Easily confused words for IELTS

Many IELTS candidates (and quite a few native-speakers) confuse the words ‘conscious’ and ‘conscience’, as well as words connected to them. As you will see from the explanation below, it is quite a complicated situation. However, these words are complex and if you can recognise them and use them correctly, it can have a very positive effect on your IELTS grade.

Words connected with CONSCIOUS

a) conscious (adj) = to notice; to be aware; to understand a situation


1. Many of us have recently become conscious of the need to use less plastic. 2. In this electronic age, politicians are conscious of the fact that they need to look attractive and be relatively photogenic in order to get elected.

b) conscious (adj) = to be awake, thinking and using your senses. The opposite is to be ‘unconscious’


1. Although I had quite a few injuries, I was still conscious when the police arrived so I managed to tell them exactly what happened.

2. Something dreadful happened! My sister fell down the stairs and hit her head. When we arrived she was unconscious and we had to rush her to hospital. Thank goodness she’s recovered.

c) fashion-conscious (adj); health-conscious (adj) = to think that an issue is important or to worry a lot about it


1. Although many of us claim to be health-conscious and take regular exercise or go to the gym, our diet remains incredibly poor and we lack some basic and essential nutrients.

2. It is worrying that so many youngsters are fashion-conscious these days. What they wear and how they look seem more important to them than anything else.

d) unconscious (adj) = unaware (of your own thoughts)


1. Psychoanalysts often claim that we have an unconscious desire to please our parents and that much of our behaviour is motivated by this goal.

e) subconscious (adj) = connected to the deepest desires, fears etc. in your mind; these are feelings which you do not usually understand or have access to


1. Advertisers try to affect our behaviour at a subconscious level. They attempt to make us purchase the product they are selling by appealing directly to fears and wishes hidden deep within our minds.


‘unconscious’ and ‘subconscious’ in d) and e) have a very similar meaning. If you struggle to see the difference, don’t worry! In most cases either word will be acceptable. The focus of ‘unconscious’ is on not knowing why we behave in a particular way. The focus of ‘subconscious’ is on not knowing that we behave in a particular way because of our deepest fears, desires etc.

The nouns ‘the unconscious’ and ‘the subconscious’ also exist. They refer to the parts of the brain or mind which we do not understand and do not have access to.

f) consciousness (noun) = understanding; awareness


1. Working for a charity has really raised my consciousness about the difficulties faced by the homeless.

2. It is often argued that many men simply have no consciousness of gender issues.

Words connected with CONSCIENCE

a) A conscience (noun) = the part of your mind which judges you morally and causes you to feel guilty if you have acted immorally or done something wrong


1. People who treat others badly sometimes suffer from a guilty conscience. 2. I have a completely clear conscience: I’ve done nothing to be ashamed of.

b) conscientious (adj) = to take your work or duties seriously; to do your work carefully and with a lot of effort


1. Conscientious students tend to do well academically.

2. Airline pilots need to be extremely conscientious: attention to detail and a willingness to carry out all safety procedures diligently and thoroughly are essential qualities.

c) conscientiously (adv) = with seriousness, care and effort


1. Anyone unable to work conscientiously should not be in the nursing profession.

d) A conscientious objector (noun) = a person who refuses to fight in an army because of her/his religious or moral beliefs that violence is wrong.


1. Many conscientious objectors have had to go to prison for their beliefs. Some have even been executed.