Sorry, Lorraine, you have to actually READ the dictionary.
The Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for over 250,000 words. Is it any wonder that we get confused by a few of them? Here are twelve tricky word pairs that even a Rhodes Scholar could get wrong.
1. assent vs. ascent
Assent means agreement or approval. Ascent means a climbing or rising.
There was assent among the hikers as they agreed to start their ascent at sunrise.
2. dissent vs. descent
Dissent is disagreement. Descent means going to a lower level; ancestral lineage.
There was dissent among the hikers about when to begin their descent.
3. desert vs. dessert
To desert means to leave without intending to return.
A desert is also a dry region without water.
Dessert is the good stuff after dinner.
Hint: You can remember how to spell dessert by thinking of the following phrase: Dessert is so sweet. “So” and “Sweet” both start with “s” and there are two of them, get it? (Please get it. Don’t make me write two Ss, esses or s’s, which would be wrong anyway.)
4. council vs. counsel
A council is a group of people, as on a board of directors or government committee.
Counsel is advice, or anyone whose advice is sought.
Lawyers are often called counselors. Guidance counselors give college advice to high school students.
5. farther vs. further
Although these two are nearly interchangeable, farther refers to distance; and further refers to quality or time.
You can drive farther than you did yesterday.
You can pursue an argument further.
6. insight vs. incite
Insight refers to understanding or perception, intuition or awareness.
To incite is to move to action, urge, set in motion.
7. palette vs. palate
A palette is a group of color choices, or a selection of paints on an artist’s board.
Your palate refers to your sense of taste.
8. amoral vs. immoral
People are amoral if they show no sense of right or wrong. Refers to a person.
Immoral refers to an act or behavior done without concern for right or wrong.
9. adverse vs. averse
Adverse means unfavorable, harmful contrary, opposite.
Averse means opposed or not inclined.
10. compose vs. comprise
Compose means to make up or be a part of.
To comprise is to include or enclose.
Grammar Girl gives a clear explanation here of how the parts compose the whole, but the whole comprises the parts.
Many ethnic groups compose our nation.
Notice in this sentence that the parts come before the whole. If you wanted to start the sentence with the words “our nation,” guess which verb you’d have to use instead? Our friend “comprise”:
Our nation comprises many ethnic groups.
11. tortuous vs. torturous
Both words are related to “twist.”
Tortuous means full of twists and turns, winding, convoluted.
Torturous means inflicting of severe pain, causing torture.
A winding road is tortuous. A visit to the emergency room can be torturous. If you have a broken collarbone and six fractured ribs, a tortuous ride to the hospital is torturous.
12. eminent vs. imminent
Eminent describes a person who is famous and respected in an area or profession.
Imminent means something is about to happen; impending, forthcoming.
The eminent blogger’s wealth was imminent.
I hope that all these confusing word pairs are now much clearer to you. If not, you could go with Lorraine (pictured above with the dictionary hat) and ask her friend Helena for help. She looks like a lady who answers a lot of questions.
About the Author
Blog Rehab provides blogging tips and grammar lessons for writers. You can connect with Blog Rehab on Twitter and Facebook.
I’m happy that I came across to your blog and found this useful post. I forwarded it to my little daughter so she can master all of these. Sometimes, I can still encounter a lot of people who are confused with the word pair, advise versus advice.
I’m so glad you found it helpful! Here’s my post on Advise vs. Advice:
Another great post to help us keep things straight so we can write it right the first time. Thanks!
Thank you, Linda!
I needed help on all of these, thank you. I do however have a way of remembering the dessert/desert but now that you have mentioned the two esses I am having a really hard time articulating it.
It’s better to have two desserts because they taste so good, than two deserts which are just dry and sandy.
I know there is a better way to say that.
What if you said “one desert” to remind you that desert has ONE letter S? Then it would be helpful whether it was written or spoken out loud.
Wish I had had this list in school! I have such a difficult time (learning disability doesn’t help…never diagnosed until adulthood). Finally taught my self some tricks to remembering the differences. Usually works.
These can be hard even without a learning issue. It’s great that you figured out some tricks on your own!
LOL. i get these wrong all the time. … 🙂
Save this as a favorite and you’ll get them right from now on! 😀
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