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Summary : Confusables Words that sound alike or nearly alike but have different meanings often cause writers and speakers trouble. Here are a few of the most common pairs with correct definitions and examples:
Words that sound alike or nearly alike but have different meanings often cause writers and speakers trouble. Here are a few of the most common pairs with correct definitions and examples:
He accepts defeat well.
EXCEPT-to take or leave out
Please take all the books off the shelf except for the red one.
Lack of sleep affects the quality of your work.
EFFECT-n., result, v., to accomplish
The subtle effect of the lighting made the room look ominous.
Can the university effect such a change without disrupting classes?
A LOT (two words)-many.
ALOT (one word)-Not the correct form.
ALLUSION-an indirect reference
The professor made an allusion to Virginia Woolf's work.
ILLUSION-a false perception of reality
They saw a mirage: that is a type of illusion one sees in the desert.
Dinner was all ready when the guests arrived.
ALREADY-by this time
The turkey was already burned when the guests arrived.
Altogether, I thought that the student's presentation was well planned.
ALL TOGETHER-gathered, with everything in one place
We were all together at the family reunion last spring.
APART-to be separated
The chain-link fence kept the angry dogs apart. OR My old car fell apart before we reached California.
A PART-to be joined with
The new course was a part of the new field of study at the university. OR A part of this plan involves getting started at dawn.
The plane's ascent made my ears pop.
The martian assented to undergo experiments.
BREATH-noun, air inhaled or exhaled
You could see his breath in the cold air.
BREATHE-verb, to inhale or exhale
If you don't breathe, then you are dead.
CAPITAL-seat of government. Also financial resources.
The capital of Virginia is Richmond.
The firm had enough capital to build the new plant.
CAPITOL-the actual building in which the legislative body meets
The governor announced his resignation in a speech given at the capitol today.
CITE-to quote or document
I cited ten quotes from the same author in my paper.
The sight of the American flag arouses different emotions in different parts of the world.
SITE-position or place
The new office building was built on the site of a cemetary.
COMPLEMENT-noun, something that completes; verb, to complete
A nice dry white wine complements a seafood entree.
COMPLIMENT-noun, praise; verb, to praise
The professor complimented Betty on her proper use of a comma.
CONSCIENCE-sense of right and wrong
The student's conscience kept him from cheating on the exam.
I was conscious when the burglar entered the house.
COUNCIL-a group that consults or advises
The men and women on the council voted in favor of an outdoor concert in their town.
The parole officer counseled the convict before he was released.
ELICIT-to draw or bring out
The teacher elicited the correct response from the student.
The Columbian drug lord was arrested for his illicit activities.
The eminent podiatrist won the Physician of the Year award.
IMMANENT-inherent or intrinsic
The meaning of the poem was immanent, and not easily recognized.
IMMINENT-ready to take place
A fight between my sister and me is imminent from the moment I enter my house
ITS-of or belonging to it
The baby will scream as soon as its mother walks out of the room.
IT'S-contraction for it is
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
LEAD-noun, a type of metal
Is that pipe made of lead?
LED-verb, past tense of the verb "to lead"
She led the campers on an over-night hike.
LIE-to lie down (a person or animal. hint: people can tell lies)
I have a headache, so I'm going to lie down for a while.
(also lying, lay, has/have lain--The dog has lain in the shade all day; yesterday, the dog lay there for twelve hours).
LAY-to lay an object down.
"Lay down that gun, Bubba!" The sheriff demanded.
The town lay at the foot of the mountain.
(also laying, laid, has/have laid--At that point, Bubba laid the gun on the ground).
LOSE--verb, to misplace or not win
Mom glared at Mikey. "If you lose that new lunchbox, don't even think of coming home!"
LOOSE--noun, to not be tight; verb (rarely used)--to release
The burglar's pants were so loose that he was sure to lose the race with the cop chasing him.
While awaiting trial, he was never set loose from jail because no one would post his bail.
NOVEL-noun, a book that is a work of fiction. Do not use "novel" for nonfiction; use "book" or "work."
Mark Twain wrote his novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when he was already well known, but before he published many other works of fiction and nonfiction.
PASSED-verb, past tense of "to pass," to have moved
The tornado passed through the city quickly, but it caused great damage.
PAST-belonging to a former time or place
Who was the past president of Microsquish Computers?
Go past the fire station and turn right.
PRECEDE-to come before
Pre-writing precedes the rough draft of good papers.
PROCEED-to go forward
He proceeded to pass back the failing grades on the exam.
PRINCIPAL-adjective, most important; noun, a person who has authority
The principal ingredient in chocolate chip cookies is chocolate chips.
The principal of the school does the announcements each morning.
PRINCIPLE-a general or fundamental truth
The study was based on the principle of gravity.
QUOTE-verb, to cite
I would like to quote Dickens in my next paper.
QUOTATION-noun, the act of citing
The book of famous quotations inspired us all.
The accident was my fault because I ran into a stationary object.
My mother bought me stationery that was on recycled paper.
SUPPOSED TO-correct form for "to be obligated to" or "presumed to" NOT "suppose to"
SUPPOSE-to guess or make a conjecture
Do you suppose we will get to the airport on time? When is our plane supposed to arrive? We are supposed to check our bags before we board, but I suppose we could do that at the curb and save time.
THAN-use with comparisons
I would rather go out to eat than eat at the dining hall.
THEN-at that time, or next
I studied for my exam for seven hours, and then I went to bed.
THEIR-possessive form of they
Their house is at the end of the block.
THERE-indicates location (hint: think of "here and there")
There goes my chance of winning the lottery!
THEY'RE-contraction for "they are"
They're in Europe for the summer--again!
THROUGH-by means of; finished; into or out of
He plowed right through the other team's defensive line.
THREW-past tense of throw
She threw away his love love letters.
THOROUGH-careful or complete
John thoroughly cleaned his room; there was not even a speck of dust when he finished.
He's really a sweetheart though he looks tough on the outside.
THRU-abbreviated slang for through; not appropriate in standard writing
We're thru for the day!
I went to the University of Richmond.
TOO-also, or excessively
He drank too many screwdrivers and was unable to drive home.
Only two students did not turn in the assignment.
WHO-pronoun, referring to a person or persons
Jane wondered how Jack, who is so smart, could be having difficulties in Calculus.
WHICH-pronoun, replacing a singular or plural thing(s);not used to refer to persons
Which section of history did you get into?
THAT-used to refer to things or a group or class of people
I lost the book that I bought last week.
WHO-used as a subject or as a subject complement (see above)
John is the man who can get the job done.
WHOM-used as an object
Whom did Sarah choos
Abjure and Adjure
Abjure means to "renounce" or "repudiate." Adjure means "request earnestly." The words have little in common other than their rarity and similarity of spelling, so they should not be confused.
Adopted and Adoptive
Adopted and adoptive both mean "acquired through adoption," but they are not synomyms. One is the reciprocal of the other. A child with adoptive parents is adopted; parents with an adopted child are adoptive. The difference lies in who is doing the adopting. The parents adopt the child, so the child is adopted. The child is adopted by the parents, and so the parents are adoptive.
Adverse and Averse
Adverse means "antagonistic." Averse means "feeling disclined." The word averse is more recognizable in two more commonly used forms: avert and aversion.
Affect and Effect
These words are commonly confused, and the rules given to tell them apart are often wrong. Affect means "to influence" or "to produce an effect in." Effect means "consequence" or "that which is produced by an agent or cause."
Many try to differentiate between the two by saying that affect is a verb, while effect is a noun. Unfortunately, it's not so simple. The word affect can also serve as a noun, meaning "observed or expressed emotional response," and the word effect can also serve as a verb, meaning "to become operative" or "to carry out," as in, "to effect changes."
Aggravate and Annoy
Aggravate means "worsen." Annoy means "bother" or "exasperate" or "provoke." Many speakers and writers use aggravate to mean "annoy." Although aggravate has been used in this manner for four hundred years, considerable controversy over this use exists today. Some contend that using aggravate to mean anything other than "worsen" compromises the effectiveness of the word by blurring the distinction it has from similar words. Others argue that annoy can be said to mean "worsen one's temper," which suggests that aggravate is not so inappropriate to use as a synonym for annoy after all. My recommendation is to understand that aggravate means "worsen" and not "bother," but then feel free to use aggravate in contexts where it would be taken to mean "worsen one's temper" rather than "bother" or "irritate."
Allude and Refer
Allude means to refer to something indirectly or covertly. Refer, without qualification, implies referring to something directly, by naming. Frequently allude is misused to mean "refer directly," but this is an abuse of an otherwise useful, specific word.
Anxious and Eager
Anxious means "troubled" or "worried." Eager means "having keen interest" or "impatient expectancy." When anxious is used to describe someone's expectancy, it is often incorrectly used to mean "eager," which has a far more positive connotation. One may be anxious about an impending report card, but one would be eager to go on a long-awaited vacation.
Chafe and Chaff
Chafe means "to make sore by rubbing" or "irritate or annoy" or "become annoyed." Chaff means "tease good-naturedly." Consequently, one should not become confused with the other.
Compliment and Complement
Compliment is a "remark of praise." Complement is "something that completes." Note that free refreshments are complimentary; the word refers to the phrase "with our compliments."
Continual and Continuous
Both continual and continuous describe an action or process that occurs over a long period of time. Continual, however, permits that the action may be interrupted by short breaks. Continuous means that the action never pauses. We live continuous lives, eating and sleeping continually.
Deserts and Desserts
Most English speakers understand that deserts, with the accent on the first syllable, are a dry, arid lands, while desserts, with the accent on the second syllable, are a sweet things to eat after a meal. What is often confused is that when one gets what one is deserves, good or bad, one is getting one's "just deserts," accent on the second syllable but spelled like the dry, arid lands.
Discomfort and Discomfit
Discomfort means "uneasiness or hardship" and "make uncomfortable." Discomfit means "disconcert" and "defeat; thwart." Discomfort comes from Middle English, from the Old French word desconfort. Discomfit comes from the Middle English word discomfiten, from the Old French word desconfit.
Discrete and Discreet
Discrete means "discontinuous" or "individually distinct." Discreet means "judicious." The words are understandably often confused, but they should remain distinct.
Effective and Effectual
Effective means "producing an effect" or "in effect." Effectual means "producing a desired effect." A law that is effective is only effectual when it is enforced.
Energize and Enervate
Energize means "give energy to," while enervate means "to cause to lose vitality or energy." Sometimes enervate is mistakenly believed to mean "energize," and this is a grievous error, as enervate is actually an antonym of energize.
Enormousness and Enormity
Enormousness means "largeness" or "immensity." Enormity means "depravity" or "wickedness" and also means a "crime" or "error." Frequently the word enormity is mistaken to mean "enormousness," which it does not. The two words do originally derive from the same Latin word, enormis, with the word enormity being derived through the French word enormite, but the distinction between the two English words has existed for hundreds of years.
Flack and Flak
Flack is a noun that means "press agent" or "publicist" and a verb that means "to act as a press agent." Flak is a noun that means "anti-aircraft artillery" or "bursting of shells fired form anti-aircraft artillery" or, more commonly, "excessive or abusive criticism" or "dissension, opposition." If you criticize someone, you are giving them flak, not flack.
Flaunt and Flout
Flaunt means "display ostentatiously." Flout means to "disobey openly and scornfully" or "show contempt for." Some use one for the other, but confusing the two words is still widely seen as an error and best avoided.
Forcible and Forceful
Forcible means "accomplished by force." Forceful means "powerful and vigorous." Something that is forcible can be accomplished with forceful effort.
Fortuitous and Fortunate
Fortuitous means "happening by chance" or "accidental." Fortunate means "lucky." A fortuitous event may be, but is not necessarily, a fortunate event.
Founder and Flounder
Founder means "to fail completely." Often it is used to refer to a ship, in which case it means, "to fill with water and sink." Flounder has a less severe definition; it means "to move clumsily or with difficulty" or "to make mistakes or become confused." Although the two words are similar in spelling, they are derived from different sources. Founder comes from the Latin word fundus, meaning "bottom." Flounder comes from Middle English, from the Anglo-Norman word floundre, of Scandinavian origin. We can flounder but recover, but when we founder, it's final.
Full and Fulsome
Fulsome is sometimes mistaken as a synonym for full or fullest, when, in fact, its meaning bears no resemblance to full whatsoever. Fulsome means "cloying, excessive, and disgusting." Although both words have similar etymological roots, the English definitions are divergent enough to cause some gross misunderstandings when the words are confused, particularly in incorrect expressions such as "fulsome praise" and "fulsome apologies."
Gambit and Gamut
Gambit is a strategic maneuver. Gamut is a full range or extent.
Imply and Infer
Imply means to "hint or suggest without stating directly." Infer means "reach an opinion from facts or reasoning." The two terms are sometimes mistaken to be interchangeable. In actuality, they are quite distinct. The sender of an indirectly stated message is doing the implying, while a receiver that reasons what the message is is doing the inferring.
Inanity and Inanition
Inanity means "foolishness" or "senselessness." Inanition means "lacking vigor."
Incredulous and Incredible
Incredulous means "unbelieving" or "skeptical." Incredible means "unbelievable" or "hard to believe." If something incredible happens, you may be incredulous.
Ingenious and Ingenuous
Ingenious means "clever and inventive." Ingenuous means "open, frank, and sincere" and also "naive, unsophisticated." The words have similar origins, hence the similar spelling, but their meanings have been distinct for centuries.
Insulate and Insolate
Insulate means "to cause to be in a detached or isolated position" or "to prevent passage of heat, electricity, or sound into or out of." Insolate means "to expose to the sun's rays."
Lightening and Lightning
Lightening refers to something illuminating or brightening. Lightning is what is accompanied by thunder during storms.
Loath and Loathe
Loath is an adjective, meaning "disinclined" or "reluctant." Loathe is a verb, meaning "feel hatred or disgust for." Confusion often arises about not only what they mean but how they are pronounced. Loath has a soft th sound, while loathe has a hard th sound.
Luxurious and Luxuriant
Luxurious means "supplied with luxuries." Luxuriant means "growing profusely." Some consider it acceptable to use luxuriant to mean luxurious, but the best policy is to keep the words distinct.
Mucous and Mucus
Mucous is an adjective, as in, "a mucous gland." Mucus is a noun, as in, "There is mucus emanating from my mucous glands."
Noisome and Noisy
Noisome means "harmful" or "offensive" or "disgusting." Obviously it does not share any shade of meaning with noisy, and so the two words should not be confused with one another.
Passable and Passible
Passable means "capable of being passed." Passible means "capable of feeling or suffering; susceptible of sensation or emotion; impressionable."
Passed and Past
Passed is a past tense verb. Past can be a noun, adjective, adverb, or preposition -- never a verb.
Peccable and Peccant
Peccable means "capable of sinning." Peccant means "guilty of sinning."
Perspicacious and Perspicuous
Perspicacious means "having or showing insight." Perspicuous means "easily understood" or "lucid," or, when referring to a person, "expressing things clearly."
Practicable and Practical
Practicable means "usable," while practical means "useful." Not all practicable things are practical, and not all practical things are practicable.
Sanguine and Sanguinary
Sanguine means "hopeful" or "optimistic" or "confident." Sanguinary means "bloody" or "murderous." Obviously these are two words it's better not to confuse, lest you convey entirely the wrong idea about something.
Stanch and Staunch
Stanch is a verb that means "restrain a flow." Staunch is an adjective that means "firm in attitude, opinion, or loyalty." Both words are pronounced the same way. The distinction is actually quite recent; a hundred years ago, the two words were treated as interchangeable spelling variants. Such is no longer the case, so it's important to distinguish one from the other.
Stationary and Stationery
Stationary is an adjective that means "not moving." Stationery is a noun that means "writing paper and envelopes."
Titillate and Titivate
Titillate means "stimulate pleasantly" or "tickle." Titivate means "adorn" or "spruce up." The similarity in spelling is coincidental. Titillate comes from the Latin word titillare, which means "tickle." Titivate is a newer word which comes from the earlier word tidivate, which is likely derived from the words tidy and elevate.
Tortuous and Torturous
Tortuous means full of twists and turns. Torturous means "causing or involving torture or suffering." These words are sometimes confused because of their similar spelling, but there is no further similarity.
Turbid and Turgid
Turbid means "unclear, obscure, confused, disordered" and, when referring to liquids, "muddy, thick, unclear." Turgid means "enlarged, swollen" and, when referring to language, "pompous, overblown grandiloquent." Because the two words are relatively uncommon, one is often confused for the other. Turbid comes from the Latin word turbidus, meaning "disordered," from turba, which means turmoil, possibly from the Greek word turbe. Turgid comes from the Latin word turgidus, from turgere, which means, "to be swollen."
Venal and Venial
Venal means "open to bribery" and "corruptible" and, when referring to conduct, "influenced by bribery." Venial means "pardonable," when referring to a fault or sin, and "trifling, not serious" when referring to misconduct.
The above listed confusables enables the speaker of English not only to enrich their vocabulary but also to use the correct form of words in their communication.It is vital that professionals be affluent in their communication and it should be comprehended that these confusables should not be wrongly used .
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