Monday, November 5, 2018

Tricky and Confusing Words Part Two

By Andrea Merrell

In my last post, we looked at many tricky and confusing words that most writers wrestle with. This week, let’s look at a few more:

Advice vs. Advise
  • Advice is a noun that means a recommendation. (Jim gave Charlie some great advice.)
  • Advise is a verb that denotes the act of giving a recommendation. (Charlie was glad that Jim was able to advise him.)

Peak, Peek, Pique
  • Peak means the top of a mountain. (Shelly can see the peak of Grandfather Mountain from her front porch.)
  • Peek means to take a quick glimpse. (Robin took a peek out the window to see who was at the door.)
  • Pique means to irritate or stimulate. (Mandy was piqued by the clerk’s rude behavior. The fashionable window display was meant to pique the interest of customers.)

Compliment vs. Complement
  • Compliment means to praise. (Rusty was known for giving sincere compliments.)
  • Complement means the amount, quantity, or something that completes or brings to perfection. (The violin music was the perfect complement to the exquisite meal. The hotel has a perfect complement of staff at the moment.)

Desert vs. Dessert
  • Desert is a desolate place (noun) or to abandon (verb). (Take plenty of water on your trip to the desert. If I go to the party with you, please don’t desert me.)
  • Dessert means our favorite sugary treat. (We have chocolate cake for dessert.)

Elicit vs. Illicit
  • Elicit means to evoke or cause. (A bad review will elicit a negative response.)
  • Illicit means illegal or something that is taboo. (The police arrested the man for the sale of illicit drugs.)

Brake vs. Break
  • Brake means a device for slowing or stopping a vehicle (noun). (Carrie slammed her foot on the brake.) As a verb it means to decelerate or stop. (You need to brake when approaching a traffic light.)
  • Break means to interrupt or separate into pieces (verb). (The meeting will now break for ten minutes. Casey decided to break the candy in half and share with her sister.) As a noun it means a pause or interruption. (The break lasted longer than we expected. After working all day, it was time to take a break.)

So, Sow, Sew
  • So means to a great extent (adverb). (It happened so fast I could hardly take it in.) As a conjunction, it means therefore or in order that. (They whispered so they wouldn’t disturb anyone in the workshop.)
  • Sow means to scatter or plant. (The farmer has a lot of seeds to sow.)
  • Sew means to create or repair with a needle and thread. (We will have to sew the seams together.)

Altar vs. Alter
  • Altar means a kneeling rail in a Christian church where people go to pray or the table used for communion. (The pastor invited people to come to the altar for prayer.)
  • Alter means to change or modify. (We may have to alter our plans if it’s going to rain.)

Lose vs. Loose
  • Lose means to suffer a loss. (Be sure not too lose your car keys.)
  • Loose means something is not tight. (Amanda wore loose-fitting clothes for her workout.)

Course vs. Coarse
  • Course means a direction or route (noun.) (Let’s change our course and head north.) As a verb it means to move without obstruction. (Tears coursed down Cynthia’s cheeks.)
  • Coarse means rough in texture or crude. (The fabric is very coarse. Coarse language has become acceptable in most television programs.)
Bare vs. Bear
  • Bare mean naked, uncovered, or simple. (The two-year-old was bare from the waist up. Those are the bare facts.)
  • Bear means an animal. (Watch out for bears when you hike in the mountains.
Here vs. Hear

  • Here means in this particular spot. (Put the package right here.)
  • Hear means to listen. (Did you hear what I said earlier?)
Then vs. Than
  • Then indicates time or means next. (The meeting is at 4:00 p.m. I will be there then. Carol entered the contest, then won first place.)
  • Than is used for comparison. (I'd rather go to Pennsylvania than New York.)
Passed vs. Past
  • Passed is the past tense of pass. (Mandy passed me on her way to the library.)
  • Past means the time before the present. (It's time to stop living in the past. Cheryl has been working part-time for the past few months. 
  • Note: Past can be used as an adjective, preposition, noun, or adverb. Be sure to use it correctly. Example: Rick can't go past the bakery without going in.)

Some of these may seem simple, but as an editor, I see these common mistakes quite often. The best rule of thumb is: when in doubt ... look it up.

Can you add to the list? What words do you struggle with? We would love to hear from you.

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)

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