10 Confusing Word Pairs Everybody Gets Wrong

Grammar and usageIf you’ve been waiting with bated (or baited) breath for my next post on confusing word pairs, today is your day!

It was almost three years ago that I first set out to make the world a better place by ending once and for all the misuse of “jibe” and “jive” and “hone” and “home,” among others.

Check out that post here, and you’ll see it’s not for the faint (as opposed to feint) of heart. You’ll find none of the basics like “there/their” or “to/too.” It’s strictly an advanced class, as is this one.

So if you’re a grammar nerd, dig in. (And by the way, if you’re a REAL grammar nerd, you’ll understand that, technically, these are matters of usage, not grammar.)

1. Allude/Elude

When you refer obliquely to something, you “allude” to it. As in “allusion.” (Not to be confused with “illusion.”) If you seek to avoid this issue altogether, well, there’s no way to “elude” the grammar police. They WILL find you!

2. Aw/Awe

This is a big one on social media, much like the misuse of “yeah” and “yay” that I wrote about last time. When the photo of your friend’s adorable baby tugs at your heartstrings, you go, “Aw.” (Or even “Awwwwww.”) Now if that baby is adept at differential calculus you might instead express “awe.”

3. Cache/Cachet

Let’s say you go on a multi-state crime spree robbing banks. You might store all that money in a “cache.” And if you pull off those bank jobs with savoir faire — let’s say you were dubbed the “Tuxedo Bandit” — then you did so with a certain “cachet.”

4. Defuse/Diffuse

When a timebomb is ticking away, you must act quickly to “defuse” it. But if responsibility for doing so is “diffuse” — spread out among a number of people — things might get confusing.

5. Eke/Eek

One consequence of being an English major (in addition to making you a grammar/usage snob), is that you may have to “eke” out a living. And a consequence of that is occasionally seeing a mouse in your rundown apartment, making you go “eek.” (Leaping onto a chair holding your petticoats optional.)

6. Illicit/Elicit

When you are seeking to engage in an “illicit” activity (not sure why so much of this is crime-related), you will want to “elicit” the support of the best co-conspirators and lawyers and judges that money can buy.

7. Prescribe/Proscribe

When you’re having back pain, your doctor may “prescribe” painkillers for you. Turning around and selling those painkillers to the guy on the corner is specifically “proscribed” by the law. (That is, it’s illegal.)

8. Prospective/Perspective

When you are hired for a job that has not yet started, you are a “prospective” employee of that organization. Just make sure you ask around beforehand to get a little “perspective,” so you don’t get stuck slaving away in some sweatshop cubicle farm.

9. Trouper/Trooper

If you religiously attend every single performance of your best friend’s improv group (or troupe, but I don’t want to confuse things further), you are definitely a “trouper” — meaning, you’re a loyal, dependable person willing to face up to most any adversity with a sunny disposition. I mean, you’re such a trouper, not even a platoon of state “troopers” could drag you away.

10. Waver/Waiver

You must not “waver” (or vacillate) on this one: in order to legally extricate yourself from some onerous obligation, you must obtain a “waiver” relinquishing you of responsibility.

What Did I Miss?

If you can’t possibly wait another three years for the next list, nominate your favorite confusing word pair in the comments or on Twitter.