Thursday, January 24, 2013

Further Words that are Easy to Confuse

It’s been too long since I’ve done this. I don’t know how there aren’t more words that confuse me.

I’m terrible with these words. Sheer has a ridiculous variety of meanings. It can mean transparent, pure, utter, steep, and in reference to ships, swerve. On the other hand, shear always means something to do with cutting, like shear a sheep or another word for scissors. But it’s hard to tell them apart! I try to remember that shear always goes with sheep, which reminds me that it has to do with shaving. And anything else gets sheer.

Words with similar sounds but completely different meanings are the bane of my existence. Illicit means illegal, and it’s easy to remember if you remind yourself they both start with “ill”. Elicit is a synonym for evoke. Again, both start with e’s. Why are they so close in spelling? Well, it’s all about the prefixes. The ex- prefix often loses the x (think of emigration or the above mentioned evoke) and for the in- prefix loses the n and picks up an l in front of words that start with l (like licit and legal) []. And also because languages are confusing.

This one I’ve come across once or twice. I’ve also made the error myself a few times, but that’s more because personnel is one of those words that for some reason I can’t spell for the life of me (I always do one n and two l’s…really). The definition of personal is between you and me. The definition of personnel is a group of employees. Although “a personal” seems like a good name for a group of psychologists.

I’m mentioning this one because I totally mixed them up in one of my WIPs, and if you know the definitions, that’s kind of an issue. For those who don’t know (like the me from last week), breech means the rear part of anything, but more specifically humans. It means butt, is what I’m saying. And I used it when I needed to say breach, as in rupture. I tell you, “breeching the gate” makes for some awkward visuals.

Just brought up because it’s bit of a problem to read “plum the depths of my soul”. Plum means only one thing:
I plummed my soul once. Turned the entire thing into fruit.

It’s a fruit, for always and ever. If you’re talking about measuring the depth of water (or the human soul), perpendicular or vertical, or complete (in a colloquial sense), then stick that b on there.


  1. The one I've been seeing a lot lately is aught when the writer meant ought.

    And roll when role was meant. And principal when principle was meant. (I've been reading a lot of self-pubbed stuff. I won't even go into the one where hear was used for here.)

  2. The one I always have to check is complement vs compliment. I never can remember which one is spelled which way.

  3. @Andrew - Think of 'i' (I). I like compl*i*ments.

    Great post. I know sometimes they're just innocent typos (or an attack of autocorrect), but they can be pretty funny. I have seen SP works that are full of them - and they were repeated, so I know it wasn't just a slip of the finger on the keyboard.

  4. I rarely use shear when writing, so that's one that doesn't get to me.

    Check out the comments role of a newspaper site, and you'll see all kinds of misspellings of similarly spelled words...


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