confusable words


confusable words
confusable words
1. Words are most often confused because they are alike in form (or spelling) and in some aspect of meaning, as with fortunate and fortuitous, or prevaricate and procrastinate. Some sets are confused simply in spelling, although the meanings and even the parts of speech differ (e.g. the verb forbear and the noun forebear). In some cases, the confusion is in one direction only: infer is used controversially to mean imply but the same is not true the other way round. In some cases, the overlap is so marked that distinction in actual usage is virtually impossible, as with sensual and sensuous. Some word sets have a long history of interaction and meaning overlap (e.g. admission and admittance), whereas in other cases a later word encroaches on an earlier word that, despite being originally distinct, is close to it in form and meaning (e.g. biennial on biannual; childlike on childish). Some sets consist of words that originally had the same meaning but diverged with time (e.g. continual and continuous; ensure and insure), whereas others consist of words whose relation in meaning has been unstable (e.g. disinterested and uninterested)
2. Confusability is a matter of language production and language understanding, since in some cases the writer/speaker will be unsure of which word to use, causing ambiguity or doubt from the outset, and in others the uncertainty will begin with the reader/hearer, either because of ignorance or because the context allows more than one interpretation. The following table shows sets of words that are commonly confused or used in place of each other, with date of entry of each word (in the part of speech, though not necessarily in the precise meaning, at issue) into English (or ME in the case of Middle English, i.e. before about 1470; and OE in the case of Old English, i.e. before 1150) and a brief summary of the primary meaning. The selection is representative but by no means exhaustive, and other sets will be found in this book.
For further information on the words given, see the individual entries.
word / date / meaning / word 2 / date / meaning
adherence / ME / (to belief etc.) / adhesion / 15c / sticking
admission / ME / (general meanings) / admittance / 16c / right to be admitted
adverse / ME / unfavourable / averse / 16c / opposed
affect / ME / cause change in / effect / 16c / bring about
allusion / 16c / indirect reference / illusion / ME / deceptive appearance
alternate / 16c / one after another / alternative / 16c / available instead
altogether / OE / entirely / all together / ME / everyone together
ambiguous / 16c / (statements etc.) / ambivalent / 20c / (feelings etc.)
amend / ME / change / emend / ME / alter (text etc.)
appraise / ME / assess value of / apprise / 17c / inform
avoid / ME / keep away from / evade / 15c / avoid by guile
baleful / OE / menacing / baneful / 16c / causing harm
baluster / 17c / (in balustrade) / banister / 17c / (in staircase)
biannual / 19c / twice a year / biennial / 17c / every two years
censor / 16c / act as censor of / censure / 16c / criticize harshly
childish / OE / (immature qualities) / childlike / 16c / (good qualities)
coherent / 16c / logical and clear / cohesive / 18c / sticking
complacent / 17c / too confident / complaisant / 17c / too willing to please
condole / 16c / express sympathy / console / 17c / give comfort to
continual / ME / repeated / continuous / 17c / going on without a break
council / OE / administrative body / counsel / ME / advice etc.
credible / ME / believable / credulous / 16c / too ready to believe
decided / 18c / unquestionable / decisive / 17c / conclusive
decry / 17c / belittle / descry / ME / catch sight of
definite / 16c / clear and distinct / definitive / ME / decisive, authoritative
deprecate / 17c / disapprove of / depreciate / ME / lower in value
discomfit / ME / disconcert / discomfort / ME / make uneasy
discreet / ME / circumspect / discrete / ME / distinct
disinterested / 17c / impartial / uninterested / 17c / not interested
draft / 16c / preliminary sketch etc. / draught / ME / air current etc.
elusive / 18c / difficult to find / illusory / 16c / deceptive in appearance etc.
enormity / ME / (act of) wickedness / enormousness / 17c / large size
ensure / ME / make sure / insure / ME / take out insurance on
euphemism / 16c / milder term / euphuism / 16c / affected style of writing
evince / 16c / make evident / evoke / 17c / draw forth (feelings)
exceptionable / 17c / open to objection / exceptional / 19c / unusually good
flaunt / 16c / display ostentatiously / flout / 16c / disregard (rules etc.)
forbear (verb) / OE / desist from / forebear (noun) / 15c / ancestor
forego / OE / go before / forgo / OE / go without
forever / 18c / continually / for ever / ME / eternally
gourmand / ME / glutton / gourmet / 19c / food connoisseur
homogeneous / 17c / of the same kind, uniform / homogenous / 19c / of common descent
illegal / 17c / against the law / illicit / 16c / not allowed
imply / ME / strongly suggest / infer / 15c / deduce, conclude
impracticable / 17c / not able to be done / impractical / 19c / not practical
inapt / 17c / not suitable / inept / 16c / clumsy, unskilful
incredible / ME / not believable / incredulous / 16c / unwilling to believe
ingenious / ME / well thought out / ingenuous / 16c / innocent, honest
interment / ME / burial / internment / 19c / being interned
its / 16c / (possessive pronoun) / it's / 17c / = it is
luxuriant / 16c / lush / luxurious / ME / comfortable and rich
masterful / ME / domineering / masterly / 16c / highly skilful
militate / 16c / have force (against) / mitigate / ME / make less severe
observance / ME / keeping a law or custom etc. / observation / ME / perception, remark
occupant / 16c / person in a vehicle etc. / occupier / ME / person living in a property
official / ME / having authorized status etc. / officious / 15c / aggressive in performing duty
perquisite / ME / extra privilege etc. / prerequisite / 17c / something needed in advance
perspicacious / 17c / having insight, perceptive / perspicuous / 15c / clearly expressed
pitiable / ME / deserving pity / pitiful / ME / causing pity, contemptible
precipitate steep / 17c / headlong / precipitous / 17c / abruptly
prevaricate / 16c / act evasively / procrastinate / 16c / defer action
purposely / 15c / intentionally / purposefully / 19c / resolutely
refute / 16c / prove to be false / repudiate / ME / reject, disown
regrettable / 17c / causing regret, undesirable / regretful / 17c / feeling regret
sensual / ME / gratifying the body / sensuous / 17c / gratifying the senses
slither / ME / slip or slide / sliver / ME / long thin piece
titillate / 17c / excite pleasantly / titivate / 19c / adorn, smarten
tortuous / ME / twisting, devious / torturous / 15c / causing torture, tormenting

Modern English usage. 2014.

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