My job as an English teacher is to answer my students’ questions. “What is the difference between WEAR and PUT ON?” is a great question. I’ve put together a complete answer, and now I’m happy to share it with you too.
Here is an easy way to think of the difference between WEAR and PUT ON.
The verb wear describes a condition, or it is something you do often. (to have something on your body as a piece of clothing, a decoration, etc.)
The phrasal verb put on is an action. (to dress yourself in something)
Wear and put are both irregular verbs, using them correctly in different verb tenses can be tricky. Keep reading the post and all your questions will be answered. There’s even a video for you to improve your English listening skills.
One of my students and I were practicing a conversation from a textbook, the conversation was about a snowboarding lesson. In the textbook example, the snowboarding school said: “You need to wear a helmet during the lesson.”
My student asked me “Could you also say you need to put on a helmet?”
WEAR and PUT ON seem to have similar meanings but are they used the same way?
What do you think? Can we use them the same way?
Let’s look at the definitions and see if we can find the answer. The definitions are from Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.com
wear – verb – wear something to have something on your body as a piece of clothing, a decoration, etc.
- She was wearing a new coat.
- Do I have to wear a tie?
- Was she wearing her seatbelt?
- He wore glasses.
- All delegates must wear a badge.
- She always wears black.
put on – phrasal verb – to dress yourself in something
- Hurry up and put your coat on. We’re going to miss the train.
- I like these boots but they are not easy to put on.
- Put on your seatbelts everyone.
Let’s apply the meanings to my student’s question.
You must wear a helmet = You must have a helmet on
You must put on a helmet = You must dress yourself in a helmet
Here is the example from the textbook again
“You need to wear a helmet during the lesson.” What’s the important word here?
“You need to wear a helmet during the lesson.”
During is a preposition that means all through a period of time
What’s the period of time in this sentence? It’s the lesson.
If the lesson is 30 minutes then during the lesson means for the whole 30 minutes.
If the lesson is an hour then during the lesson means for the whole hour.
Remember that wear is a condition or something you do often and put on is an action. You can have a helmet on for an hour but you wouldn’t dress yourself in a helmet for an hour.
“You need to wear a helmet during the lesson.” is the right answer. This is how we say this in natural English conversation.
Here are some natural examples using the phrasal verb put on.
- “You need to put on a helmet before the lesson starts.”
- “I’ll give you a ride on my motorcycle. Put on a helmet and let’s go!” (Do it now)
Wear or Put On Video
Review this grammar while you improve your English listening skills.
WEAR and PUT ON – Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of items can be used with the verbs wear and put on?
In English, we use these verbs with clothing items, jewelry and accessories, gloves, hats, scarves, and things like safety and sports equipment.
- Put on a helmet and I’ll take you on the construction site.
- You need to wear a hairnet in all food production areas.
- If you wear a ring on the ring finger of your left hand it shows that you are married.
- I’m almost ready. I just need to put my watch on and then we can go.
- It’s cold today, you should wear a scarf.
- Hockey players wear lots of pads to protect them during the game.
*This is much easier than in my second language, Japanese. In Japanese, there are different verbs for wearing clothes on your lower body, upper body, on your hands, on your head, and jewelry!
Is PUT ON a separable phrasal verb?
Put on is a separable phrasal verb. This means that you can put a word in between the verb and the preposition. You can separate them.
“Put a scarf on before you leave. It’s cold today.”
“Put your seatbelts on everyone.”
What is the opposite of the phrasal verb put on?
The opposite of put on is take off.
“Please take off your coat and stay awhile.”
Take off is also a separable phrasal verb –
“Please take your coat off and stay awhile.”
What are the past tense and past participle of wear?
Wear is an irregular verb. The past tense is wore and the past participle is worn.
What are the past tense and past participle of PUT?
Put is an irregular verb. The past tense and the past participle are both put.
You will find full verb conjugation lists with examples below.
Verb conjugation of WEAR and PUT ON (with examples)
Infinitive to wear
- “You have to wear a uniform at our school.”
Present simple wear
- “I wear a suit to work.”
Present simple third-person singular wears
- “Dennis wears a suit to work.”
For a complete study of this grammar visit my blog post: Third-Person Singular・Your complete Guide (PDF＋Quiz)
Past simple wore
- “I wore my blue shirt yesterday.”
Past Participle worn
- “He has worn that hat every day since he was 15.”
Present continuous wearing
- “I am wearing my lucky socks today.”
Future 1) just decided will wear
- “I will wear my dark blue suit to the wedding.”
Future 2) planned activity (to be) going to wear
- “I am going to wear my new suit to the wedding.”
For a deeper dive into future tense grammar visit my post: English Verbs – Future tense (Your helpful guide)
*Put on is a phrasal verb. The verb will change form for a phrasal verb the same way as the verb changes by itself.
Here is an example of phrasal verb conjugation:
Look into something – looks into something – looked into something – is looking into something
- BUT the verb PUT doesn’t change. Present, past simple, and past participle, are all PUT.
Infinitive to put
- “You need to put on a life jacket before you come on the boat.”
Present simple put
- “It’s almost 7:30. I better put on my school clothes, the bus will be here soon.”
Present simple third-person singular puts
- “When Ilsa puts on her makeup it takes a long time. I need the bathroom, please hurry!”
Past simple put
- “After I put on my Halloween costume I had to go pee.”
Past Participle put
- “These marks were put here by someone.” (There isn’t a natural way to use PUT ON in the past participle.)
Present continuous putting
- “William is putting on his raincoat now. He will be ready in one minute.”
Future 1) just decided will put
- “These shoes don’t match my dress. I will put on my boots instead.”
Future 2) planned activity (to be) going to put
- “I am going to put on a big smile, walk into my boss’ office, and quit.” (We can use PUT ON with facial expressions.)