Error: “use” vs. “wear”
DON’T say this: Today I am using a jeans, a shirt color blue, and tennis.
He’s easy to find in a group of people because he always uses a big hat.
WHY? -Remember that we can say the word “use” if we’re utilizing an object for a specific purpose. The word “use” is normally combined with tools and other types of equipment, as in:

Use the key to open the door.
I use a special pan to make pancakes.

BUT, we don’t normally say “use” with clothing. There is a specific verb for clothes, and that verb is “wear.” The past of wear is worn, and the past participle is has/have worn. Here are a few examples:

To prevent sunburns, you should wear a hat and sunscreen while working outside.
The mean dog was wearing a collar with spikes, so we decided not to pet it.
The girl was used to wearing pants, and she had never worn a nice dress before she went to the formal dance.

Notice that we use wear even with things like sunscreen, makeup, shoes, and protective clothing. Basically, you can use the word wear for anything that you can put on your body.

On Wednesday and next Monday I’ll focus more on special words and phrases for clothing, such as plurals and descriptions of clothes.

INSTEAD, SAY THIS: -“Today I am wearing a pair of jeans, a blue shirt, and a pair of tennis shoes.”
-“He’s easy to find in a group of people because he always wears a big hat.”

Some common questions related to these words are:
-What do you usually wear?
-What are you wearing today?
-What do you wear to exercise / to go to work / to go out?

If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment or contact me. Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

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  1. AnnaLisa
    On March 5, 2012 at 7:43 pm Reply

    Maybe this one is a False Friend, too, because of the verb “usar.” (At least, that’s the verb I was taught for “to wear” by my Cuban and Colombian Spanish teachers. I suppose that could be a regional preference that doesn’t apply to your Costa Rican students..?)

  2. Sitzman
    On March 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm Reply

    Yes, excellent point! And yes, here they do say “usar” with clothes, which makes it more complicated. The confusion is compounded by the fact that “wear” and “where” are homophones, too, and for students who aren’t used to hearing “wear” as a verb, it throws a stick into the spokes of their Bicycle of Learning, haha!

    I wasn’t sure if I should include it with Common Errors or False Friends, but I think I have more ideas for the False Friends and vocabulary section, so I thought I’d put it here 🙂

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