Lucas Fink

TOEFL Tuesday: Vocabulary – Words that Trick You

This week, let’s talk about words that look like other words, and so can be confusing. You’ll notice that all of the four words I discuss are different parts of speech than the words they look like. For example, we’re talking about the verb “to mushroom,” not the noun “a mushroom.”

(to) Mushroom

This verb takes its meaning from the way mushrooms grow: quickly. Some large mushrooms appear in just one night!

So when we say that something “mushroomed,” we mean that it became very large or common very quickly. Here’s an example:

Since the invention of the smartphone, internet access across the world has mushroomed.

In other words, many people had internet access very suddenly. The number of people grew quickly!

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

(to be) Minute

This word is interesting because even the pronunciation is different than the more common noun (the short period of time). This adjective is pronounce “my-NOOT,” not “MIN-it.”

If an object or detail is minute, it is extremely small, possibly unnoticeable. Here’s an example:

Unfortunately for her students, the professor noticed even the most minute mistakes in essays that she graded.

Imagine that mistake is misspelling a word—writing “expereince” instead of “experience.” Switching the “i” and the “e” is a minute error in the essay.

(a) Medium

Although this looks like the word to describe a middle size, its meaning is completely separate. A medium is a way that communication or a process is completed. That’s pretty general, so let’s start with a specific usage that’s pretty common: art

The artist used finger paint as his medium to remind the viewer of childhood.

In that sentence, “finger paint” (using your fingers instead of a brush) is the way that the painter creates his art.

(to be) Novel

Once again, this word is unrelated to the word that it looks like—it’s not a book that tells a story. Instead, it is much closer to the Latin root word, which means “new.”

Usually, when we say something is “novel,” we mean that it’s not only new, but interesting and creative. Here’s an example sentence:

The scientist devoted her career to discovering novel uses for plastic that people threw away.

See More In Our Flashcard App

All four of those words—and 596 others—appear in our TOEFL flashcards. If you have an Android or iOS smartphone, you can get the app at and start studying those confusing TOEFL vocab words!


  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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