“Confusing Word Pairs(or is it pears?)”


Writing my post yesterday I realized that I was confused between the words “flaunt” and “flout.” It doesn’t make much difference when speaking because the words sound so similar. I hadn’t really taken time since preparing for the SAT tests in 1964 to tell the two words apart. That was the last time I had to “flaunt” my vocabulary skills. But since I was posting on line, and since I have mentioned that I am a retired English professor, I thought I better get it right.

It made me think about all the words that confuse both me and others. “Capital” and “capitol” have been my undoing on numerous occasions. Then there is “its” and “it’s” which never confused me but seemed to be the bane of my students no matter how often I tried to explain which was which. They also regularly mixed “their,” “there,” and “they’re.” Lest you excuse their mistakes as coming from learning English as a second language, I need to stress that these students all had English as their first tongue.

I have given up on the subtle difference between “aver” and “avow,” and look for synonyms when either might do. “Accept” and “except” seem pretty distinct to me, but others mix them up sometimes.  But “affect” and “effect” can still throw me off if I am not vigilant. “Complement” is so often spelled “compliment” in print that I suspect the two spellings may be on their way to merger.

“Who’s” to blame for all this confusion? It depends on “whose” etymology (not entomology) you consult.

20 thoughts on ““Confusing Word Pairs(or is it pears?)”

  1. Do people often confuse the meanings of ‘Complement’ and ‘Compliment’, or just mix up the spellings? That was one confusion I wasn’t aware of.
    But I would never flout the rules by flaunting my knowledge of that. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. I always have to double check on capitol or capital; same with principal and principle. I know the difference between you’re and your, but still have to slow down to make sure I get it right. I see ‘your welcome’ pretty often.


  3. So often in dashing off a comment on someone’s blog I use the wrong soundalike spelling despite knowing fully the correct one, and then look back later and think “Oh sh–” how ignorant it looks. It’s something to do with the “auditory loop” in the brain.


  4. I’ve never confused its and it’s, but that doesn’t stop me typing the wrong one when in full flow (which is silly, since it’s more effort to add the apostrophe).
    Then there’s the differences between UK and US English…
    And I’m the one meant to be editing our writing group’s anthologies.
    When in doubt, I google it.


  5. Our language is so weird! I am still unsure when I use ‘effect’ and ‘affect’. I remember when I was very young, teachers would dictate to us, and we had to write down what we thought we heard. We were not graded on these exercises, it was purely instructional so that we could note and correct confusion about what we thought we were hearing. It also required us to listen for context.

    When I work with adult learners this is an area that requires so much work because people with low-literacy have been HEARING “wrong” for decades! It’s kind of like when you’ve been singing the wrong lyrics to a song for a long time and even after you learn the correct words, you still sing your old favorites! LOL


  6. Have you read ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’??????????? I love the vagaries of English grammar – even if people’s usage of it sometimes drives me bonkers! I’m also really enjoying catching up on some of your blog posts – and it’s making me think I should write a few more as well.


  7. Most people are reluctant to point out the discrete meanings of misused homophones.
    I am, however, not that discreet. 😉


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