I am thrilled to have one of my former editors as a guest blogger today, speaking about commonly confused pairs of words. This is such a great topic. Thanks for coming over, Wendy Garfinkle, Grammar Goddess.
Identifying 9 Commonly Confused Pairs of Words
You know how some words are so similar in spelling and/or pronunciation that you almost can’t help but get them confused on a regular basis? You sigh or mutter and reach for the dictionary...AGAIN...because you can’t seem to remember them no matter HOW MANY times you use them?
Here are 9 pairs of those words. Almost without exception, each the words in each pair sound EXACTLY THE SAME. It can be frustrating trying to remember their differences, and spellcheck won’t help you. You’re going to need a good editor. ;-)
• Immanent/Imminent/Eminent: When something is immanent, it’s inherent or inborn...like a bird that knows how to fly. Imminent refers to an incident that will occur at any moment; it’s impending...sunset is imminent. Eminent can refer to a person of high station or something prominent (such as a prominent nose).
• Wreathe is a verb that means to adorn something or encircle it. A wreath is a noun – a circular band of flowers or foliage, such as one that can be placed on the head or hung on a door.
• Feint is a noun that originated as a fencing term and refers to a movement made in order to deceive an opponent, possibly as a distraction from a more injurious blow. Faint is a familiar verb that means to lose consciousness. It also means lacking strength or brightness.
• If you’re a writer, you’re familiar with stationery – writing paper or writing supplies. To be stationary, on the other hand, is to be unmoving; standing (or sitting) in place.
• Capitol is often a proper noun – The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.... as it refers to the specific building occupied by a state legislature). Capital refers to a city or town that is the official seat of government. This spelling is also used for a capital letter.
• Both terms are adverbs, but altogether means wholly, entirely or completely, whereas all together refers to a group of people who act at the same time.
• When something is tortuous, it is full of twists, turns or bends, such as a tortuous conversation or road. Torturous, on the other hand, refers to the act of torture or suffering; extreme pain.
• To insolate something is to expose it to the sun, as in making sun tea. To insulate is to cover, or line something, such as using insulation in one’s attic to keep the heat from escaping during the winter.
• When you want to secure or guarantee something, to keep it from harm, you want to ensure it. Insure means much the same thing – to guarantee against loss or harm, but usually refers to purchasing an insurance policy to protect the things you want to ensure.
As you can see, relying on spellcheck to ensure that you’re using any one of these words in the correct context isn’t going to work. Other than insolate, which spellcheck doesn’t like for some reason, ALL of these words pass spelling and grammar inspection in a Word document. And you’ve probably noticed, some of the pairs – like ensure and insure – are not only similar in spelling, they’re also similar in meaning.
So while it’s important to improve your grammar as a writer, don’t expect that you’re going to always get it right, every time. Give yourself a break. Hire an editor to check your grammar and usage. That’s what we’re here for...to support writers in ensuring their work is the best it can be. Even we editors use editors. While this is the type of knowledge we acquire and build upon, even we aren’t infallible.
Are there any words – or pairs of words – that trip you up on a regular basis? Feel free to share them in the comments.
About Wendy Garfinkle, Grammar Goddess