Notorious Confusables: Part One

Guide to Grammar and Writing

The infamous Tweedledee and Tweedledum,
from Sir John Tenniel's illustrations
for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

Quizzes on the Notorious Confusables

Notorious Confusables: Menu Version Pull-down menu gives you one "confusable" at a time. There is also a RANDOM CONFUSABLES button.

Notorious Confusables: Part Two (starts with "indict/indite")

Passing the mouse-arrow over a highlighted word will cause a brief definition of that word to appear in the status-line of your browser (at the bottom of the browser window). Try to determine the definition from the context first. Most definitions are based on those found in the Merriam Webster's WWWebster Dictionary (based on Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary, Tenth Edition and used with permission of Merriam Webster, Inc.) but are by no means complete. Clicking on a hyperlinked word will return you to the top of the list.

Some sentences are accompanied by recordings. Click on the speaker icon to hear the recording. This works best, of course, with a fast connection and if your browser and computer are configured to play .au files. If you're in a lab environment, please wear headphones so you won't annoy others.

  1. What is its color? It's green. It's been a long, long time.
    These come first, out of alphabetical order, because they're the champs, surely the most often confused words in English! Remember, it's means it is or it has! Use its to show possession.

  2. The abhorrent individual was spurned by his fellow citizens because of his aberrant behavior.
  3. With her speaking skills, she has the ability to fill the auditorium to its capacity.
  4. The minister adjured his wayward congregation to abjure the sins of the flesh.
  5. I would accept your excuse, except the part about losing the watch.
  6. The number of students who wanted access to the computer labs was in excess of two hundred.
  7. The government would often adopt policies that required people to adapt to a harsh regime.
  8. The trouble with many adolescents is that they never seem to grow out of adolescence.
  9. I need your advice. Please advise me on this.
  10. The teacher's aide more than once came to the aid of her supervisor. [AIDS, the acronym for Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome, is spelled in all caps.]
  11. She was confused, displaying ambivalent feelings about the ambiguous situation they'd gotten into.
  12. Sometimes it seems more shocking to be amoral than to be immoral .
  13. After we have the jeweler appraise the diamond, we will apprise you of its value.
  14. As (as opposed to like) — see like
  15. When they got the assent of the weather bureau, they allowed the enormous balloon to begin its ascent. [N.B. The word accent — what we hear in one's speech — has no "s."]
  16. Aural — see oral
  17. Awake — see wake
  18. I am averse to traveling in such adverse weather conditions.
  19. Afflict — see inflict
  20. We need a lot (two words!) of money. She will allot funds according to need.
  21. Are you all ready already, or do we have to wait for you?
  22. She would often allude to her childhood, when she would elude her brothers in a game of hide-and-seek.
  23. Allusion — see illusion
  24. In mock debates, we used to alternate sides, taking alternative positions.
    Perhaps the most confusable
    pair of all! Trade and Mark Smith.
    Anyone got a cough drop?
    Used with permission of F&F Foods.

  25. Government agencies tried to alleviate the effects of the depression. They attempted to ameliorate the job-seeking process.
  26. With amiable people like the Durwitzes, it's not unusual to have an amicable divorce.
  27. Among — see between
  28. The amount of money you make in a year depends on the number of deals you close.
  29. I am annoyed that my bad back seems to be aggravated by tension. [To aggravate means to make something worse which is already bad. I cannot be aggravated, but my injury can be.]
  30. It's difficult to anticipate [prepare oneself for] things that one doesn't expect.
  31. Juan is apt to do something silly, something that will likely get him in trouble, or even something that he may be liable for in a court of law.
  32. She wanted a good lawyer, so I told her about my attorney.
  33. I'll be back in a while. Can you wait awhile? (Awhile [one word] is an adverb that can modify a verb.)
  34. He told a funny anecdote about mixing up his soda with the snake-bite antidote.
  35. The eager audience awaited the anxious, sweating performer.
  36. She felt bad about his behaving badly at the conference. [Use the adjective form with linking verbs.]
  37. The man who sings bass in the choir once played third base for the New York Yankees and is also an expert bass fisherman.
  38. She was afraid of him after seeing his bizarre behavior at the county's annual bazaar.
  39. Besides my unphotogenic aunt and uncle, there were fourteen other people standing beside the train station.
  40. He has divided the money between Carlos and his daughter. He has divided the rest of his property among his three brothers. [This distinction is not as important as some people think. See the usage of both words in your dictionary.]
    These sisters-in-law, Jackie Joyner-Kersee
    and the late Florence Griffith Joyner,
    were once the World's Greatest Athlete
    and the World's Fastest Woman.

  41. The economy seemed to slide backwards thanks to the backward government policies. ["Backward" can be either an adverb or an adjective; "backwards" can be only an adverb.]
  42. The activity of troops on the other side of the border belied the ambassador's sweet-sounding entreaties for peace. (Should not be confused with "betray" or "evince." To "belie" something is not to reveal it as true but to show the apparent truth of something as being false.)
  43. Avoid using words like biennial (or bimonthly/biweekly) and biannual, and say that something happens twice a year/month/week or every other year/month/week.
  44. Blatant — see flagrant
  45. I was so bored at the Board of Trustees meeting that I fell asleep.
  46. She brought with her all the Christmas gifts she had recently bought.
  47. He will break the car brake if he keeps pushing on it like that.
  48. The breech of the gun slammed into his shoulder as he fired into the breach of the wall.
  49. Every breath counts, so breathe deeply now.
  50. The entire bridal party took a long and pleasant walk along the bridle path.
  51. Bring — see take
  52. Some people confuse Calvary, the place where Jesus was crucified, with the word cavalry, which describes an army component, usually on horseback (or nowadays in helicopters).
  53. You may begin this exercise whenever you can get around to it. [In negative constructions, the word can can be used to express permission: You cannot go to the movies today.]
  54. You cannot blame him for screaming, "Damn it, Bob! You can not do that anymore!"
  55. We wore canvas shoes while we tried to canvass the entire neighborhood.
  56. Capacity — see ability
  57. We went over to the capitol to see the legislators. The capital of Connecticut is Hartford. The state is running out of capital.
  58. If a bride wants a diamond that weighs a carat, it will cost more than a carrot or a caret.
  59. The Board of Education has censured the high-school principal because he tried to censor the student newspaper.
  60. The Pilgrims acted with certitude on matters of faith; others required more certainty.
  61. Some people thought he was sweet and childlike in his innocence, but I always thought he was boorish and childish.
  62. I chose the red balloon. Now you choose a balloon of another color.
  63. The climactic moment of a lightning storm, nature's most dramatic climatic event, is a deafening roll of thunder.
  64. His clothes were made of cloths of many different colors.
  65. We used a coarse sandpaper, of course.

    Mario and Lucien, The Corsican Brothers, from the Dumas classic.
    Actually, that's Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who played both roles in the 1941 movie version.

  66. She complimented her sister on the way her scarf complemented her blouse.
  67. Connecticut comprises eight counties. The system is constituted of twelve separate campuses. [If you say "comprised of," you've probably used the word incorrectly.]
  68. She was confident that her confidant had given her good information.
  69. Confounded by the instructor's ambiguous instructions, the students' problems were compounded by a lack of time to do the exam.
  70. The word guts denotes one's viscera, one's intestines, but it also connotes determination, fortitude, persistence, and courage.
  71. There was a terrible dinning noise coming from the dining room.
  72. Since no one offered any dissent, we waited a decent interval and then began our descent to the lower floors.
  73. She didn't seem conscious of the fact that her husband has no conscience.
  74. Her family grew contemptuous of her contemptible behavior.
  75. These continual changes in our weather seem to be related to our continuous emissions of carbon-monoxide into the atmosphere.
  76. My mother will convince him that she is right. She will persuade him to keep working.
  77. She decided to seek the counsel [advice] of the Dorm Council.
  78. It didn't seem credible that such a creditable person would say such a horrible thing.
  79. At first there was only one criterion for becoming Chairperson, but then, suddenly, the Party imposed several other criteria.
  80. My favorite show, Seinfeld, is currently doing re-runs; the new episodes will begin presently. [The word presently used to mean "now," but nowadays most writers use it to mean "soon."]
  81. I kept a weekly diary during those years that I worked on the dairy farm.
  82. If you wish to seem demure, you will have to demur less vociferously.
  83. Denote — see connote
  84. Any cool dessert would taste great out here in the sandy desert.
  85. The prisoner tried to devise a clever device to help him escape.
  86. She thought her dog would die after it drank that bowl of blue dye.
  87. For the difference between different from and different than, click HERE.
  88. He went from a dilemma to a quandary.
  89. The conductor seemed discomfited on the podium by the rude, discomforting behavior of the visiting pianist.
  90. They kept their love affair discreet by living discrete lives. Check the Merriam-Webster's WWW Dictionary for this one.
  91. You will want a disinterested [impartial] judge. An uninterested [not interested] judge, however, is a liability.
  92. When asked to disassemble his old jalopy, Charles agreed, seeming to dissemble.
  93. Dissent — see decent
  94. Eager — see anxious
  95. What effect does this have on you? How does it affect you?
    Who's on first?

  96. It was part of the government's economic strategy to direct the military to purchase the most economical material available.
  97. When it comes to abbreviations of Latin words or phrases (e.g., etc., et al., sic.), wise writers use them sparingly (i.e., primarily when documenting resources and then only parenthetically) or not at all. [E.g. means for example, and it is usually better to use the English phrase, for example. I.e. means that is. Because both abbreviations are almost invariably introductory modifiers, they are often followed by a comma, but some authorities say not to use the comma. Do not underline or italicize either of them.]
  98. We should elect a president before he or she selects members of the cabinet.
  99. How did the politicians plan to elicit these obviously illicit campaign funds without getting caught?
  100. Elude — see allude
  101. Emigrate — see immigrate
  102. They were afraid that this eminent figure in world politics was in imminent danger of being killed.
  103. She normally had great empathy for people she read about, but she had no sympathy for these boat people.
  104. The enormousness of his task seemed overwhelming, and then he found he must slay a dragon known for the enormity of his evildoings.
  105. He wanted to carve an epigram that he had seen used as an epigraph for his grandfather's epitaph.
  106. We would like to ensure good weather for our company picnic, but our insurance company won't insure good weather with an inexpensive policy.
  107. One sister liked bugs and studied entomology; the other liked words and went into etymology.
  108. He especially likes coffee ice-cream. Every week, his wife buys some specially for him.
  109. We use our everyday dishes every day.
  110. The choirboys exulted when they discovered they were to sing before such an exalted audience.
  111. Expect — see anticipate
  112. The general found it expedient to blame his lieutenants for the expeditious progress of the enemy.
  113. The document now makes explicit what had been only implicit in the shifty eyes of the negotiator.
  114. To what extent have they searched for the extant manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address?
  115. An extemporaneous speech is not the same thing as an impromptu speech.
  116. Nothing seemed to faze her as she went through the adolescent phase of her life.
  117. When we say a man is literally an idiot, we don't necessarily mean he has a low I.Q.; we might be exaggerating, saying he is "virtually" an idiot. If we speak figuratively, calling him a pumpkin-head, we're using the language of analogy.
  118. He showed a flagrant disregard for public morals in his blatant errors of mismanagement.
  119. Flammable — see inflammable
  120. The football players seemed to flout the referees and continued to brazenly flaunt their silly, arrogant routine every time they scored.
  121. The horse-owners began to flounder about in the stands when they saw their horse founder right at the starting gate. [A flounder is a fish. A founder (noun) is what we call someone who establishes an institution (a church or community, for example). That person, we could say, has founded something (not to be confused with the past tense of to find: "She found the flashlight.")]
  122. She had a foreboding that she was about to meet up with her forbidding father.
  123. It was a foregone conclusion that the team would forgo all post-season tournaments..
  124. The missionaries founded a church in an area they found congenial to their beliefs.
  125. I can run farther than you, but let's discuss that further after the race.
  126. She has fewer complaints, but she has less energy.
  127. Formerly, we met formally to discuss these matters.

    Romulus and Remus:
    Another fine pair of Notorious Confusables

  128. The soldiers of the fourth regiment bravely went forth.
  129. The prosecutor began to gibe the witness when the details of his story did not jibe with his previous testimony. [N.B. "Jive" (jargon of jazz musicians, street talk) is not a synonym for "jibe."]
  130. The guerilla soldiers eventually got used to living among the gorillas in the jungle.
  131. She's a good swimmer; she swims well. Aren't you feeling well?
  132. The grizzled old hunter chewed on a gristly piece of meat and told a grisly tale of being mauled by grizzly bears.
  133. A portrait of the last criminal to be hanged in Arizona was hung on her bedroom wall.
  134. They were certainly hardy lads and they worked up a hearty appetite on their twenty-mile hike.
  135. Food can be called healthful if it helps us lead healthy lives.
  136. The movie's heroine died of an overdose of heroin.
  137. The publication of Morrison's first historical novel proved to be a historic event.
  138. The trouble with the economy is that hordes of people are starting to hoard their money.
  139. A homonym is one of two or more words spelled and pronounced alike but different in meaning (as the noun quail and the verb quail). A homophone is one of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling (as the words to, too, and two). And, incidentally, a homograph is one of two or more words spelled alike but different in meaning or derivation or pronunciation (as the bow of a ship, a bow and arrow). The important distinction, then, is that words like the verb obJECT and the noun OBject are homographs but not homonyms — because they're not pronounced alike.
  140. In less than an hour, the voters in our town are going to vote for us.
  141. In preparing for his most spectacular illusion, the magician made an allusion to the magic of Houdini.
  142. They have immigrated to this city from all over eastern Europe; later on, they may decide to emigrate elsewhere.
  143. Immoral — see amoral
  144. Impromptu — see extemporaneous
  145. His language implies a prejudice against Native Americans; you can infer that from certain passages in his latest speech. [Check the Merriam-Webster's online dictionary before getting too excited over this distinction.]
  146. The incidence of incidents involving racist slurs has become intolerable.
    America's favorite advice columnists:
    Twins Abigail Van Buren
    and Ann Landers

  147. This incipient revolution seems to be based on the most stupid and insipid causes.
  148. He was incredulous that his brother could perform such incredible feats on the parallel bars.
  149. The scientists produced an indeterminate study concerning the indeterminable number of stars in the universe.

Notorious Confusables: Part Two

Guide to Grammar and Writing